Understanding boat prices should be like understanding car prices, right? Just look up the NADA or Kelley blue book value and you’re on your way.
Unfortunately it’s not that easy! Why? Because many personal watercraft and boat models aren’t listed in boat value guides.
Fortunately there are a few different way to go about determining what a boat is worth. We’ll walk you through each of these options.
- Hiring a professional ($$$) – pay a surveyor or broker to tell you what your boat is worth
- Use online calculators – we’ll list a few different sites you can use to look up boat values for the most common makes and models.
- Do your own boat value calculation – HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. We’ll show you how to calculate the value of ANY boat by walking through an example. Don’t worry, the math is easy and we’ve provided a free downloadable calculator at the end of this post.
1. HIRE A PROFESSIONAL: MARINE SURVEYORS, BOAT BROKERS, MARINE MECHANICS
While there’s no substitute for doing your own research, sometimes it’s helpful (though totally optional) to get a professional opinion. Here are some of the service providers that can help you value a used boat.
What does a marine surveyor do?
A marine surveyor will physically inspect the boat and tell you what they think the boat is worth. Usually this takes place on the dock or in a boat yard and doesn’t include sea trials.
How much should a marine survey cost?
Boat survey cost varies depending on the type of survey being performed. A purchase survey may cost upwards of $18 per foot of boat length, whereas a less detailed insurance condition and valuation survey may cost upwards of $16 per foot.
What is involved in a marine survey?
- Purchase condition and valuation ($18+ per foot) This involves a deep 3-6 hour inspection. The surveyor will ask to see the boat both in the water and out of water. The final report for purchase surveys will list both a “replacement value” and a “market value” as well as any deficiencies.
- Insurance condition and valuation ($16+ per foot): This survey is less expensive and less detailed. It’s more for boat owners who are looking to insure their boats. Most insurance companies ask owners to submit a recent survey of the vessel. While not as detailed as the previous survey, it will still provide you with a suggested boat market value.
Do I really need to hire a professional marine surveyor?
It’s comes down to your boat knowledge, the complexity of the boat, and your financial risk tolerance.
If you’re new to boating you’ll want an experienced eye to help you assess the boat for safety and help you figure out a fair price.
If you’re buying something small and simple like a kayak or dinghy, a visual inspection will likely reveal any potential problems. However boat systems can be extremely complex on larger vessels and that’s where a professional marine surveyor’s opinion will pay dividends.
Keep in mind, that while a boat survey may seem expensive, it could actually save you money over the course of the sales transaction. A surveyor will be able to spot problems with the boat that you might miss which can help you negotiate a lower purchase price.
Generally speaking, if you’re spending more than $5,000 on a boat, or plan on financing it through a boat loan it’s probably worth having it professionally surveyed.
How do I find a good boat surveyor?
Your best bet is to look for surveyors affiliated with the National Association of Marine Surveyors (NAMS) or the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors (SAMS). You can search for a surveyor in your area on the NAMS and SAMS websites.
Ask other boaters for a recommendation on a marine surveyor in your area. Some surveyors are more experienced, knowledgeable, and expensive than others. For example, there is a surveyor in the Pacific northwest who earned the nickname “Dr. Doom” by being so thorough that he almost always finds problems with a boat.
Interview potential surveyors and ask what types of boats they specialize in. Some will be more familiar with sail, while others may have a specialty in houseboats or wooden hulls.
A boat broker is the realtor equivalent of the boating world. They can be very helpful in determining a boat valuation, not only because brokers have an experienced-eye and a sense for the local market, but also because they have access to a very special data set. Brokers who advertise on YachtWorld (which most do) have access to a massive confidential database that shows the actual SELLING prices for boats (not just the list prices that regular users see).
Should I use a broker to buy a boat?
While boat brokers generally represent the selling party, you can hire one to represent you as a buyer.
If you don’t hire a broker it’s still worth calling their offices to get their thoughts on the value of a boat you’re interested in. Usually they’re very friendly and happy to share their knowledge. They may even point you in the direction of a sweet deal that you’d missed.
How much is a boat broker?
A broker is paid a commission by the seller (usually in the neighborhood of 10% of the selling price).
MARINE MECHANICS AND FUEL TESTING LABS
The value of a boat is heavily impacted by the condition of a boat’s engine because engines are so expensive to replace. For example, a $10,000 boat might be worth nothing if the engine is shot.
It may be worth hiring a marine mechanic to inspect the outboard motor or engine before purchasing. If you’re concerned about a boat’s engine you can also take a sample of the boat’s fuel and send it off to a fuel lab, they’ll send you a report with valuable information on the condition of the engine.
2. ONLINE CALCULATORS ( AND WHY YOUR BOAT ISN’T LISTED ON NADA BOAT VALUES)
There are a few boat pricing guides that allow you to lookup boat book values.
While online calculators like the NADA boat guide and may be able to provide you with a boat book value, they pose a couple of issues:
- Your boat may not be listed. The problem with the NADA boat prices calculator is that the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) only has listings for the most popular boat types, makes and models. If you’re researching a common boat, you might be able to use this to look up prices. However, anything else is unlikely to be listed.
- The listed prices are averages and don’t consider individual deficiencies (or upgrades) specific to a particular boat. Even if you find a used boat price listed in NADA, it doesn’t mean that it’s an accurate price for your particular boat.
3. HOW TO DO YOUR OWN BOAT VALUATION
Boat value guides like NADA and Kelley Blue Book can offer useful data points. However, it’s important to not rely on them too heavily and find your own pricing information.
STEP 1: EVALUATE THE LIST PRICE
We always take the listed price with a few grains of salt. From talking to yacht broker friends and from our own experiences, boats almost never sell for the list price. In fact, it’s just a starting point for negotiations. It is usually set high because the culture in sailing is to offer 70-80% of the list price.
Craigslist is especially useful for finding cheap boats, we share the secrets for searching out great deals on Craigslist.
If we are interested in a boat we usually ask for a copy of the most recent yacht survey. The survey will tell you a bit about the boat’s history and what the boat was worth at the time of the survey. Beware of sellers who use 10-20 year old survey reports to justify their current asking price.
I go on Craigslist and find a Dufour 35 sailboat from 1979, listed at $20,000. I contact the seller and ask for the most recent survey. They send me a 15-year old survey that lists the boat’s value at the as $45,000.
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STEP 2: DO SOME COMPARISON SHOPPING
We always start by comparing the boat we’re interested in with similar boats in the local area. The easiest way to do this is by searching yacht brokers, Craigslist, and Kijiji within a 500 mile radius.
Next, we do a search on Yachtworld and Sailboat Listings of the boat’s exact year and model. While searching, we’ve noticed that in places like Mexico, boats will be much cheaper. So searching in other areas has limited applicability for buying a boat locally.
Here are the 5 best places to buy a used boat.
There are three important things to consider when comparing used boats
- The condition – Some boats are better maintained than others which will be reflected in the price
- The location – some boat markets are cheaper than others (e.g. boats cost less Mexico and more in Australia)
- The year the boat was built – expect lower prices for older builds (e.g. a 1979 boat should be priced lower than a 1990 boat)
I search for Dufour 35s on Craigslist, Kijiji, Yachtworld, and Sailboat Listings and here are the results:
Use a price curve to estimate used boat market values over time
In evaluating a particular boat we have as gone as far as making depreciation curves. Don’t worry – it sounds complicated, but it’s not. You can download our free calculator at the bottom of this post.
We collect all the listings for comparable boats in Excel and then plot them on a scatter-plot graph.
For example, if we are looking at a 41’ Beneteau, we search for all Beneteaus in the 40-43’ range. We put the age and price of every boat into an excel document and plot them on a scatter-plot graph.
Next, we add a trend line (usually polynomial, order 2) to fit the data. This will give us an idea of what the price of the boat is doing over time and we can project where the price will be going in the next few years.
If we are planning to sell in a few years we would want to be near the beginning of a low slope segment of the trend line. Sometimes the trend line is skewed by overly-idealistic sellers or junk boats, which we consider outliers and often strike from the data.
I plug the prices I find into the Calculator (download yours for FREE at the end of this post) and I get the following trend line. The more data points (comparable boats) you add to the excel sheet the better your estimate will be! 5 data points is not great, but it’s all I could find for a Dufour 35. Based on this curve line I should assume that a 1979 Dufour 35 (the boat I’m thinking of buying) is worth ~ $29,000.
STEP 3: VALUE BY THE NUMBERS – WHAT WILL IT COST TO GET THE BOAT TO “FAIR” CONDITION
When we go to inspect a boat, we write down any projects and repairs that will need to be done (see our boat inspection checklist). Our goal is to list all the boat systems that need work and any parts that should be repaired or replaced. Next we assign a material and labor cost to each project.
In general, we don’t add normal maintenance costs because that would skew the value and be unfair to the seller. The exception is if the seller hasn’t been maintaining the boat and we would be playing catch up.
We add all of the repair costs to the list price for a total (which is usually depressingly high). Often we often multiply the repair costs by 1.25 as we’ve found we are usually optimistic about price and time.
Upon inspecting the Dufour 35 I discover there is some work to be done! The GPS doesn’t work ($1,000 replacement cost), the main sail is wrecked beyond repair ( $2,000 replacement cost) and the furler needs to be replaced ($3,000). I’ll have to spend at least $6,000 fixing up the boat, which I multiply by a factor of 1.25 (because there will likely be addition fixes!). So, I estimate it will be $7,500 to get the boat into “fair” condition.
STEP 4: PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
When you combine the list price and the cost of repairs you’ll be left with the “true” price of the boat. Compare this to the comparable estimated price (Step 2) and you’ll have a sense of whether boat is priced too high, too low, or just right!
This is also a good time to think about transportation costs. You can often score a great deal if you search farther afield but you have to factor in any moving costs and taxes.
Will you have to ship the boat?
Does the price include a boat trailer?
Will you pay import duties?
If you’re thinking of buying abroad, you might want to learn about sailboat arbitrage – the art of buying and selling boats in the right markets. Some people have even managed to sail around the world for free by buying and selling their boat in the right geographies.
When I take the list price ($20,000) and add the repair costs ($7,500) I realize the boat will cost me $27,500 in total. When I compare that to my comparable estimated price of $29,000, I can see that this boat is in the right ballpark and probably fairly priced.
A COUPLE OF EXTRA THINGS TO CONSIDER
Sometimes owners put so much money and hard work into a boat that they value the boat higher than the market does. It takes time and a few low ball offers to wear down the emotional seller to a more rational price point. Sometimes, the seller sets an idealistic price and won’t budge because they don’t really want to sell. We have encountered this a few times and we move onto the next boat.
The corollary to emotional pricing is emotional buying. Sometimes we fall in love with a boat; something about the interior layout or the lines or the color of the hull, even the name can have a profound influence. We can’t help but let our emotions in to the decision making process, but we have found that they should be reserved for the final decision. In order to minimize our emotions we try to quantify everything in terms of numbers and put it in an excel sheet.
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A final note, take all of this with a grain of salt and USE YOUR JUDGMENT! The calculator and recommendations above are in no way fool proof. As Publilius Syrus wrote: “Something is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it”. Good luck and happy boat buying!