Buying A Boat – What You Need To Know About Buying & Selling

If you’re in the market for buying a boat, or if you’re selling a boat – this article is for you. Having bought and sold a couple of my own boats over the years, I’m going to go through my top spots to buy and sell boats, some tips for shortlisting the advertisements, and what works when you’re listing your boat for sale.

The 4 main websites I use when I’m looking for, or listing a boat are:

  1. BoatsOnline –
  2. BoatSales –
  3. Gumtree –
  4. Facebook –


This website is a little hidden gem, and the underdog to BoatSales. Often you can find exclusive listings on here, that haven’t been listed on other sites. It’s much cheaper to list on BoatsOnline. You’ll find that some sellers and brokers refuse to pay the exorbitant fees asked of BoatSales – listing exclusively with BoatsOnline. BoatsOnline provides all the same core features and an excellent platform. It allows you to search by price, location, size, make and model. You also have the ability to enable email alerts.


Currently the biggest online database of boats for sale, but also the most expensive to use. At the time of writing, if your boat is more than $7500, the minimum listing cost is $95. The most expensive ad being $420. Conversely, if you’re looking for a boat worth over $100,000 or something specific, BoatSales is the place to search. If your boat is priced competitively and is in the lower bracket, I’d suggest listing on BoatsOnline and Facebook before trying BoatSales. All the usual, features including ability to search by price, location, size, make, model and the ability to set up email alerts for new listings.


Gumtree should be your go-to if you’re buying a boat or selling anything under $150,000 because it’s popular and free to list. They make their money from online banner advertisements on the web page, as opposed to the users. The biggest downfall to Gumtree is that a lot of the users are “swappers”, meaning you might get offered 2 VY Commodores for your $40,000 Trophy fishing boat – even though Gumtree clearly labels listings as “For sale” or “For swap”. Like with BoatsOnline, some brokers refuse to pay for the more expensive BoatSales, and will list on Gumtree instead. It’s definitely a good option, with plenty of buyers viewing the listings.

Facebook Marketplace


Facebook Marketplace has really taken off for selling anything and everything. It has been the most successful way for me personally selling anything used as of late. I often find myself falling for the trap – I’m scrolling through my feed when a for sale ad pops up for one of the boating groups I follow. Before I know it, I’m thinking “Wow, that actually looks like a great deal!” Before I know it, I am logging into my online banking app to see if I can scrape the funds together… and I wasn’t even looking for a boat!

If you’re in NSW and looking to buy or sell a boat, you need to be in the Boats For Sale N.S.W group. It has over 58K members (and growing daily), and this is where all the action happens. The group is full of people who have “followed” a boat for sale group. This means that when a seller posts an ad, it will be published in their newsfeeds. This prompts them to see the post and contemplate the purchase, or tag someone who’s considering buying a boat.

When searching Facebook Marketplace, the default settings are to “notify” you when a new item in that category becomes available. The only downfall is there are very few high end boats listed (above $150,000) – so it’s not the place to look for larger boats. The search tool is amazing if you have a very specific boat in mind, but the filtering is not the same as the other websites where you can search by criteria as opposed to brand.

Tips For Shortlisting When Buying a Boat & Selling a Boat

1. In Person Inspections A Must

Every so often, I get customers who are so excited when they’re buying a boat they haven’t even inspected themselves. I do my best to try and convince them to have a look in person first, because it’s not uncommon for sellers to list their boat with old photos from when they bought it. It’d be nice to think everyone is honest, but the reality is people forget details when selling a boat. Everyone has different expectations, and what you might consider poor condition, someone else claims is immaculate.

2. When buying a boat, how do I shortlist it?

View the service history

If the boat is immaculate but the seller can’t find the service history – what does this say about the rest of the boat? If the seller has owned it for a short period, he should keep all documentation from the previous owners. During some inspections I am presented with a large folder of the history of the boat, entailing all the receipts that sometimes even date back 10 years . A boat without service history means you need to assume major maintenance is due. You should account for the cost of any major maintenance in the price unless it can be otherwise proven. It is easy to become emotionally invested when you’re buying a boat, but it is important to have an understanding of its service history before you considering putting down a deposit or proceeding with the purchase.

