How to Buy a Sailboat

Published on 11/28/2020 by Charles Gendron

Buying a SailboatNo matter if you are a novice or beginner when it comes to sailing and sailboats, the same procedure should be followed when looking to buy a sailboat – see outlined below. Studying the market and what to look for can go a long way when pulling the trigger on the purchase of a sailboat. There is no better community than the sailing community, however, those working in the sailing industry (brokers, service professionals) are often disingenuous and corrupt. It’s when purchasing a sailboat that sailors, both beginners and old timers, get ripped off the most. Typically, most buyers either pay too much for a sailboat or buy a sailboat that isn’t in the condition that is advertised.

Table of Contents

  1. Getting Familiar with the Market
  2. Pinpoint Buying Location
  3. Communicate with the Seller
  4. Negotiate the Asking Price
  5. Close the Deal
  6. Register Your Newly Owned Sailboat
  7. Secure Sailboat Insurance
  8. Renting a Dock Slip or Mooring

Unless you are buying a brand-new sailboat directly from the broker, buying a used boat always comes with a little risk, as there could be unseen damages that are naked to the eye. Buying a sailboat involves a lot more of self-digging than buying assets like a vehicle, as there are no services (example: Carfax) that give insight to a sailboat’s damages/accidents. If buying a sailboat with a value greater than $25,000, it’s a wise decision to have the sailboat inspected before purchasing.

Getting Familiar with the Buying Market

Pricing out the market isn’t as hard as it sounds. You can actually have fun doing it! As a rule of thumb, the newer and bigger the sailboat – the more expensive they tend to be. If cared for, a sailboat can easily last for 40+ years and hold their value pretty well. You don’t need to become a master at knowing the entire sailboat market. Simply focus on the desired length + year to cost ratio.

For example, if you are seeking to buy a 37 ft sailboat, try filtering your search results to only show sailboats within 35 ft to 40 ft to give yourself an idea of how a few extra feet can affect the price when the results are shown. Then play around with the Year manufactured to see the price difference of older sailboats compared to newer sailboats. Then solely filter the search results for sailboats that are 37 ft. You can then compare the price of mass-produced sailboats (Hunter, Catalina, etc.) with quality yachts (Tartan, Hallberg-Rassy, etc.) for that particular length.

Initially, you’ll probably be surprised by how expensive sailboats can cost. You will find out that paying $75,000 for a 15-year-old 37-foot sailboat is nothing out of the ordinary. Crazy that might seem at first, but after becoming familiar with the market, one could tell that would be a good deal – especially if it were for a quality yacht in good condition.

Pinpoint a Buying Location

Anywhere on the East Coast, West Coast or the Great Lakes will be plenty of sailboats to choose from when seeking to buy a sailboat. As long as you aren’t living in the middle of the country, you will have options to purchase a sailboat within the range of your buying power. Areas with a higher density of sailboats does not always mean cheaper sailboats. Sure, you will have more to choose from, but good sailboats hold their value, no matter the amount of supply in its location.

In places like Florida, most sailboat owners who are looking to sell their sailboats will especially want to sell before hurricane season (June – September). The best time to snag a good deal is in April or May, right before the hurricane season hits as sellers are more apt to negotiate on the asking price. When buying, you should always use the climate to your advantage. If buying in the northeast, try negotiating with a seller in the fall as winter approaches. Most sailboat owners put their sailboats in storage in the offseason; taking the sailboat off their hands will save them the time and money from doing so – and they will be happy to give you a good deal on the price to save themselves from the winter hassle.

If you are planning to move to a location to sail or live on a sailboat. Look no further than a year-round climate such as Florida. You have so many areas to choose from that are affordable, such as Fort Lauderdale/Miami or the Keys. When you get your sailing chops underneath you, you can then set your sails for the Bahamas. Shipping a sailboat can be costly (a few thousand dollars at a minimum), therefore finding a sailboat in your location is recommended if running on a tight budget.

Communicate with the Seller

Proper communication with the seller is essential. Be gracious when inquiring about the sale of an owner’s sailboat as this type of attitude will fair you well when negotiating on the asking price. If you are new to sailing and have questions about the specifics, let that be known to the seller, otherwise the seller will expect you to have read their ad before contacting. If you have never sailed before, you will soon realize that there is a certain etiquette out on the ocean. Sailors and the boating community are very friendly with one other; the same should hold true when communicating with one another on

Negotiate on the Asking Price

The sailboat market is no different than the vehicle or housing market. All listing prices are subject to negotiation. If a sailboat is priced to sell and the seller knows they can get their price, negotiation may be off the table. But in most cases, sellers are willing to make a deal if they feel that they are working with a serious buyer.

