Checking a boat before you buy

Once you've decided what boat it is that you want to buy and you seen some advertised, you'll want to make appointments to view them.
You should treat a first visit to view a boat purely as a check. Rushing into a sale at the first visit is not recommended. To help you ascertain whether the boat is right for you, follow this sequence:
Step 1 – The First Viewing
If it's a new boat, your first visit will be to look over the boat and maybe the next model up and below it. Enquirel about optional extras and colour ways and to also check out delivery lead times, warranty, part exchange (if any) and payment terms, as well as their first asking price.
If it's a used boat, your visit should be to check out the boat carefully to examine its condition, identify any needed repairs or improvement work that you feel may affect any future negotiations. You should also confirm the asking price, payment terms and to decide if, having examined the boat, you wish to arrange for a sea trial.
Tip – Our Appraisal Checklist is extremely helpful in assisting you with your first viewing.
Step 2 – The Sea Trial
If you're satisfied with the condition of a used boat or you wish to check out a new boat further, you should carry out a sea trial. It is ideal if this can be done at the time of your first visit, but if not, be patient and arrange another appointment.
If it's a power boat, be wary at the sea trial if the engine is already warmed up. It may be that it is difficult to start up or it smokes a lot from cold; with a warmed up engine, you wouldn't know any different.
Check the boat's steering and handling capabilities at slow speeds, in confined situations. If it's a sea-going boat, see how much it rolls and pitches, taking waves of different sizes at alternative angles. If you’re looking at a planing boat, check how quickly and easily it gets on the plane. Also make a mental note of the sea conditions as to whether they are calmer or rougher than you would find acceptable. A boat's performance is relative to the sea state that it is performing in. It's not informative to compare one boat in a choppy sea and a strong wind, with another in a flat sea and no wind.
If it's a sailing boat, try different points of sail, sailing into and away from the wind and check the boat's manoeuvrability, stability and performance of the sails and rigging under load. Also make sure to check how the boat performs on the engine.
Whatever boat you're trying out, at the end of the sea trial you should re-examine the bilges, engine compartment and the boat generally for any evidence of oil or water leaks.
Step 3 – Checking a used boat for title, charges and theft
Having examined the boat and taken it for a trial, if it's a used boat there are some checks that you should carry out to ensure that the boat is legally a boat that you would like to buy.
Tip - Our security checklist will tell you all you need to know.
Once you seen the evidence of build compliance, VAT compliance, and information that you need to carry out your basic security checks, you should leave 'to think about it' and get those checks done.
Step 4 – Boat Survey for Used Boats
In the very likely event that the boat passes your basic security checks and you’re still committed to the purchase, you should arrange for a professional surveyor to examine the boat. Only if you are very certain of your own ability to check out a boat or you feel that the type and or value of the boat does not warrant it, you should you skip this step.
You can expect to pay for this (as opposed to the seller) but you may be able to use the information provided by the surveyor to negotiate down the sales price. If this doesn't happen, you'll at least have the peace of mind of knowing that you're about to buy a boat that's safe and in excellent condition.
You can also try negotiating with the seller that surveyor's fees you pay are taken off the sales price, should you buy the boat. Use a reputable surveyor or one that is listed by the International Institute of Marine and Surveying (IIMS) or The Yacht Designers and Surveyors Association (YDSA). See our contact list for further details.
Step 5 – Checking the sales price
Before entering into negotiations with a seller, you need to think about what price you're prepared to offer, as well as what price you're prepared to settle at.
New Boats
With new boats, it's quite rare to pay the price that's shown in the brochure. What you can expect to receive as a discount depends on many factors such as availability, demand, model age but anything between 2% - 8% is possible, occasionally more. But it's all down to timing and negotiating.
Used Boats
With used boats, it's a bit more complicated. The simplest way of checking whether the sales price of the boat you're interested in represents reasonable value is to compare it with other boats of the same make and model. But be sure that you're comparing like with like. Age, condition and specification make a difference as well as the ancillary equipment that's included in the sale, so make allowances for any differences in these.
Tip - our price guide will help you establish a fair price.
Step 6 – Negotiating the Deal
New Boats
Timing is important when buying a new boat. Special deals are often available during Boat Shows, when there are gaps in the boat builder's order bank (usually end of summer/early winter) or towards the end of the financial year for the boat builder or Dealer and when a model is due to be superseded by an updated version. Research this carefully and try to negotiate at the best time.
If discounts aren't on offer or are lower than you wish on the new boat that you're looking to buy, you might do better to negotiate the inclusion of ancillary equipment in the price; items such as ropes, fenders, life jackets, GPS, depth sounders, chart plotters and even deck cushions, CD system or a cooler bag. The value to you is higher than it costs the Dealer to buy these items, so having some of these items 'thrown in' can be a good compromise.
You could also consider buying a nearly new ex-demonstrator or 'show' boat (one that's been exhibited at a Boat Show), if they're available. If they are, you can expect a significant discount on the new price. Bear in mind that a new boat will depreciate by about 15% or more by the end of the first year of ownership.
If you've tried to make a deal but the price is still too high, in your opinion, leave and let the Dealer think about it. Maybe your timing wasn't quite right or maybe you were hoping for too much. Either way, let a little time pass and see if you can find out which way round it is!
Used Boats
When it comes to used boats, there is no rule of thumb. The selling price might represent great value as it is, but only your research will offer this knowledge to share with the seller.
If you believe that there is scope for negotiation then you can use the following to help drive the price down:
  • Faults and rectification work required according to your own boat condition checks
  • Ancillary equipment that is either missing, or in poor condition, not working, out of date or not included in the sale – items such as lines, fenders, sails, rigging, fire extinguishers and blankets, deck cushions and life saving equipment.
  • Faults and rectification work required and identified by your boat surveyor.
  • Missing service information for your engine.
  • Lack of current safety certificate on a canal boat.
  • Lack of documentation such as:
  • Original sales invoice and evidence of VAT compliance (without this you may not obtain a marine loan and may be liable for a VAT charge).
  • CE declaration of conformity (occurs with US import boats and will need to be registered for you to sell it on. This can be done but costs money. However, the selling price should be reduced significantly because of non-compliance.
  • Boat manual
  • British Waterways licence (for inland waterway boats)
  • VHF radio licence (where a VHF radio is fixed on board)


Any combination of these should help you to persuade the seller that there is scope for negotiation. If they won't budge and you believe the price to be too high, walk away and wait. Negotiation may appeal to the seller on reflection.