Buying a Used Boat Online

Catalina for sale

skvidal / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

While a sailor looking to buy a brand new boat may start their search with boat shows and dealers, the majority of buyers are interested in used boats. In the old days you might spend months driving all over to boatyards but, as with most shopping now, websites make it easy to find virtually all boats for sale in your area. Here's how to get started shopping for a used boat online.

First, do you know exactly what kind of boat you're looking for—power or sailboat? Centerboard or fixed keel? Sloop or ketch? Even if you think you know what you want, it's a good idea to research your options fully rather than risk ending up with a boat that doesn't meet your needs. Make sure you understand what options you have for the size and type of boat you're looking for, in addition to knowing what to expect when it comes to financial considerations and the process of making an offer, getting a survey, and other vital steps in the boat-buying process.

Online Dealers

One of the best places to start is YachtWorld. This site typically lists over 120,000 boats, with tons of information and photos about each. With such a huge volume of listings, this site is a valuable resource whether you know the exact make and model you want or are still browsing. You can search listings by one or more of these criteria:

  • Boat type
  • Manufacturer and model
  • Length
  • Year
  • New or used
  • Price
  • Location (country, region, or state)

Use this site to help you learn more about specific models and differences in options and equipment. Don't search first only in your area: get to know the typical prices, features, etc. of all boats like the one you're interested in. Even if you think you're sure what you want, take a look at similar boats; many buyers end up preferring a different boat from where they begin their search.

Another good site is BoatTrader, which also lists a huge number of boats and allows searches by multiple criteria. BoatTrader also includes some fixer-uppers from liquidators.

Important note: Both YachtWorld and BoatTrader include boats listed by brokers and dealers—not individuals. That means these boats tend to be larger and more expensive—not the place to search for a Sunfish, for example. Even if you find the exact one you want here, you should continue your online search at sites where individuals list their boats for sale.

Buying Direct from Owners

If you really want a specific model boat and haven't located one in appropriate condition, you can search for an owners association, listserv, or forum. Check Yahoo Groups, where many boat owner email lists are located, or Reddit. Join the group and post your query about the boat you're looking for. Owners of many particular models are often aware of others with the same who are looking to sell.


Remember that the huge variability in condition and equipment affects pricing (as well as a broker's commission). Another tool is the NADA Guide for used boats, which again, can offer only average resale prices.

Closing the Deal

Unless you're buying just a small daysailer and/or you really know boats inside and out, get a professional survey before you close the deal. One overlooked flaw in a used boat can make a purchase a costly—or even life-threatening—mistake.