I've Sold My Boat for Free (and You Can Too) - Here's How

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to sell a boat. With the internet, online sailing communities, and real world clubs and marinas, getting a boat to a buyer with little or no expense is possible.

How can you sell your boat for free? To sell your boat for free, you need a good, realistic listing and make careful use of free advertising. Create listings on free online listing platforms like Craigslist. These generally attract local buyers only. Typically, smaller boats will sell well; larger boats won't. The more portable the boat, the easier the sale.

Not every boat can sell this way, but if your boat is a suitable fit, we've got techniques and tips to get that boat sold.

How to sell your boat for free:

  1. Ask Yourself: Can I Sell My Boat For Free?
  2. Write a Good Listing
  3. Use Free Methods on the Web
  4. Use Free Methods in the Physical World
  5. Track Where You List
  6. Watch for Scams

Ask Yourself: Can I Sell My Boat For Free?

The quick answer is, you can sell any boat for free. However, some boats may not sell quickly or for a good price unless you spend a little on advertising since you may not reach all the sellers you need to.

What boats sell well for free?

  • Sailing dinghies, like Lasers, Optis, and other small day sailors. I've sold several this way.
  • Canoes, kayaks, and rowboats
  • Smaller powerboats and runabouts
  • Smaller sailboats
  • Anything on a trailer

The key to whether you can sell it for free is finding out the market. Who is your buyer, and how far will they travel for your boat? Once you know that, you can figure out how to get your boat in front of the buyers and where it makes sense to advertise it.

One consideration on your market is portability of your boat. You can strap a Laser dinghy on a rooftop, but a Capri 22 keelboat needs to be on a trailer if it's outside of cruising range. A forty foot cruising sailboat has takes commercial trucking or delivery on its own bottom.

Boats which are portable are easier to sell. If you try to sell that Capri 22 but don't have a trailer, it will be harder to sell outside your home waters. Someone can drive two hundred miles to pick it up on a trailer, but they may not want to sail a small boat that far, so they won't buy it if they can't get it home.

Large and expensive boats which need to attract buyers from a distance are harder to sell for free.

Write a Good Listing

Before you place ads for your boat, get your listing read. It will save you time when you post it in multiple places. A good listing will have:

  • Photos of the boat - inside, outside, and under way. Clean the boat before you take them and remove any clutter.
  • An interesting, well written description of the boat. Don't get too excited (!!!) or flowery. Write a walking tour of the boat and its features with clear language. Avoid sales-hype clichés. "The prefect weekender!" or "Your dream boat!” say nothing useful.
  • A detailed list of equipment installed or included with the boat.
  • Details about make, model, and year of the boat and it's condition.

Get your pictures and text together first, so you’ll save time pasting and uploading in a dozen places later.

Creating a Great Listing is Easy

We have an in-depth guide on selling your boat privately which walks you through every step of creating your listing - so that you will sell! Read about how to create your sailboat listing here.

Use Free Methods on the Web

There are many websites dedicated to selling, and a number specialized in selling boats. The larger boat selling sites are mostly pay-to-list. They aren't expensive, you can list on many of them for twenty-five to fifty dollars, but that isn't free. So don't look to Boattrader.com or Boats.com until you've exhausted your options.

No-Charge Boat Selling Sites

There are dozens of free-to-list boat selling sites. Most have "premium" listing options with better search and page positioning and/or more pictures, but you can get a basic listing out there for no charge.

A few include:

There are many more out there, some have a more specialized focus on region or type of boat.

Boating Forums

Most sailing communities on the web have "Sell your Boat" spaces, or special sub-forums dedicate to selling boats. Other may allow boat sales as regular posts in the forums, where you can place your listing alongside any other topic.

  • Sailing Forums - allows inline posts, sailboats only, many dinghies and smaller boats.
  • Cruisers Forum - allows member sales for free in a sub-forum. Mostly sailboats you can sleep on.
  • Sailnet - allows free listings for boats under $5,000

There many others, and some low budget options like Sailboat Owners, which while not free only costs $4.39.

Before posting an ad in any forums, be sure to 1) look for a specific place for ads and 2) learn the rules of the community and abide by them. You may not get a good reception if you join a new forum and list your boat with your first post in violation of community rules and decorum!

