I hate to break this to you, but everyone selling a used boat has something to hide. It might be something innocuous like a stain on the snap-in carpeting, or a few missing snaps on the cockpit cover. It also could be something major like, uh, it sank or the engine has a knock at startup.
Regardless of what the seller is hiding, your goal as a used-boat shopper is to get the best deal you can. Remember that in most cases sellers and buyers don’t cross paths again, so be friendly but firm. Make it clear what you want and expect, and be prepared to walk away if the seller can’t or won’t meet you where you want. The bottom line is price, because a boat that needs a few repairs — or major repairs — is still a good deal if you know what’s wrong and you paid the right price for it.
Here are some resources that will help you when it comes to determining price ranges for boats you’re looking at. Get a feel for how these resources work, practice using them a bit, and they’ll be powerful allies when it comes time to make your offer.
Price Checker on BoatTrader.com BoatTrader.com has a function called Price Checker. It allows you to plug in the model year range and the size of the boat you’re looking for, then see listings for all the boats within those parameters listed.
Be specific, because the Price Checker function allows you to check all listings within a specific distance from the zip code in which you live. I like to seek out listings from “any distance” away. That gives you a broader cross-section of prices, including the lower prices you’re going to use to negotiate a better price on the one that’s close to your home.
NADA Guides The National Automobile Dealers Association maintains a database of used boat values. I didn’t expect much because that organization’s focus isn’t the marine industry, but the way it works is pretty impressive. You search by manufacturer. The site has two lists, one with the most prominent boat builders and one with the “full list,” which includes boat companies that are no longer in business.
Click the manufacturer and it brings up a list of models. Click the model and it takes you to another page with all the options, starting with the engine. After that, you get the option to get a price summary or add in the trailer model year, number of axles, and length. It even has a subset of trailer options, too. Once you enter all that information, you get three prices — list, low and average retail. The site isn’t the be-all, end-all, but it does go a long way toward arming you with more information about the used boat you seek.
Also read Used Boat Prices With NADA Guides, an article on boats.com that gives you a step-by-step method for assessing prices using the guides. It’s especially helpful if you’re looking at an outboard-powered boat, because the engine(s) on it have to be priced separately and then added to the totals in the range. It even has advice about the accuracy of the guides themselves, and how boats may be priced differently according to region.
American Boating Association Online The American Boating Association has an online value calculator. Alert readers will note that the ABA has partnered with NADA, so the system works essentially the same as NADA’s system, but it’s presented in a slightly different way.
It’s no easier or more difficult to use than the NADA site, but it is somehow comforting to be working with a boating organization instead of car dealers. It was interesting that the ABA website did not accept trailer information as part of the calculations to establish value. I entered the same boat in NADA and ABA and they turned up the same information. When I added a trailer on the NADA site, it didn’t bump the boat’s value. It just added the value of the trailer to value of the boat and added them together for you, which is nice.
BoatUS Value Check If you’re a BoatUS member, the organization offers Boat Value Check on its website. I’d love to tell you how it works, but my membership lapsed a few years ago and I haven’t gotten around to re-upping. Anyway, the estimates are based primarily on the purchase histories of similar vessels that are recording in the association’s Marine Insurance Department database. BoatUS also takes input from its staff and other industry sources.
The neat thing is that they are not automated. An actual person fulfills your request. Normal response time is one day, but it can take as many as three or four days.
Boatfax.com Like Carfax.com, Boatfax.com lets you check the history of a given boat. Carfax still doesn’t catch every little incident, and I suspect boatfax.com isn’t infallible, but it’s a pretty cool service, and it’s free.
Boatfax actually lets you enter a boat’s HIN to establish a value. You also can enter year, make, and model and get a quote. Boatfax.com prices were within $500 dollars of all the values given by other sites, so they’re either all colluding or there is a genuine consistency that will help you make better decisions.
Boat Trader has plenty of Buying and Selling advice, but also check out the hundreds of articles in the Boating section, with tips on everything from seamanship to maintenance, how-to, where to find replacement parts, and much more.