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What You Need To Know Before You Sell Your Boat

As the owner/operator of a full service boat detailing-yacht maintenance business I can't help but chuckle sometimes at seeing the extremes that otherwise bright, intelligent, successful, people will go to in a misguided attempt to save a few dollars.

One of the biggest mistakes that we see is that people will decide to sell their boat without first having her completely detailed.

According to Rob Scanlan, a well known and respected Master Marine Surveyor;

"Detailing a boat is the single most important investment of time, energy and money a seller can make because a clean and shiny boat sells faster and for a lot more money. I strongly recommended that a seller enlist professional assistance to do a quality job." (Email) (Web site)

We at BoatDocs1, do a lot of work here on the Emerald Coast with local yacht brokers and know what the standards are for a "ready to show" boat. These professionals know that the cosmetic appearance says everything to the prospective buyer as to the overall care and maintenance that the previous owner has given the yacht. Add to that the universal wisdom about first impressions and it's not hard to see the importance of this vital first step.

Even if you intend to do most of the work yourself we can offer the expertise to assure that your time and money are spent wisely. Our trained eyes will often pick up the little details that only a prospective buyer would notice and likely balk at.

Here is an outline of the standard procedures we use when preparing a yacht to be put up for sale:

1. Thoroughly Wash and Dry the Boat

Note: For this part, pay attention to everything you see and unless your memory is a lot better than mine, make notes on a piece of paper for later.

  • Wash and chamois-dry your boat top to bottom including transom.

  • clean Isenglass and other ports/windows

  • wipe down and dress all aluminum/stainless

  • clean and dress vinyl seats

  • wipe down fly bridge and cockpit

  • vacuum exterior carpet

  • clean and dress nonskid

2. Stand Back and Survey the Boat

Note: Bring your list and organize it with the following outline

* Put yourself in the buyers shoes, be critical, the buyer will.

  • Is it shiny? It's the first thing most people notice.

  • What about the smell? People have a way of getting used to almost anything. Get a second opinion and see the hint below.

  • Is all hardware intact and presentable? Just because you've used that broken table for years and are rather fond of it, to anyone else, it's just a broken table.

  • What about dings, any damage to the fiberglass? Aside from the fact that broken gelcoat can let water into the core of the lay-up and delaminate the fiberglass, it just plain looks BAD.

  • What about rust? You are probably thinking right now; (what's a little rust on a boat?) Let me tell you. A little rust on a boat is a sure sign that the owner let's little things go by unnoticed and if there is one thing there are always more. What about oil changes? I wonder if he flushed out the outboard after use? The object of this little exercise is to make the boat look like you are conscientious and a stickler for having everything perfectly "SHIP SHAPE."

  • One more little tip that you have probably already thought of. Take a look around the boat and remove EVERYTHING that isn't part of the boat.


    Engine controls, compass, life jackets, flare kit, and a first aid kit ARE part of the boat. Knick-knacks, fishing tackle, cutesy wall plaques, and half full paint cans are NOT part of the boat-and look tacky. A few cleaning supplies, in their own locker is probably all right as long as they're kept neat and clean.

  • Make a list of things that need attention, and get it taken care of. A few dollars spent now will pay back in spades when the time comes to show your boat. Anything that isn't right will stick out like the proverbial sore thumb, be noticed and start the price spiraling down. (if it doesn't just send them scurrying off shaking their heads)

    Hint: If you are not a woman reading this and don't have a wife of your own, ask your mother or sister, or see if a friend will loan you his for a few minutes. For some reason women can smell things that a man would never notice. You may think that men buy boats but in my experience they buy the boats their women like. Along this same line, pay particular attention to the cabin and heads.

    3. Prioritize the Job

    With your list you are in good shape to decide what needs to be done and whether or not you want to do the work yourself or have it done by a professional.

    Most of the professional yacht maintenance companies we are familiar with, would be happy to take a look and give you an estimate of what it will cost to have the work done right. We can do part of the job, for example the compounding/polishing and will gladly help you choose the best wax to finish the job yourself.

    What about those little chips and dings in the gelcoat?

    Many books have been written on fiberglass repair and it isn't the intent of this article to cover the subject in any depth but many small repairs are well within the reach of a fairly skilled do-it-yourselfer. Like anything else though, if you have never done it before, "consult an expert."

    I've been building and repairing in fiberglass since I was 14 and while the first wooden boat I glassed was water tight and lasted a good many years, it was far from pretty. The small investment you lay out for expert repair now will pay big dividends when your boat sells at the price you want.

    In the Emerald Coast region the standard fees for compound/waxing run between $15.00/ft. and $18.00/ft. for the topside (rub-rail up) which includes a thorough cleaning and treatment of the vinyl, windows, isenglass, and metal. In other words, for the price of doing the "hard" part we'll detail the entire topsides and leave it in "ready-to-show" condition. Hulls (rub-rail down) run about $8.00/ft. but, of course, the boat must be out of the water in order to do it. (This walking on water with a hi-speed electric buffer in hand is still beyond me, but I'll let you know;-)

    Fiberglass repair runs from $45.00 to $65.00 per hour and in general as with most everything else, one gets what one pays for. The up side to this is that when approached in a professional manner the dents and dings of ten years hard use can be repaired and made to look like new in an amazingly short time.

    All too often we have seen people save $300.00 or $400.00 on a detail only to loose $Thousands$ on what their boat could have sold for. Then too, our local marinas are clogged with many examples of boats with "For Sale" signs which were never given the least bit of attention to make the passer by want to stop and think, "Hey, I wonder what it would be like to call that boat mine." Some of these boats have sat for years when all they ever really needed was a little T.L.C.

    I remember, years ago, someone saying something about being penny wise and pound foolish? Let's not let them be saying that about us.

    About The Author

    James "Doc" Lewis has been "messin about in boats" for as long as he can remember. He is owner/operator of BoatDocs1, a full-service boat detailing-yacht maintenance business serving the Emerald Coast region of Florida. To learn more about boats and keeping them looking their best visit his website at:

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