Preparing Your Boat for Sale

October 1st, 2021 by team

By B.J. Porter (Contributing Editor) 

When it’s time to sell your boat – whether by yourself or with a broker – you have a bit of work to get an easier, quick sale. It’s not so different from selling your house – first impressions matter, staging counts, and a good, clean look in photos and showings can make the deal.

If you’re using a broker, first impressions count there too. While your broker isn’t buying your boat, if it presents as clean, sharp and easy to sell, that will get the broker more enthused and that impression carries through to buyers.

Cleanliness is Next to Getting Sold

Some pictures in the boat “for sale by owner” ads amaze me. I’ve seen listing photos with food on the counter, rumpled clothes and towels on counters and seating, dirty looking walls, and boats so cluttered with old life jackets and other gear you can barely see the cabins. A picture which turns a buyer off does more harm than good, so before anything, it’s important to get your boat ready before you write the first sentence of your listing.


If you aren’t selling a piece of gear with the boat, get it off before you take pictures. Not only will it improve your pictures, it will eliminate questions about what gear comes with the boat and make the closing easier.

This is more of a problem if you are selling the boat while you use it. But when you list it, you’ll need pictures, so get that gear out even if you just have to pile it on the dock for a couple of hours while you take them.

Deep Cleaning

Dirt shows up in pictures, and it looks even worse in person. For the photos, you want things to look neat and clean, but before the first showing, it also needs to smell nice.

Engine spaces and lockers need a good wipe down to get rid of oil and dirt, and all the counters should be cleared and cleaned. Give interior woodwork a cleaning with oil soap or polish. If you can wash the fabric on your cushions, do it.

Before you take pictures of the outside, wash the hull, polish the stainless, clean the isinglass, tidy the canvas, and coil all the lines. If your brightwork doesn’t look good, a cleaning will freshen it even if you don’t want to varnish.

The sparkle and shine will come through in the pictures and increase your odds of getting a call or a showing.

If It’s Broken…Fix It

A boat showing is the sum of a bunch of little impressions, and explaining away broken gear adds a bunch of little check marks in the “not so good” column. Ideally, any major issues should be disclosed in the listing, and you (or your broker) aren’t left explaining away bent stanchions, broken latches, or lights which don’t turn on. They just don’t make a good impression.

Any used boat will have flaws, but it’s best to fix anything obviously in need of repair. When we bought our current boat, the prior owner had a pair of vice-grips replacing a broken through-hull handle. Did it keep us from buying the boat? In the end, no. But it gave us pause, and it added up with a few other obvious things, which we adjusted for in the end. It cost him money.

Think Like a Surveyor

Any experienced buyer will do a survey, and a competent surveyor will go through your boat from stem to stern and note anything and everything, good or bad. Broken fittings, systems which don’t work, cosmetic defects, and they will note anything which is less than perfect. No used boat will be without flaws, but it’s nice not to get surprise problems.

To avoid a bad survey, think about how your boat will look to a surveyor. You see your boat all the time, and it’s easy to forget those out of the way spaces where a surveyor is going to poke his head with a flashlight. So take some time to open every locker and compartment, lift every floor board, look under the engine and into all those hard to get to spaces. Turn everything on and test it before you put the listing up.

You can combine this with the decluttering, cleaning and fixing tasks – take a thorough walk through your own boat as if you were surveying it. If you find anything that stands out, deal with it before a buyer ever sees it.

Look Under the Water

If you haven’t seen your boat out of the water, do a check before you put it on the market. If you’re hauling for the season, this is easy, but if you’re selling the boat in the water, you don’t want any surprises. So look with a snorkel and mask, hire a diver, or get a short haul. It doesn’t hurt to be certain – heavy fouling and galvanic corrosion are nasty finds during a survey. And a fresh set of zincs always looks good.

The Boat You Want to Buy

If you’ve done your pre-sale prep right, it may even make you think twice about selling your boat. Because it should be sharp, clean, and desirable and you’ll remember why you bought it.

A new buyer doesn’t know all the good stuff about your boat, and you may never meet them to tell them about it. So you have to rely on their impressions from pictures and showings to sell your boat. And some extra effort will make that happen.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *