You’d love to sail into the sunset, if only you could afford a boat! Finding cheap boats for sale has been an obsession at various points in our lives. Having bought 3 boats over the last 5 years (a 22 ft trailerable lake sailboat for $3K, a 35ft offshore sailboat for $9K, and a 17ft fish boat for $4.5K), we’ve literally spent days out of our lives trolling Craigslist looking for cheap boats. When buying a boat on Craigslist, we’ve learned there are a few key things you can do to uncover the best deals.
1.Know what a good deal is!
Believe it of not a 40 ft homebuilt catamaran for $10,000 might be a worse deal than a 30 ft production monohull for $20,000. It depends on a whole variety of factors including year, make, condition, location, etc. It’s way to big a topic to address in this post so if you’re not clear on what a boat should cost, read this post on what a boat should cost. We’ve also seen countless “cheap boats” only to discover upon inspection that they’re “cheap” for a reason (like not having a working engine). So, buyer beware! You can read about what red flags to look for and if you are new to boating it’s probably a good idea to hire a boat surveyor.
2. The secrets to setting up search parameters
Finding cheap boats for sale on Craigslist is all about setting up the right search parameters! The key things to do are:
- Look outside of certain price thresholds. When people are looking for boats online they usually have a certain budget in mind (e.g. I want a 30 ft. sailboat for under $10,000). So, if you search just above that threshold (say a 30 ft. sailboat for $12,000) you’re likely to see cheap boats that other buyers won’t. Common thresholds include $10,000, $15,000, $25,000, $50,000.
- Set your max price at 30% above your budget. While it depends on the boat and how the owner has priced it, we’ve found that as a general rule of thumb, sellers will come down by about 30%.
- Use variants of your search terms. Craigslist’s listing data is garbage in garbage out. So, if a seller lists their 30ft Hunter as a “30ft Sail Boat” incorrectly spelling “sailboat”, it won’t show up in a search for “30ft sailboat”.
- Set up search notifications so that you receive an email every time a new listing meets your parameters. Good deals go quickly, so be ready to drop everything and get down to the marina for an inspection.
- Search in the off-season. When buying a boat on Craigslist, the best deals will be found at the end of the boating season when owners are looking to avoid marina fees for the winter months. Search volume for boat sales is roughly 40% lower in the off-season, which means less competition for you!
3. Qualify your results and save yourself time.
Finding cheap boats for sale on Craigslist is a volume game more than anything (we’ve looked at hundreds of boats over the years). If you’re not carefully managing your time, it’s easy to burn out. If you’ve ever shown up to view a boat only to realize that the photos you saw online were 10 years old, then you know what I’m talking about! Here are a few ways we’ve cut down on time wasting:
- Write up your list of must-haves (e.g. must have engine with less than 1K hours, must not have teak deck, etc.) and run through your checklist every time you find a good candidate. Ask the owner to fill in the missing information.
- Ask for additional photos before you spend 8 hours of your weekend driving to view a boat. Owners should be willing to send you photos because in the long term it saves their time as well as yours.
- If the boat is local, swing by the marina and quickly view the boat from the outside. This will give you a sense for how upfront the seller has been in their advertisement.
Pro tip: Craigslist can be a weird place, so remember than sellers are qualifying you too! We’ve both gotten and given great deals simply because we (or the buyer) were honest, upfront, friendly, and didn’t waste time.
4. Be more persistent than the next guy
That weird listing with spelling errors and no photos? Well, it could be a scam, or it could be a sweet deal and a seller who doesn’t know how to use the internet! You’ll never know unless you email them. Same goes with sellers who don’t get back to you, send them a follow up email.