How to Sell a Sailboat (8 Steps)

Published on 11/26/2020 by Charles Gendron

Knowing what your sailboat is worth and the speed of the buying market is essential to selling your sailboat. Like with housing, you do not want your sailboat to sit on the market for a very long time. The longer your sailboat sits, the less negotiating power you will have.

Time on market is seen as a weakness to buyers who will use it as a negotiating tool to lowball the asking price. Determine what your sailboat is worth and price it to sell. Use the guide below to sell your sailboat.

Table of Contents

  1. Perform a Detailed Inspection
  2. Scan the Market for Similar Sailboats
  3. Clean, Bottom Job and Paint (optional)
  4. Take Good Pictures and Video
  5. Spread the Word Locally
  6. List For Sale Online
  7. Negotiate
  8. Closing

Perform a Detailed Inspection

Most sailors know their sailboat like they know their child. They know it inside and out blindfolded. However, if your sailboat has been sitting for a long time either in the water or in a boatyard, you’ll want to take a good look and verify that all is well. Making minor improvements and fixing known damages is key for getting top price. If your sailboat is in need of a major upgrade, like a new engine, you may want to let the new owner accept that challenge and take the difference off the asking price.

The following checklist is one that you, as the owner, should perform before listing your sailboat for sale of the open market.

  • Leaks – Water leaking into the boat can happen from many places, but the two biggest culprits of leaks occur on the top of the sailboat (ports, hatches, windows) and the bottom (bilge, transom). If your sailboat is currently in the water, you’ll know if there is a leak on the bottom simply by checking the bilge. However, leaks coming from the top are hard to notice. To test, take a hose with running water and let it soak the entire top making certain that each window and hatch is tested.
  • Electronics – The circuit board should be fully functional and the switches should be able to power on and off their respected routes. For example, a switch leading to the mast light should be able to turn on and off the light. If a wire or bulb is faulty, try to fix it.
  • Required Boating Safety Equipment – In most cases, your buyer will be sailing away the sailboat when purchased, therefore if your sailboat does not have the minimum requirements set out by the U.S. Coast Guard, upgrading comes at a minimal cost. Your sailboat must have proper and functioning PFDs, fire extinguishers, horn, visual distress signals, navigation lights, sanitation devices, and regulation plaques (pollution).
  • Paint Job – In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, the color light blue was used a lot as bottom paint for sailboats. This color does not show well in images and often makes the sailboat look worse and unappetizing to the eye. Sailboats with darker tone colors make for a better showing both in pictures and in person. Consider having a paint job to your sailboat if the current paint is old or outdated. Navy (color) hulled boats always tend to sell well. A clean sailboat in good condition will sell better than a dirty sailboat in excellent condition.

Scan the Market for Similar Sailboats

With any market, the best way to come up with a price is to compare your sailboat with others that are similar on the market. You do not need to call brokers, unless you are selling a really expensive sailboat (anything over 1 million dollars) or hire extra help. Simply perform a search to see what other sailboats, similar to yours, are selling for.

Chances are, you will find sailboats selling on the market that will be fairly similar but may vary in difference by a few years. Keep in mind that the length and age of your sailboat play the biggest role in determining the market value. If you are in no pressure to sell your sailboat and want to get the maximum amount, set the asking price as to what you think the sailboat is worth. No matter the asking price, buyers will try to bring the price down when negotiating.

Make the Sailboat Look Good (clean!)

A good sign of a well-taken-care-of sailboat is the condition it’s in. If a sailboat looks clean and feels clean when inside, chances are the owner took care of it well. If the sailboat wasn’t cared for well, at least try to clean it up so that it has a chance at selling. There is nothing worse to a buyer than pictures of a dirty/messy sailboat. Sailboats need to be presented well to get their fair market value.

Checklist for a clean looking sailboat:

  • Start with cleaning the inside by removing clutter and personal items from the galley.
  • Use cleaning wipes and a stain remover to clean any mildew buildup inside the galley.
  • If there is a stove, use a degreaser to remove any grease or black mold.
  • Use a power hose to soak down the deck and cockpit. Then use a deck brush and boat soap + bleach to scrub clean. Use stain remover on any stubborn spots that couldn’t be scrubbed out.

Take Good Pictures and Video (So Important!)

Photos are the main driving force behind the sale of a sailboat. Too many sellers look past the idea of taking great quality photos of their sailboat. It does not take owning an expensive camera with specialty lens to snap good pics of your sailboat. For best pictures, we recommend a few tips while using a wide-angle camera/lens such as the following:

  • Smartphone with wide angle capabilities or a GoPro (most new smartphones have a wide-angle shot)
  • Take shots in sunny weather with good light.
  • A few personal photos of yourself enjoying the sailboat (humanize the sailboat).
  • Take a short video, 2 minutes to 5 minutes in length, of both the inside galley and the outer area such as the deck and cockpit.

