Tips for buying or selling a boat 

Buying or selling a boat can be an exciting yet daunting prospect for any boater, to guide you through the process here are our top tips.

wide shot of boat with 3 sailors

Whether purchasing your first boat or selling one you’ve owned for years, there’s a few key factors to consider.

Just like when purchasing a house, it’s important not to get swept up in the romance of buying a boat and instead look at the practical and financial implications.

However, unlike when buying a house, the law does not stipulate a process for the sale and purchase of boats.   

The finer details

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 legally owns the boat and has the right to sell it. They’ll also ensure that the boat is not subject to any mortgages, debts or charges etc.

for sale signs on boats

What if the boat is subject to a mortgage?

If the boat is subject to a mortgage the RYA recommends that the purchaser have a 3-way-conversation with the seller, themselves, and the lenders.

It’s often the case that the purchaser will pay the proportion of the purchase monies outstanding on the mortgage, direct to the lenders. 

The lenders will more often than not hold the title documentation for the boat and upon redemption of the outstanding mortgage, release the title documents direct to the seller/purchaser.

Wide shot of boat with sailors

Does it comply with Recreational Craft Regulations? (RCR)

If you’re purchasing a boat, it’s vital to see a copy of all title documentation and be confident that the seller does indeed own the boat, that the boat is VAT paid or exempt.

It’s important to ensure the boat is compliant with the Recreational Craft Regulations (RCR) if the boat is the UK, or the Recreational Craft Directive (RCD) if in the EU. 

The requirements have changed and it’s likely that if you buy a boat in one territory and export it to another, it will need to undergo a post construction assessment.

Information on this is in our RYA RCR and RCD Guide for Boats.

What paperwork do I need when selling my boat?

When selling, make sure that you have your paperwork together, the main documents that you’re likely to be asked for include:

  • Evidence that the boat is VAT paid, such as the original invoice
  • Registration documentation
  • Evidence of RCR/RCD compliance
  • Service information for the engine, generator, sails, water heater
  • Builders Certificate (not essential but helpful) Bills of Sale
  • Owner’s Manual and further manuals for all the equipment on the boat with financial records and receipts of any large repair bills

wide shot of contract signing

Sale and Purchase Agreement

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.

RYA members 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.


We also recommend 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 this is the only way to check the boat’s condition and the results will often determine whether a sale proceeds smoothly, has its terms renegotiated or terminated. 

There’s also no better way to know how a boat will react when in the water than by conducting a sea-trail. 

You may want to consider boat insurance, although it is not compulsory in the UK.

wide shot of two boats sailing

Here to help

The RYA legal team offers expert advice for RYA members in relation to buying and selling a boat privately or through a broker.

For further information and resources on buying and selling a boat visit our knowledge hub or pick up the RYA Boat Buyers Handbook.

Not a member? Find out how an RYA membership could benefit you in buying or selling a boat.