Negotiating and Getting the Best Price

sailboat-peopleWhether you are buying power or sail, little or big, new or used, virtually all boat prices are negotiable.

Prices are more negotiable at certain times and with certain types of customers. Prices are also much more negotiable from certain sellers.

Some good times to bargain and save

Buying at a boat show. Vendors at boat shows are generally eager to sell their display boats rather than have to transport them. If you’re patient and lucky, you can at times buy these show models cheaply.

  • Once you’ve done your homework on the boat that’s right for you—and once you’ve arranged your boat financing—visit a large boat show at the beginning of the show and find a boat or two that would fit your budget and needs.
  • Note the written sales price of the boat and all its options, including engines. If you’re thorough, you’ll check out each of these items by using tools on this web site.
  • As the end-of-show date approaches, check on your favorite boats again. If the boats are still there, introduce yourself to a salesperson, and let them know you are definitely buying some boat, but not necessarily their boat. Make an offer on the boat. Be brave. If the boat is priced at $50,000 don’t be afraid to offer $30,000.
  • To find a list of boat shows near you, check out presented by DiscoverBoating.

Buying at the end of the boating season. Almost all boat dealers "floor plan" their boats: that means they pay interest on them as long as they sit on the boat dealer’s lot. Because dealers don’t look forward to paying these interest payments during the off season, they are much more likely to cut their prices as the end of boating season draws near or as the off season begins.

Buying a boat from a boat builder who has gone out of business. Boat builders come and go. Many such companies may make great boats, but don’t have the capital or marketing expertise to survive in business. If you carefully, carefully check out these boats, you may find a real bargain.

  • Where to find these boats: generally, at larger boat dealers.
  • How do you check them out? Unless you’re buying a toy boat, don’t buy a boat from an out-of-business builder without thoroughly checking out the construction and design specifications of the boat. If you’re looking at one of these, have a boat mechanic or surveyor look at the boat for you. As we mentioned, you can find the name of a surveyor by calling any boat dealer or using the links under "Safe and Reliable."
  • What should you pay for a boat like this? Generally, you should pay 20-30 percent less than for a comparable boat.

Basic negotiating tips for boats

Because boats don’t have fixed "asking" prices, don’t be shy about asking for dramatic discounts. Some boat dealers regularly add fifty percent to their "asking" prices.

Many boat sellers will easily negotiate with you on the boat itself, and then charge you thousands for equipping the boat without offering to discount any of this equipment. For instance, the seller agrees to cut the price of the hull by 25 percent, but charges you "list" price for engines, radios, and other necessities. Don’t fall for this tactic: Negotiate the cost of each item on a boat individually, as you chose those options.

Make sure your boat price includes key safety and usage items. The selling price of new boats normally does not include critical equipment such as life vests, throw rings, second anchors, or dock lines.

If you’re looking at used boats (a smart thing), you can come close to determining the value of the boat. Unlike new boats, used boats have published values, generally based on what a lending institution will lend on that boat. The three major industry guides are typically called "blue books." Here are sites for determining used boat values.

  • is one of the standard used boat price guides. You must register to use it but there is no charge and the privacy policy is reasonable. It helps to read the FAQ before searching for a boat.
  • is another of the standard used boat price guides.
  • ABOS Marine Blue Books, now part of PriceDigests is the third major guide. Basic identification information is provided for free but a subscription is required for more detail and values. A 12-month subscription for the online version costs $229.95.
  • "Best Bet Blue Books: Not all marine blue books created equal," a useful article by Chris Caswell from, discusses how lenders and the boating industry use the blue books.

Don’t buy boats from strangers or individuals without carefully, carefully, researching the finance history and past ownership of that particular boat. In many areas, con artists make a living hauling stolen boats from one state to the next and selling them.

How do you know if a specific boat has been stolen? You do your homework! Insist on tracing the past ownership of the boat, and talk to some of the previous owners. You can take other steps yourself and may also be able to check the boat’s serial number against databases of stolen boats. The following resources should help.

  • How to Avoid Purchasing a Stolen Boat offers pointers from marine surveyor David Pascoe.
  • There are a number of sites online that contain information on stolen boats, including databases provided by a number of states.

How do you know if a boat has an outstanding lien on it? Boats (and engines and all key accessories) have serial numbers, and lenders generally file liens by serial number. But these records aren’t generally available to you.

A tip: You can file a lien search using a service such as the following:

  • Marine You must register to use their services. Making a search is free. If you find a lien you will have to pay to view it. The website details their terms of agreement and the information you need to conduct a search.

Should you deal with a local boat dealer, or trust finding a boat on the Web?

From a pure convenience and accountability standpoint, you are probably better off trying to find a boat—new or used—at a local boat dealer.

  • You can carefully inspect a local boat.
  • You can take local boats for "test drives."
  • You have easier recourse if your boat purchase goes awry if you are dealing locally.

Checking out boats you can’t see personally.

You may find the perfect boat, but it may be a thousand miles away. Here’s a good article on finding out the truth about boats you can’t see.

Tips before you buy a specific boat

Remember the story of the man who built a boat in his garage and couldn’t get it out through the door? Don’t let a version of that happen to you! Think about these pointers before committing to buy:

Make sure the hull is rated for your engine(s). Don’t buy a hull unless there is a plaque on it which rates maximum horsepower, and make sure your power source isn’t above that rating.

Are you planning to tow the boat? Is your tow vehicle rated to tow a boat that heavy? You can usually determine total weight on a new or used boat by getting the weight of the total rig from either the seller or by gathering weight information from specifications provided by the manufacturer’s website.

Is the trailer rated for the boat? At times both individual seller and boat dealers will "mismatch" boat and trailer. The result? Real safety issues when you’re towing.

  • Ask the seller if the trailer is specifically rated for the boat.
  • If you are uncomfortable with your seller’s answer, check the boat manufacturer’s specifications for the trailer. Towing & Trailering from will help you learn about towing and boat trailer maintenance and includes a trailering checklist.

Are you planning to stow the boat at your home? Are there any covenants that prevent you from storing boats on your property? If you’re planning to use your garage for boat storage, will it fit?

Are you planning to keep your boat at a marina? You’ll want to find that marina, and price out both dockage and out-of-water stowage before you buy a boat. Here are key sites for locating marinas and storage lots.

  • offers images, information and maps for marinas across the US, organized by state.
  • offers links to numerous online directories of marinas and boat yards.

Next: Getting Your Boat in the Water

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