Class Associations and Clubs

If you own a popular boat there is likely an owners club, a class association, or a brand association out there. If you never got around to joining it when you owned the boat, many of them are just websites you can sign up for. And almost every one has a trading post for boats, parts and accessories.

Not everyone in these clubs owns a boat, they may be there because they admire them and are looking for one. I found a Laser through a Laser sailors association. I didn't own a Laser at the time, I went there looking to buy a used one.

Club members are enthusiastic about their boats, so if they see a nice one for sale they may tell friends about it.

Craigslist & Social Media

Social media sells things. And social media wants to sell you advertising, but there is free advertising to be found.

Craiglist

You can sell almost anything on Craiglist, and it works well for boats and offers good regional coverage. As of this writing there is no charge to sell boats, though they have added nominal charges for some items and services. You can use a lot of pictures and text, so it's an excellent place to get a full listing. One listing should be sufficient; regional searches show nearby boats to buyers and boat buyers will use them.
“First one with the cash” is the rule on Craiglist. Don’t hold something for someone unless you get a deposit, as buyers are often unreliable and you may turn away legitimate buyers waiting for someone who never shows.

Facebook

Facebook has paid advertising, but there is also the Marketplace with free listings. There are also dozens of "boats for sale" groups on Facebook where you can list your boat for free to communities of boat buyers.

You will have to “Join” those groups and comply with their rules. Some groups are general, such as “Boats for Sale." Others may be more much specific (”Used Pontoon Boats on For Sale”), with limitations on types or boats, price, or geographic location.

Facebook may prompt you to "boost" your ads. You can do it, but you can put it up there without a boost to see how it does.

Twitter, Instagram and others

Other social media doesn't have as established of a marketplace or selling community, but you can still promote your boat for sale. Avoid being repetitive or spammy with your posts and check the rules. You will need a link to a listing for your posts.

Use Free Methods in the Physical World

People still buy and sell the old fashioned way, with a phone call and a handshake. Word of mouth can sell boats.

Yacht Clubs & Marinas

Almost every yacht club and marina has a bulletin board where people post messages, though can post and posting rules varies. Yacht clubs may only allow members to post, marinas may only allow on-site brokers to post boat listings. So check before you put up a notice.

Signs and Portents

Nothing says "For Sale" like an old fashioned "For Sale" sign on the boat. If you're pulling for the winter, leave several signs on your boat in the yard with your phone number and a few details about the boat like the model year and price. Put signs on both sides of the bow or stern depending how how your boat is stored - you want to catch people walking or driving through the marina in any direction.

In season, a sign on your boat in the slip or at the mooring may sell your boat. Don't forget to take it off when you sail or you might lose it.

Some marinas and yards have rules about putting for sale signs on boats, particularly marinas with in-house brokerages or a brokerage on the property. Learn the rules when you're picking the place to store your boat if you know you will be selling.

If your boat is on a trailer and you can find a prime traffic spot to park it with an enormous sign, you can find buyers who stop and look. A small sign may not get noticed. Be careful leaving it someplace with no one around, you’ll want to keep an eye on the boat and check on it. And get a good hitch lock and consider a chain for the wheels.

Track Where You List

It's important to keep a list of where you've listed your boat. If you don't remove the listings after the sale, you may get inquiries years down the road. And you don't want to relist the boat multiple times in the same place.

Watch for Scams

Since you're not using a broker no one will screen inquiries. And some of these free sources attract scammers. The internet invents a fresh way to divest the unwary from their money every day, so here are a few things to look for:

  • Anyone willing to buy your boat sight unseen or who will not come look at the boat.
  • Someone who wants to pay you with a non-standard method, such as an escrow or payment service you are not familiar with.
  • Offers to pay by a cashier's check over the amount of the boat so you refund the difference.
  • Requests for you to send money or banking information before they have seen the boat.
  • Questions that make no sense about a boat sale, like "Can you ship it by Fedex to North Carolina."
  • Someone who says they are an agent buying it for someone else.
  • Anyone buying your boat for a family member serving in the armed forces overseas. I saw this all time on Craiglist selling everything from clocks to couches.

These are a few red flags to watch out for (article on BoatUS). Often, two or three of these flags will be flying. New scams arise all the time, so be careful.

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