In the old days you might spend months driving all over to boatyards, but as with most shopping now, websites make it easy to find virtually all boats for sale. Here's how to get started.
First, do you know exactly what kind of boat you're looking for? Even you think so, it's a good idea to think it out fully rather than risk ending up with a boat that doesn't meet your needs. Start here to finalize your decisions about size and type of boat, financial considerations, and the process of making an offer, getting a survey, and other vital steps in the boat-buying process.
If you're looking for a sailboat, here are some other decisions to consider:
Web Sites for Used Boats
If you're that rare sailor buying a brand new boat, you'll already know to start with boat shows and dealers. But the huge majority of sailors buy used boats and should start online.
The best place to start is YachtWorld - regardless of whether you know the exact make and model you want or are still browsing. This site typically lists over 120,000 boats, with tons of information and photos about each. You can search listings by one or more of these criteria:
- Power or sail
- Manufacturer, model
- New or used
- Length or range
- Year or range
- Price range
- Country, region, or state
Use this site to help you learn more about specific models and differences in options and equipment. Don't search first only in your area: get to know the typical prices, features, etc. of all boats like the one you're interested in. Even if you think you're sure what you want, take a look at similar boats; many buyers end up preferring a different boat from where they begin their search.
Another good site is BoatTrader, which also lists a huge number of boats and allows searches by multiple criteria. BoatTrader also includes some fixer-uppers from liquidators.
Important note: Both YachtWorld and BoatTrader include boats listed by brokers and dealers - not individuals. That means these boats tend to be larger and more expensive - not the place to search for a Sunfish, for example. Even if you find the exact one you want here, you should continue your online search at sites where individuals list their boats for sale.
Used Boats from Individuals
Have a good idea what you're looking for and the price you expect to pay? Now go looking for individual sellers in your area or as far as you're willing to travel. Search on both eBay and Craigslist websites. Increasingly these free listings are used by sellers rather than newspaper and magazine classifieds. You can find some outstanding bargains. Additionally, do an online search for "BOAT MODEL for sale" to locate other regional listings. For example, many boat owner groups have sites where boats from a specific manufacturer are listed.
Finally, if you really, really want a specific model boat and haven't located one in appropriate condition, search for an owners association or listserv. Check Yahoo Groups, where many boat owner email lists are located. Join the group and post your query about the boat you're looking for. Owners of many particular models are often aware of others with the same who are looking to sell.
As noted earlier, use the big online sites like YachtWorld to research asking prices for boats like the one you've chosen, but remember the huge variability in condition and equipment affects pricing (as well as a broker's commission). Another tool is the NADA Guide for used boats, which again, can offer only average resale prices.
Closing the Deal
Unless you're buying just a small daysailer and/or you really know boats inside and out, get a professional survey before you close the deal. One overlooked flaw in a used boat can make a purchase a costly - or even life-threatening - mistake.