On the other side of the fence, if you’re a seller – always keep a log of your service history. I often come across people who “paid cash” for the service, and don’t have a receipt. As a minimum, log what was done and when.

Sometimes getting the service history doesn’t mean much to someone new to boating. As a Surveyor and Engineer my job entails checking the service history. If you’re confused, reach out in a Facebook boating group or send me an email here. I can help review the history and give recommendation to where there may be missing or incomplete history.

Ask when the photos were taken

When selling a larger boat, for example one that lives on a mooring – it’s a pain to row out and take photos specifically to sell the boat. It’s much easier to google the last time it was sold, collect the photos and re-list. In reality, the boat might look completely different – there could have been pigeons crapping all over it, the sun blazing down each day, and the salt spraying over the boat when the wind picks up. By simply asking when the photos were taken, you can ascertain if the boat looks anything like the photos.

If on a trailer, has it been anti fouled?

If the boat is on a trailer, always ask if it has been antifouled. I’ve seen numerous attempts to hide it in an advert, from painting a fresh coat of white antifoal (so it blends and is hard to tell), to taking photos high enough that it just cuts the bottom of the hull out. The only reason to antifoul a trailer boat is if it lives permanently in the water. If this is the case, the boat will often be worse for wear than a non-antifouled counterpart that lives on the street, in a garage or under a cover.

3. Deposit & Inspection

I’m not sure how many times I’ve had someone cancel because the boat sold “under” them. If you’re serious about buying a boat, it’s good practice to leave a small deposit that is refundable if the inspection comes back unsatisfactory. I know when I’ve sold my own boats, it’s first one with a deposit before I will pause the ad. If it’s a private sale and you don’t trust the seller, leave the smallest deposit possible to secure the boat. However, this approach may not work with a broker because they will usually dictate the deposit size. For larger deposit to a broker, make sure it’s paid into a trust account, and do your due diligence beforehand. Make sure you have any agreements in writing, so if anyone reneges it’s clear what was agreed on. If you need a generic agreement, you can download our free Boat Purchase Contract.

It is normal practice for the buyer to pay for slipping costs to inspect the bottom of the hull. Buyer’s will also need to cover any cleaning costs to assess it properly (for example, water blasting while it’s slipped). It is worthwhile getting the bottom cleaned, so a proper test run can be performed. A boat with barnacle growth on the bottom will not perform properly.

Selling a Boat – Boat Broker or List Yourself?

If you’ve got a boat worth less than $40,000, usually a broker is going to cost a considerable chunk that can sometimes outweigh the advantage. With that being said, maybe you don’t have the experience or you’re selling because you couldn’t use the boat. If that’s the case, a broker is the way to go. For anything over $40,000, and boats that live permanently in the water (meaning it’s a lot of hassle to show the boat), a broker can also be a convenience. In saying that, not all brokers are created equal. It pays to find someone who is excellent at what they do. Little things go a long way – such as staging, cleaning and photographing the boat for sale. The more preparation you do before listing the boat the more likely it will successfully sell.

Which Broker?

Being at the forefront of boats being sold, I get to see the good and bad sale outcomes. If you ever need a recommendation for a broker, feel free to email me and I can point you in the right direction. I’ve seen examples where a survey has come back unfavourable, but the brokers ability to liaise repairs and negotiate can keep the sale going ahead. I’ve also seen instances when a private seller hasn’t known how to take a detrimental survey report, and has lost a sale over it. When things come up in survey that are critical, it’s usually in the sellers best interest to repair them. Otherwise they may have to sell the boat at a considerable discount to account for the extra risk. For some more advice and tips on buying from another perspective, read Sam’s article Buying A New Or Used Boat.

About the Author

Aaron O’Donoghue is a qualified Marine Surveyor & Engineer with nearly two decades of experience in the industry. He is an experienced boater from Sydney who grew up on the waters of Sydney Harbour. He left school at 15 to complete an apprenticeship as a Marine Mechanic. In 2015, he founded BoatBuy, where he has inspected thousands of boats and is passionate about helping others enjoy their time on the water. He has a wealth of knowledge and experience in the field. Do you have a boating related question? Feel free to reach out to me via email here.

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