If you are unable to take wide-angle shots of your sailboat, don’t sweat it. Normal clean shots with good lighting will suffice. As stated before, just make sure that the boat is clean and not cluttered.

Be certain to take clear photos of the following areas/items:

  • Engine – Normally located under the staircase or in the aft of the sailboat.
  • Bilge – An area where water can build up found under the centerboard floor.
  • Galley – The cabin inside the sailboat.
  • Deck – Middle to front top area of the sailboat.
  • Cockpit – Aft area on the deck where the steering wheel and navigational equipment is located.
  • Anchor + locker – Found in the bow
  • Stove – Located in the kitchen
  • Navigation Table + Chair – A table typically located in the center cabin used for navigation or a desk. It’s important to take a photo as many sailors are very picky about the navigation table.
  • Storage areas – Found under the seats in the cabin and cockpit.
  • Cabin – Rooms either found towards either the aft or bow.
  • Berth (bed) – Located in the cabins or within the center galley.
  • Winches – The instruments that help hoist the sails up and down (in and out).
  • Electrical equipment – Every sailboat has some form of an electrical panel, typically found next to the navigation table.
  • Navigation equipment/screens
  • Batteries
  • Solar panels/wind vane
  • Dingy

Marketing (Spread the word!)

For most buyers, buying a sailboat is something they do locally to mitigate shipping costs. If selling your sailboat in hotspots like Fort Lauderdale, FL or Newport, RI, there is good chance your buyer will come from the local area. That being said, it’s important to let it be known that your sailboat is for sale, not only via the internet but also in your immediate circle.

If your sailboat is docked within a marina, there could be other sailors/boaters who are very fond of your vessel without you even knowing. Had they known that your sailboat is for sale, there is the possibility that they would be a buyer. Therefore, if your marina will allow it, post a “for sale” sign on your sailboat and attach a notice to the notice board in the marina clubhouse to let the word out.

List for Sale Online

We are happy that you have chosen as an option to sell your sailboat, as we believe that there is no better marketplace for selling a sailboat. However, there are other marketplaces that have proven to be useful, so we encourage you to list your sailboat on all fronts to reach as many potential buyers as possible.

Negotiate the Sale

Almost all buyers will try to negotiate on the price. It’s your choice if you want to hold firm (be non-negotiable) or work with the buyer on a deal. Only you, the seller, knows what is best as there are many factors that go into the decision of negotiating. Factors you should consider:

  • Is this sailboat in high demand?
  • Is this sailboat special compared to other sailboats on the market?
  • Do I need the money or have the money to be patient enough to wait for my asking price?
  • Is your sailboat in the “selling sweet spot”? (Sailboats that are about 5 years old are very desirable to buyers. An owner that purchased a new sailboat tends to have figured out all the defects and quirks after about 5 years which allows the new buyer to get another good 5 years of sailing out of the sailboat before having to replace the rigging. Typically, rigging needs to be changed about every 10 years.)

Your asking price should be listed to sell. Most buyers can compare your sailboat to others in the market, therefore listing your sailboat for sale at a price more than it’s worth is not a good idea as you will scare potential buyers away.

Important Tip:

If you are not upfront about problems with your sailboat, these problems can come to haunt you when the buyer finds out about them. If the buyer finds out about undisclosed problems from an inspection, the buyer will assume that the problems weren’t reflected in the sales price AND WILL ASK FOR A PRICE REDUCTION. This is the oldest trick in the book as a negotiating tactic and buyers will use it. Therefore, disclose all known problems to prevent a price reduction request.


You must have some patience when buying a boat as a closing, on average, takes about 7 days to officially close. If the price is negotiated and the conditions subject to the contract have been met, the rest is just a matter of paper-work and going through the motions.

If you are working with a broker, the paperwork is less of a worry as you can be safely assured that all the paper-work will be done properly. If no broker is involved, you’ll want to be extra certain you have all your ducks aligned in a row.

When not using a broker, these are the following documents you should have in order when closing:

Closing Documents

  • Vessel Title
  • Registration
  • Dingy Title and Registration (If a dingy is sold with the sailboat)

Closing Statments

  • Sailboat Bill of Sale
  • Delivery Affidavit
  • Coast Guard Requirements
  • Signed Financial Statements (Liens, Loans, etc.)
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