The worst-case scenario for any offer is the answer no. That being said, if you have an interest in a sailboat, especially one that’s been on the market for a long time, make an offer no matter how off it is from the asking price. If the offer offends the seller, so be it. It’s not your problem. Be honest about your price range and what you can afford. If a seller is unwilling to wiggle on their price, move on to the next sailboat. One thing you can count on is that there is never a shortage of sailboats on the market.

Close the Deal

Costs to consider before closing on a sailboat are the following:


Closing on the sale of a sailboat is always confusing to most people, even those who are well acquainted with having bought a sailboat in the past.

Two important steps you will want to take before buying are the following:

Finish Closing

A clear transfer of ownership is the #1 priority for the buyer when purchasing a sailboat. You want to be certain that the sailboat you are buying does not have any liens attached to its title. Any items that are not permanently attached to the sailboat should be listed in the Bill of Sale or Purchase and Sale Agreement if included in the sale. Every sailboat manufactured post November 1, 1972 is issued a HIN (Hull Identification Number). This number can be found engraved on the transom and it should match with the same HIN found on the vessel’s registration, title (if any) and bill of sale. The following are documents typically needed in order to close on the purchase of a sailboat (which the seller should provide):

In addition to a Bill of Sale, a Purchase and Sale Agreement can be used to add more legal protection for both the buyer and seller, however the choice is optional. If tailoring the sale contingent upon a successful survey and sea trial, you will want to use a purchase and sale agreement to lay out those terms.

Register Your Newly Owned Vessel

There is no sense in buying a boat that can’t be registered with your state, as every state requires the new owner of a sailboat to register their vessel (if the length is longer than 16 ft). Therefore, it’s best to have the seller (that sold you the sailboat), as a precaution, go with you to your local government agency to assist in registering your sailboat. In the event there are forms that need to be notarized, it will be very helpful for the seller to be present.

The buyer and seller should bring the following items when registering the sailboat:

Buy Boater's (Sailboat) Insurance

If you plan to buy a dock slip for your sailboat, you will be required to show proof of insurance. Many marinas will require a minimum policy limit on your insurance. Meaning that your sailboat must be insured to cover damages at a minimum amount. Most marinas will require that minimum amount to be at least $1 million.

Why so much?

Well, if you have ever taken a stroll through a marina, you will typically see some vessels that aren’t cheap and worth well into the millions. If your sailboat causes damage to another vessel in the marina, they want to be sure that your insurance can cover the costs. Therefore, before buying insurance, ask the marina their minimum policy limit.

Now you may ask the question, from who should I buy insurance from?

If you only plan to sail within the waters of the USA (domestically), you can find very affordable insurance from companies like Gieco and Progressive. Gieco is especially popular amongst sailors as they offer unlimited towing from TowBoatUS. If you plan to sail in international waters, you’ll have more difficulty buying insurance (extended cruising) as they will require additional information as to your offshore sailing experience, crew information, emergency gear, rigging/sails and navigational equipment. If you are unable to get approved from the big insurance companies for sailing internationally, you’ll need to seek out companies that specialize in blue water insurance.

Rent a Dock Slip or Mooring

Once your insurance is purchased, search for local marinas in your area for available dock slips. Dock slips can be relatively inexpensive if solely looking for a slip without the amenities of a marina. If looking to live on your boat, you will want to find a marina that has electrical power, showers, WiFi, pump out (for your holding tank), laundry facilities and security. Having these amenities provided by the marina will increase the cost of your dock flip, which is based on the length of your vessel (cost per foot).

Marinas are more lenient when it comes to renting a flip vs renting an apartment. You’ll most likely have the option to rent by the month (more expensive), sign a 6 month or annual contract. If you have plans for a long exotic sailing trip in the near future, just sign a monthly lease with the marina. Yes, a monthly lease will cost more per month but you will not be tied down to a long term contract, giving you the freedom to sail and spend the money towards your adventures.

The cheapest route to go is keeping your vessel out on a mooring. Moorings are permanent anchors in a marina’s bay that are available for rent. The only problem with having a mooring is needing another vessel, such as a dingy, to get to your sailboat. Access can be a hassle when stocking provisions or when the weather is unfavorable.

And that's it! Good luck buying a sailboat and happy sailing. We hope this information proved worthwhile for you. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below.

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