Thousands of used boats change hands every year all over the world, and the market is a thriving one. While many people opt to use a broker to act as the middleman in the negotiations – and have a point of contact and contract to come back to should anything go wrong down the line – many buy from private sellers. While there is no warranty when buying privately, there are ways you can protect yourself and make a savvy and safe purchase – and grab yourself a bargain in the process.
Private sellers generally sell their boats "as seen". This means that there is no recourse afterwards if something goes wrong. So to make a good used boat purchase from a private seller, you have to do your homework and make sure you’ve ticked all the boxes.
Use our Buying a Used Boat Checklist and consider the following key points to help you on your way.
1. Make sure you See the Boat
The most important thing when buying a used boat is to make sure you see the boat yourself. While this might sound obvious, it is tempting to jump on a bargain of a boat that isn’t nearby and trust everything you’re being told. While most private sellers are honest, they have no obligation to divulge any issues with the boat that you don’t specifically ask about. In seeing the boat, you can get a feel for the seller themselves, as well as giving the boat a thorough inspection. It is also the most essential way to avoid scams when buying a used boat.
You can find used boats listed in many places, from local newspapers and marinas to selling sites such as Rightboat.com. Selling sites allow you to search for boats that aren’t in your area and make contact with verified sellers. Make sure there is a phone number, and you speak to someone on the telephone and not just via email – it’ll allow you to ask questions such as the location of the boat, its condition, whether it has its service records and title, and why they’re selling the boat.
2. Give the Boat a Thorough Inspection
Start by inspecting the boat yourself and getting a good feel for its condition. Take your time and don’t let a seller rush you. If they’re trying to stop you seeing something, there’s a reason for it. The level of inspection will vary depending on the type of boat you’re buying. Small skiffs, Jon boats and RIBs with outboard engines are considerably more straightforward than a 12-metre sailboat or 15 metre centre console sports boat. Check out our guide to inspecting a used boat to learn more about what you’re looking for.
3. Give the Boat a Sea Trial
It’s all very well inspecting the boat on hard standing or moored in a marina, but you need to see how the boat runs when under way. A sea trial is important for any boat, so before you go and view it make sure the seller knows you’re expecting a sea trial and give them time to arrange lifts or ramp slots. Whilst on the sea trial, ask lots of questions, and get the seller to give you a briefing in how everything works. Turn on every switch and light, try out all the electronics and instruments, listen to the engine and inspect the bilges.
4. Get a Marine Survey Completed
If you’re happy with the boat so far, then the next step is to schedule a marine surveyor (this won’t be relevant for very small boats, however). Choose a surveyor that you find, and not one that the seller recommends. Whilst they are most probably just being helpful, it’s better to get someone impartial. You might want to arrange the marine survey and sea trial on the same day so that the surveyor can see the boat running.
A marine surveyor will be able to spot major issues that a boat may have, as well as give you a valuation. They will look at everything from the structural integrity of the boat to damp, electronics, sails and more. You may want to consider having a technician inspect the engine separately, as this is one of the biggest issues with used boats, and a very costly one to fix. Read our guide to conducting a pre-purchase survey on a used boat.
5. Check the Paperwork
Depending on where you’re buying the boat, different titles will be required to legally own it. Before signing any contracts or handing over deposit money, check that the seller has everything in order. In the United States a title document is usually required for most boats, and it’s important to check that there are no liens on the title that you as the new owner might be liable for. Check also that the Hull Identification Number matches that imprinted on the boat. In all regions, ask for a bill of sale from when the current owner purchased the boat and check whether the vessel is VAT paid.
6. Negotiate the Price
One of the most attractive reasons people buy a used boat from a private seller is because there is the potential to get a lower price than going through a broker. Broker fees and advertising are saved by the seller and the saving is passed onto the buyer. That doesn’t mean you can’t haggle, though. Armed with the findings of from the marine survey and the sea trial, make a counter offer on the asking price and be willing to negotiate. Check out our top tips for successful negotiations.
7. Draw up a Purchase Agreement
Once a final purchase price has been decided, it’s time to draw up a boat purchase agreement (or bill of sale). The agreement should list everything that you have agreed with the buyer will be on board when you buy it, from electronics to lines to decorative items and everything in between. Leave nothing off the list. The purchase agreement is your final step in ensuring you are buying a sound, safe and savvy boat, so take your time and don’t feel pressured. There are excellent templates online you can use. You might also want to consider adding in a section which asks the seller to state if they are aware of any serious defects, accidents or sinking that the boat may have been involved in. Sellers aren’t legally obliged to disclose any information you haven’t asked for, so this is a good way of covering yourself legally. Once you have both signed the purchase agreement and exchanged money, the boat will be yours and your new and exciting journey begins.
Why Buy a Used Boat from a Private Seller?
With the responsibility placed squarely on your shoulders to ensure you are buying a good boat, you may ask what the benefits are to buying from a private seller as opposed to through a broker? We have looked at price being the biggest driving factor, as private sales tend to be cheaper than commissions and fees are saved (check out our article on Buying a Cheap Boat, Is it a Good Idea?) But by expanding your search to include private sellers, you’ll be increasing your choices too. From specific models to location, you’ll have a far greater choice than simply sticking with broker-sold boats. So get searching on Rightboat.com and let us connect you with private sellers all over the world. Your next boat is out there, and we’re here to help every step of the way.
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