Thinking about buying or selling a boat?

What you need to know

Buying or selling a boat can be an exciting and daunting prospect for any recreational boater, whether you are purchasing your first boat or selling one that you have owned for years, there are a number of key factors that you should take into account.

Just like when purchasing a house, it is important not to get swept up in the romance of buying a boat and to instead look at the practical and financial implications. Unlike when buying a house however, the law does not stipulate a process for the sale and purchase of boats.

Although the process of buying or selling a boat does not have to be complicated, but there are a number of considerations and hurdles to pass.

Boats for sale

When and how to sell your boat

As we all witnessed during last year’s summer lockdown, the interest in getting afloat rose dramatically as the good weather increased. Advertising your boat pre-season or at the start of the boating season can be an advantageous time to begin selling your vessel.

If you are looking to buy a boat, keep an eye out for adverts in local newspapers, the yachting press, websites, Facebook groups, brokerages, at local boatyards or often word-of-mouth within the boating community can also work well.

When considering purchasing a boat, you must first decide which type of boat best suits your requirements. These may range from sailboards to very large sailing or powered boats, the type and size of boat itself can make a considerable difference to the process and the price.

If you are selling your boat then choosing a fair and objective price can be a difficult task and if you are a novice purchaser then how can you tell if you are getting an accurate price? The secret to agreeing a fair price is research. Look at similar boats in the market and be honest with yourself about how much this boat is actually worth, what repairs may need to be done and most importantly if buying, what you can afford. Whether you are the buyer or the seller, be prepared to negotiate and have a top and bottom figure in your mind.

The nitty-gritty

The sale of second-hand boats usually occurs between two private individuals and is often conducted via a broker, who acts as an agent for the seller. VAT is not chargeable on the sale of second-hand boats between private individuals but VAT is charged to the seller for the services rendered by the broker. The broker will usually charge the seller a commission for these services.

Prior to entering into an agreement to buy a boat, the purchaser will wish to make sure that the seller does indeed own the boat and have the right to sell it. Also, they will wish to ensure that the boat is not subject to any mortgages, debts, charges etc.

If the boat is subject to a mortgage the RYA recommends that the purchaser have a 3-way-conversation with the seller, himself and the lenders. It is often the case that the purchaser will pay the proportion of the purchase monies that are outstanding on the mortgage, direct to the lenders. The lenders will more often than not hold all the title documentation for the boat and upon redemption of the outstanding mortgage, release the title documents direct to the seller/purchaser.

If you are purchasing a boat then it is vital to ask to see a copy of all title documentation so that you may be confident that the seller does indeed own the boat, that the boat is VAT paid or exempt, and is RCD compliant.

When selling a boat make sure that you have your paperwork together, the main documents that you are likely to be asked for include, evidence that the boat is VAT paid, such as the original invoice; registration documentation, evidence of RCD compliance, where applicable; service information for the engine, generator, sails, water heater; the Builders Certificate (not essential but helpful) and Bills of Sale; Owner’s Manual and further manuals for all the equipment on the boat; and financial records and receipts of any large repair bills.

Whilst verbal agreements between parties are perfectly valid in law, they are notoriously difficult to prove and any disagreement will come down to one party’s word against the other. For this reason, the RYA strongly recommends that a written Sale and Purchase Agreement is used on all boat purchases. If you are a RYA member then you can access the online RYA Sale and Purchase Pack, which includes a Sale and Purchase Agreement template with a step-by-step guide to buying and selling boats.

Boats for sale


The RYA also recommends that buyers have a survey carried out on a boat prior to finally agreeing the purchase, especially if the boat is second-hand and being sold privately. In most cases the only way to check the boat's condition is to have a survey done, and the results will often determine whether a sale proceeds smoothly, has its terms renegotiated or is terminated.

There is no better way to know how a boat will react when in the water than by conducting a sea-trial. This is something that the RYA recommends and if both parties involved agree then this should clear any doubt from the buyer’s mind.

If purchasing a boat, you may want to consider boat insurance, although it is not compulsory in the UK you may however at the very least, take out third party liability insurance.

Buying and selling with the EU

Whilst it is too early to expect any legislative changes impacting the sale and purchase of boats in the EU as a result of Brexit, UK buyers/sellers are advised to ensure they include an English and Welsh (if relevant Scottish) law and jurisdiction clauses within their Sale and Purchase Agreement. Parties should be mindful that Brexit may impact on the VAT and RCD status of the vessel.

You can find further information about buying and selling boats by visiting the Legal hub pages of the RYA website: If you are a member of the RYA and have a question regarding selling or buying a boat, please get in touch with the RYA Legal team by calling: 023 8060 4223 or by email: