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Stuck on You – What Happens When you Can’t Sell Your Boat

Remember the excitement of spending the first night as a liveaboard? The water lapping at the hull, stars visible through the hatch and the prospect of a lifetime of freedom, mobility and variety. This is not one of those stories.

Imagine instead returning reluctantly each evening to a boat that you no longer want. A change of circumstances means you need to cash in some of your investments, sell your boat which has been your home of the last few years and get back at least some of what you paid for it. But there’s a problem. The hull leaks, the air is dank and the engine temperamental, but to haul out and repair all the quirks you’ve been putting up with for years would now cost thousands. But without making those repairs, you literally can’t give your boat away.

Thankfully, the boat market is sufficiently healthy that this kind of scenario is rare. According to Lindy Schweickert of St Thomas
Yacht Sales, “We think there is a buyer somewhere out there for every boat, no matter how strange or unique”. However, much of the trading takes place at the top end of the market with the 45 to 55 footers, so what of the more battered boats in the under $25,000 bracket?

You would think these cheaper boats would sell themselves. Not so. Boats in this price range are typically around 30′ and old. Although brokers will take them on to their lists, the profit margin is so low that few tend to be sold this way. “A lot of boats in that price range tend to be sold by their owners,” confirms Schweickert. Which means more legwork on the seller’s part.

Dirk (name changed) is one such liveaboard who can attest to three years of legwork, trying to sell his 43′ trimaran. “I bought the boat in 1992. I had an arrangement with the owner so I didn’t have to make any downpayment and I paid it off over the years. I was
looking for a cheaper place to live, so in a way I’ve made the money back over the years in rent. In total, I paid $20,000.” So far, so good. While not suited to longer passage making, the 1970s, French-built trimaran was nevertheless what many cruisers are looking for – rent free, relatively comfortable and adaptable. Yet there were soon problems.

“I didn’t have money to work on the boat,” says Dirk, “but did what I could do to maintain it.” Eventually, he was able to rebuild the interior, purchase sails and enlarge the cockpit. Fine for a bolthole, but when the opportunity came to start his own business, a boat
wasn’t what Dirk wanted. “I can’t get a computer on the boat, so I wanted to live on shore again and sell it to start the business.”

At $15,000, the price was not exorbitant, but by then the trimaran was in Trinidad, where, according to Dirk: “there are not a lot of yachties and those who are there want a nice boat, not one to live on.” He tried brokerages, but “found that they were not really
interested.” That left selling it himself. Bay Island Yacht’s Heather Underwood has some tips on how to shift this kind of boat: “At least empty all your stuff out of it,” she stresses. “The biggest thing people don’t do with the lower end of boats is preparation.” After that, “the most important things are the rigging – if it’s towards the end of its 10-year life then you’re better off doing that. Then even simple things like the brightwork looking nice. It doesn’t matter how good your systems are if the boat doesn’t look well-maintained at first sight.”

Talking of systems and accessories, “for the cruising market, people are looking for the solar panels, the watermaker and the wind generator, so the extras are important. But you can’t expect to get back what you paid for them,” underlines Underwood.

Tips on selling your boat yourself

  1. Put your boat on sale at the beginning of the season.
  2. Get rid of any extras you’ve added that don’t increase the value. Buyer’s want to visualize their plans, not your DIY.

Get all the papers together into a seller’s pack, which should include a bill of sale, detailed service history, inventory of all equipment and fittings, receipts.

  1. Set a price. There are many websites aimed at private sales that will give you a fair valuation based on the information you supply. These include www.iboats.com, www.boattraderonline.com, and www.boats.com
  2. Spread the word – use free listings in this magazine and others, bulletin boards, yacht club and bars.

 

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