How to Buy a Boat

In this feature we look at the process of buying a boat, how to avoid common pitfalls and how to ensure the people you are dealing with are qualified, experienced, professionals. Giving you the ability to buy with confidence and ensure you get a great start to many years of happy boating.

The decision to buy a boat is often an emotional one. But ensure you engage your brain before you start! Your first decision must be your budget – don’t forget that it is not just the purchase price of the boat, but the ongoing maintenance, mooring/marina fees, fuel, equipment, etc. The next decision is the purpose of the boat – does it need to go into open water? Will it be a single-handed operation or an activity for family & friends?

Then review what your budget can afford in that category. The internet is an ideal way to look at what is available and get some ideas on prices; then visit your local brokerage firms and see what they have in your price range and boat type.

When you are buying a boat it is important that you use a qualified, experienced professional. Check the ABYA website (Association of Brokers & Yacht Agents) for your nearest qualified canal boat or river boat broker. Brokers are experienced in the types of boat they sell, so do discuss your requirements with them so they can give you the benefit of their advice and perhaps suggest some boats you hadn’t considered. They will be able to show you around the boats they have locally on their listings so you can see the layout and get a feel for whether it is something you like, or not, which will help your final decision. If the boat is located elsewhere remember the cost of travelling to it is up to you, as is the cost of a lift-out and the survey.

Once you have narrowed down your search, make a list of your likes and dislikes; view the boats on your shortlist and identify which one or ones really work for you. Look at the inventory – what additional items are included and what is not being included that you will have to replace. As you reach a decision discuss it with your broker – use their knowledge and experience – that is what they are there for. When you have decided you will need to make an offer which may or may not be for the asking price and which, we would advise in most cases, should be subject to survey and possibly also trial. You can, of course, buy with no conditions and if you are knowledgeable and know what you are looking for, or perhaps you are buying a DIY project, then you won’t want a survey. If you don’t have a survey be aware that you will have no legal come-back if there is a problem with the boat that wasn’t apparent, and which the vendor may have been unaware of. This is known as Caveat Emptor – Buyer Beware! If you are buying from a dealer ask what the warranty covers. The broker will not recommend a surveyor but may have a list of local surveyors, or you could visit (the Yacht Designers & Surveyors Association) to find your nearest specialist surveyor.

Once you have made an offer and the price has perhaps been negotiated and agreement reached you will be asked to place a deposit – generally 10%. This is to show you are genuine in your offer and also generally covers any outstanding fees or bills there may be on the boat (though maybe not an outstanding mortgage) and the broker will use this money to pay off these fees and encumbrances at completion. You and the vendor will be sent a duplicate Sale & Purchase Agreement. Both parties should read and understand the contract and check the inventory as well before signing and returning to the broker. The broker will usually stipulate that there is no contract in place until the signed documents are received to avoid any confusion particularly if there are two interested parties. Remember, the broker has to act to the vendor’s instructions at all times. We will be talking about the survey in a later How to guide that will explain what the survey covers and working with your surveyor.

The broker will have a Client Account – this is a special, separate account into which he places the buyer’s deposit and balance payments. This account is not part of his trading accounts as it is money held on behalf of another party. He will only transfer his commission fee into his own account at completion. You can ask to see the letter from the bank confirming the status of the account – a good broker won’t mind you asking, and will respect your integrity. It is worth noting that ABYA members who sell boats are required, as part of their membership, to have a Client Account and they will also provide all the Legal Conveyancing needed as part of their service.

Of course, if the survey throws up a lot of defects that you are unhappy with (and these should be important defects, not age-related wear and tear, cosmetic or small items you could easily have seen for yourself before you made the offer), then you may wish to consider withdrawing from the sale. Remember, if you aren’t buying a new boat be prepared for there to be some items you need to deal with. Do work with the broker and surveyor on this aspect to ensure it does not end up going legal. If your personal situation changes part way through the process – perhaps you are made redundant – and this does happen – you must talk to the broker. If you are honest that you cannot afford the boat after all, the vendor may be prepared to let you withdraw from the contract. It is important to realise, however, that once you sign the Sale & Purchase Agreement this is a legally binding contract and you can normally only withdraw for reasons which are set out in the contract.

When the survey has been completed and any re-negotiation on price or inventory completed, you will be asked to send the balance of the money. If you are taking the money out of an account which has time constraints on it, do remember to set up the transfer in good time. If you are borrowing money using a marine mortgage you and the broker will have to provide the correct documentation before the money is agreed – again leave yourself plenty of time for this as there could be a delay if there is a query with the paperwork. It is important to ensure the paperwork is right whether you are borrowing money or not.

Most Read

If you have agreed to have a trial as a condition of your purchase, the vendor may well take you out in the boat and the broker will usually be there too. Try to have the people you will be boating with at the trial so they can all gauge how the boat seems to them – are they competent enough to manage it? Does the engine perform as stated? At the end of the trial don’t rush into accepting the boat – discuss it with your crew before stating your acceptance (or otherwise) in writing to the broker. If all goes well – the price, the survey, the trial, any finance you need – you have reached completion. You need to transfer the funds to the broker who will advise when these are received and set up the completion – hand-over of the keys, the Bill of Sale (this is the legal title document), a Completion statement, a VAT invoice if the purchase is from a company, or an earlier VAT invoice, the RCD certificate, and any other documents such as the Owner’s Manual and the engine service history.

If you are new to boating, ask the broker for advice about how to get some training locally. Ensure you know the Rules of the Road and how to use your boat before going boating. Keep yourself and others safe – remember the inland waterways can be dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing. Learn how to deal with common situations and you will enjoy many years of happy boating.