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How to buy and sell a boat

How to Buy a Boat

Buying a boat can seem daunting if you’ve never done it before - you want to be sure you’ve made the right choice with a boat that meets all of your requirements!

The boat market is particularly tricky as it differs from getting on the property ladder. Not only are there additional legal aspects to boat-buying, but oftentimes there are no publicly available values for used boats. 

At Aquavista, we want to equip you with all the relevant info on how to buy a boat. Read our guide on the best way to buy a boat, to help you seal the deal with confidence!

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How to Buy a Boat: Step by Step

If you’ve read our ​guide to residential living​ at a marina, you may be sold on the idea of making a boat your permanent or semi-permanent home! However, you should make sure to go through the stages of buying a boat properly, starting with quality research. 

In general, there are four stages to the boat-buying process: research, viewing, making an offer and buying.

Step 1: Boat Research

Researching before making any large purchase is important, and it’s no different when it comes to buying a boat. Before you research, have a think about what kind of boat you want.

Which criteria are most important to you? Are you buying a boat for living or leisure? What is your budget? How long are you thinking of residing on your new boat? Once you have a list, you can start to research and view boats that fit your needs!

Do you need a license to drive a boat?

In the UK boat owners need few boating licenses, qualifications and other legal requirements in order to operate. You don’t need to hold a boating qualification in order to buy a boat (whether that’s to live on or for leisure cruising). 

However, there are few exceptions. 

Vessels over 13.7m long

Vessels over 13.7m, even if only used as private pleasure boats, are defined as Class Vll vessels in the Merchant Shipping Regulations. This means they are required to have a minimum level of fire fighting and life saving equipment.

Canal and River Trust/ Environment Agency Licences

If you use a boat on a canal or river, you will need a licence from the Canal and River Trust or the Environment Agency, depending on the waterways you want to navigate. These are available for periods of one, three, six or twelve months. 

To be eligible, the boat must have a Boat Safety Certificate and insurance to cover a minimum of £1,000,000 of third party liability.

Recommended equipment and training

The RYA Inland Waterways Helmsman Course​ is perfect for anyone who wants to build up their skills before they buy.

Carrying life jackets, a compass, anchor(s), means of communication and distress alerting on board is also recommended by the RYA.

How much does a boat cost to buy?

If you are buying your first boat or plan to downsize, opting for something cheap may feel like an attractive option. However, just like with cars, renovations and fixer uppers may end up costing you more than a newer model – and take longer than expected. 

It’s a good idea to view boats on a flexible budget. Different boats may have essential and built-in features that are included in the price which you hadn’t previously thought of. So while a boat may seem expensive to buy, it could turn out to be the cheaper option in the long run.

Can I get a mortgage on a boat?

Most mainstream banks won’t give you a mortgage on a boat, even if you intend to make it your permanent home on a residential mooring. This is because you don’t own the land on which the boat is moored. 

However, there are financing options available to budding boat owners, mainly through specialist ‘marine mortgage’ lenders. You can contact them for specialist advice and to get the best deals on the mortgage market for when you decide to purchase your boat.

Step 2: Boat Viewing

Should I view boats at a brokerage or look online?

Looking online will give you a feel for the market, but there’s no substitute for stepping on board. When you buy privately, you’ll often find the boats you’re interested in are located at opposite ends of the country, which makes seeing them logistically difficult.

The best way to view lots of boats in a single day is to visit a brokerage. Aquavista has brokerages at eleven marinas across the country: ​Sawley ​and ​Kings ​in Nottinghamshire, ​Packet Boat​ in Middlesex, ​Limehouse ​and ​Poplar ​in London, Hull in the North East and Cropredy, Brinklow, Trinity, Diglis and Crick in the Midlands area... 

Here you can view a large selection of boats in one place with no obligation or pressure to buy.

If you’re a novice, experienced brokers will listen to your needs and guide you towards boats that are suitable for you. With intimate knowledge of the market, you’ll know the boats you’re viewing are sensibly priced, plus you’ll get an honest appraisal of the condition of the boat and learn why the seller has decided to part with it.

Step 3: Making an Offer on a Boat

Are boat show prices negotiable?

Nicely-kept, sensibly-priced boats tend to sell for their asking price. But if a boat’s been on the market for a long time, the owner may be prepared to negotiate (especially if it’s unused and costing them money on mooring and insurance). 

You should find out when the boat’s licence, Boat Safety Certificate and insurance is set to expire. If any of these are imminent, there may be room for negotiation!

Using a brokerage service can help you negotiate, letting you know what’s a realistic price to offer and help you secure your dream boat at a fair price.

What does ‘sale on berth’ mean?

An important question to ask is if the boat is ‘sale on berth’. This means that the boat for sale also comes with a residential mooring at a marina. 

You don’t have to keep the mooring, but if you do want it you must complete an application form and pay for your own mooring contract.

What legalities do I need to know before putting in an offer?

There are a few key points to solidify before putting in an offer:

  • Proof that the boat is legally the owner’s to sell, with no outstanding fees or loans tied to it.
  • An inventory of the machinery and equipment on board that is included in the sale. The inventory forms part of the contract and should be initialled and agreed by both parties after joint inspection.
  • Ask to see evidence of mooring fees paid, insurance documents, a sailing club membership, and boatyard invoices for any repairs.
  • Copies of previous surveys that have been carried out (you will still have to have the boat surveyed when it’s officially yours). Boat survey costs are generally around £15 per foot.
  • Make sure your offer is subject to survey and has insurance in place so your boat is covered as soon as you buy it. 

Unlike buying a house, once you make an offer on a boat, things can move very quickly. After you’ve agreed on a price, the sale progresses to the contract stage fast, which is binding once signed and usually requires a deposit of 10% of the cost of the boat. 

With this in mind, you need to be sure before you put an offer in. Check the terms and conditions of your deposit payment, as you may not get a refund if you wish to pull out of the purchase.

Step 4: The buying process

What happens when my offer is accepted?

After your offer is accepted, you’ll sign a contract, pay a deposit and then have a survey. Contracts normally give a two-week period for a survey to be carried out and are binding unless any problems are detected that haven’t already been declared. 

When a boat is sold at a brokerage, you get additional peace of mind. The deposit goes into a brokerage account which protects it. If the vendor goes bankrupt during the process, your money is safe.

What kind of boat insurance do I need?

Your level of boat insurance depends on how you plan to use your boat. For example, if you’re going to be cruising any of the UK inland waterways on a powered or houseboat, you’ll usually need ‘third party’ insurance for at least £1 million.

You may also need insurance for some types of unpowered boat, e.g. a houseboat. For this, you should check with the navigation authority that manages the waterway you want to use. You can register your boat on any waterways on the gov.uk website.

Boat insurance costs

Boat insurance costs will vary according to where the boat is moored and how you plan to use it. If you’re buying a boat to live on, it’s key to make sure that your insurance covers not only damage but also theft. Most providers offer optional extras so you can tailor your cover to suit you. At Aquavista, we offer all our berth holders ​20% off insurance with Towergate​.

What kind of mooring do I need?

If you plan to use your boat for pleasure, you could moor your boat in a leisure berth. But to make it your home, you’ll need to find a residential mooring, unless you plan to continuously cruise.

Choosing Aquavista means we can guide you through the process of finding a residential mooring. Many of our beautiful marinas UK wide offer well-maintained residential berths. These are UK wide with lots of facilities that make life on board more comfortable.

Find out more about mooring with Aquavista.