While it’s about as cliché as boat sayings get, this one certainly has some truth to it: “The two happiest days of boat ownership are the day you buy it, and the day you sell it.” And if you’re getting into the selling game, then prepping your boat to sell as quickly as possible—and for as much money as possible—is the name of the game. Whether it’s polishing and waxing your hull, or cleaning out all of your junk-packed stowage lockers, there’s work to be done before you officially list your pride and joy for sale.
The reasoning behind this prep work is simple: You want people to feel good about buying your boat. You’re not just trying to remove any doubts your buyer may have about your boat, you’re also trying to give them peace of mind about their potential purchase. With that in mind, here are five relatively easy things you can do to increase your chances of making the sale:
Set the Stage
In the real-estate business, “staging” refers to the practice of making a house look as unlived-in as possible by removing all but the essential furniture and basic living essentials. Your cluttered bathroom counter or magazine-littered living room may seem fine to you, but it can — and will – put off possible buyers. The same is true when you go to sell your boat.
When I sold my little 18-foot center-console, I removed everything (and I mean everything) from it and loaded it into the back of my vehicle — fishing rods, tackle boxes, safety kits, two-stroke oil—everything. Then I scrubbed and cleaned out every last stowage compartment and locker on the boat.
When it came time to load my stuff back in, I neatly put back only the things I intended to sell with the boat, such as life jackets and flotation devices, a flare kit, two-stroke oil, stern flag, etc. I left everything else—my tackle boxes, fishing rods, chart books, cleaning supplies, drink koozies, and so on—at home. Even if you have a larger boat to sell (with lots more gear than a small center-console) consider removing all but the basics. It will help your prospective buyer imagine the boat as his or her own, versus one that’s piled full of someone else’s stuff.
Clean, Clean, and Clean Again
If there’s anything that turns off a potential boat buyer, it’s a boat that hasn’t been well cared-for, and nothing sends that message more than a dirty boat. Yes, that means you, Mr. Spilled a Beer in the Fishbox Two Years Ago.
At a minimum, give the entire boat a good scrub-down from top to bottom, making sure you get into every nook and cranny. Scuppers and drains under hatches are places that get quite dirty, as are outboard wells and stowage areas under center-console units. The goal here is to remove all evidence of past fishing trips, visits by seagulls, or that last sundowner cruise where your neighbor spilled wine all over the aft teak decking.
Make sure you polish stainless and metal fittings; clean up clear vinyl enclosures; remove oxidation from Plexiglas ports or hatches; and make sure exterior woodwork is in tip-top shape. The outside of your boat should gleam. If you have faded gelcoat that needs attention, consider polishing and waxing it up yourself, or paying a pro to do it.
Both inside and out, pay special attention to lockers, bilges, and out-of-the way places that you might not normally think of, because prospective buyers are going to open every single locker, drawer, and cabinet on your boat. If your boat has “that smell,” even after you’ve scrubbed heads, cleaned holding tanks, and beautified your bilges, consider buying or renting an ozone-generator to freshen up the interior, keeping in mind that if you have gasoline-fueled inboard engines, most ozone generators are not ignition-protected.
Service With a Smile
Hopefully you’ve done the necessary upkeep and maintenance on your boat’s power-plant to keep it running in prime condition. Even better, perhaps you’ve kept all the receipts and records for that work in a binder. But even if you haven’t, you’ll want to make an effort to get your engine(s) current with the recommended service schedule. Why? Because every prospective buyer will ask about what’s been done about engine care.
This is sort of what you’re going for, in a nutshell: “Hi, Mr. Prospective Buyer. Yes, the outboards just had their 500-hour service, including a change of oil and oil filter, and a change of lower unit oil. The engines have been flushed after every use, and here’s a bottle of the fuel stabilizer I like to use. Oh, and here are some spare water/fuel separator filters. I always keep them handy.”
Same goes for inboard diesel or gasoline engines. Even if it’s been ages since a factory service has been performed, it’s worth the investment to have a tech come to your boat, give it a good once-over, and bring it up to date service-wise. That way you can tell your prospective buyer, “Yep, John’s Marine Engines was just out and everything’s in good shape.” Or, you can show that anything broken was fixed.
You can also do any work you feel comfortable with yourself. Either way, the last thing you want a buyer to do is pull the dipstick from your inboard and have it come up with dirty oil.
Pimp Your Ride
If your boat is a trailerable one, making sure your trailer is in tip-top shape before listing it for sale is crucial. Think about it: No one is going to want to buy your boat if the trailer beneath it is peppered with rust spots, rests on dry-rotted tires, and has lights that don’t work.
You can do simple things to spiff up a trailer that has more than a few miles on it without breaking the bank. Rust removal and refinishing aren’t as difficult as they may seem—all you often need is a wire brush, some metal primer, and spray paint to touch up bad spots on the frame and wheel wells. Rusty emergency chains and hooks can be easily replaced with new ones, as can cracked and worn rollers and guides. You’ll want to ensure that all of the lights are working properly, and also tidy up any loose or messy wiring—neatness counts.
Also make sure your trailer winch is well-lubed and that the wire or webbing wound around it is not frayed. Cracked or badly worn tires should be replaced; it’s unlikely you’ll get past having to do this. Oh, and you’ve recently serviced the wheel bearings, right? Because, “Yes, I just serviced and repacked the wheel bearings” sounds good to a potential buyer.
Finish Your To-Do List
OK, nobody likes a nag, but remember that list of little odds and ends you’ve been meaning to fix on your boat since… forever? Well, you’ll want to take care them before you put your boat up for sale. Whether it’s a loose hinge or a rusty gas-assist strut on your livewell lid, fixing all the little nuisance items will go a long way toward catalyzing a successful boat sale.
A lot of items that fall into this category are things that have been broken so long that you may not even notice them any more. Maybe it’s that hatch that sticks when you open it, or the VHF antenna mount that’s jury-rigged with a pair of ViseGrips. But things that need fixing can also be as small as a missing knob on your VHF radio, a cracked lens in your bow light, or that leaky hatch up under the V-berth.
If the list is in your head, get it on paper. Next, walk around the boat and use everything. Turn on your VHF radio; lower and raise your VHF antenna; open and close all of your hatches and ports; flush the head; and check every light bulb and light fixture. In other words, check everything. If it isn’t perfect, fix it. Because if you don’t, a prospective buyer will likely spot whatever’s not working well, and use those flaws as bargaining chips in reducing your asking price.
A previous version of this article appeared on Boat Trader in April 2015.