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A boat bill of sale is documentation sellers of boats use to physically record the selling of their product(s) to a customer.

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What is a Boat Bill of Sale (Vessel Bill of Sale)?  

A bill of sale may be known by many names but functions as proof of payment, as well as documentation that an item has transferred from one owner to the next. It is documentation that a seller (and co-seller) of a boat (including a sailboat) uses to document the selling of the boat to a buyer (sometimes referred to as the purchaser). It can be used for brand new boats, used boats (even if the exchange takes place between private parties), or a free boat being given as a gift. Alternatively, the sale document also acts as a receipt for the buyer. This document generally includes seller information, details about the goods, location of the sale, price, buyer details, and method of payment. Many bill of sales for boats are regulated at the state level. When this happens, the bill of sale should include every element required by law. Both the purchaser and co-purchaser, along with the seller, should sign the document. Each party should keep a copy as proof of purchase or proof of payment. This document will legally transfer ownership of the boat.

A boat bill of sale explains any pre-existing warranties related to the boat. In this sense, the document differs from a sales agreement. A sales agreement contains more specific terms and warranties.

Alternate Names

  • Vessel Bill of Sale
  • Proof of Purchase
  • Proof of Sale
  • Sale Slip
  • Sale Receipt
  • Proof of Payment

What is a Boat Bill of Sale Used For? 

A boat bill of sale is used strictly for the buying or selling of a boat. It can be used for the sale of new or used vessel. It can even be used for a handmade boat. The boat may be sold by a dealership or a private citizen. If the sale includes a trailer or motor, you’ll want to include that information in the document as well.

A sale form of this nature protects both the parties of any future issues, such as the boat being stolen and for the purposes of registration. Given many transactions are made in cash, proof that the item was paid for in good faith with proper documentation protects a buyer of stolen goods. The buyer has proof of payment in full, should there be any question later on.

Every state has a process for the registration of boats. Some states require that the owner who is registering the boat have proof of purchase that lists several things, including the selling price and hull ID number.

Aside from the two most common reasons that the involved parties should keep a copy of the document, there are many other circumstances where it could come in handy. If insurance is required for boats in your state, it’s likely that you’ll need legal documents (such as this form) to prove that you own the boat.

Who Should Use a Boat Bill of Sale?

A boat bill of sale should be used by anyone who is looking to sell or purchase a boat, whether:

  • You’re using a website (such as Craigslist) or a trade portal;
  • You’re trading boats and associated items;
  • You’re selling or purchasing a used boat or associated items;
  • You’re selling or buying a boat through a commercial outlet.

Components of a Boat Bill of Sale

  • The legal name and address of the buyer;
  • The legal name and address of the seller;
  • The date of the sale;
  • The sale price;
  • The make, model, and year of the boat;
  • The Hull identification number;
  • The previous registration number and title number (if available);
  • Whether the boat includes an outboard motor (and, if so, the horsepower of the motor, the motor make, and its serial number of ID number);
  • Whether the boat includes a trailer (and, if so, the make, model, year, and serial number of the trailer);
  • The primary color of the boat;
  • Any color of the pinstripe or a secondary color;
  • A lien release (for used boat sales);
  • The title certificate;
  • You may need a notary public to sign the form;
  • The printed name of the involved parties and the seller signature.

Many bill of sale forms also have an ‘as-is’ clause. The phrase ‘as-is’ refers to the boat being sold in its current condition and implies that the buyer accepts the boat as it is, including any potential or apparent faults. This caveat protects the seller from any subsequent request for a refund from the buyer because of any issues arising after receiving and paying for the boat.

The Ultimate Guide to Buying and Selling a Boat

By FormSwift Editorial Team
July 25, 2018 

How to Buy/Sell a Boat

Are you thinking of buying a boat? Do you have a boat you want to sell? If so, this guide is designed to help you through the process. For potential buyers, we cover where to shop, when to buy, and how to stay on budget. For those selling a boat, we discuss advertising strategies, negotiating the sale, and much more. So whether you are interested in owning or selling a boat, this guide can help ensure the process goes smoothly.

Buying a Boat

Finding the Right Boat for You

Avoid  jumping right into a search for a boat. Instead, take  time to assess your boating needs. From there, you’ll be able to make a more informed decision about which boat is best for you and how much you’re willing to spend.

Start by assessing the following:

  • How will you use the boat? There are many different types of boats. Boats are generally categorized by the activity or activities they’re best for.  This is why it’s important to think about how you’ll primarily use the boat. Consider the following:
  • Do you want a fishing boat? If so, do you plan to fish inshore, offshore, or both? The answers to those questions will help you decide the size, weight, motor capacity, and amenities you need.
  • How many people do you plan to have on the boat? If, for example, you plan to take your whole family out in the boat or plan to entertain on the vessel, you’ll obviously need a boat with adequate seating and amenities.
  • How much gear do you need to carry on the boat? Remember to include safety gear in this calculation. Choose a boat with enough storage for the gear you want (e.g., fishing and sporting gear) to haul as well as the safety equipment you need.
  • If you're buying a fishing boat, do you need fish storage? If so, you’ll need space for insulated fish boxes large enough to store the fish you plan to catch.
  • How far out do you plan to take the boat? Range is an important factor in boating. Knowing this will help you determine the required fuel capacity and power you’ll need.
  • What are your electronic needs? Do you need radios, fish finders, etc.?
  • Where will you dock your boat? Will the boat require a boat slip? If so, do you own or rent one? If the boat is small enough to tow, do you have a trailer to haul the vessel?
  • If you plan to tow your boat, is your vehicle big enough to tow it? Do you have a truck or SUV with enough towing capacity to haul the boat you are interested in purchasing? If not, you’ll need to budget a bigger vehicle into your overall cost. Even if you do have an adequate vehicle, remember that owning and towing a boat will come with higher car and insurance payments. You may even need to purchase additional equipment, such as a tow hitch.
  • What is your budget? Remember, the cost of boat ownership extends well beyond the price for the actual vessel. When determining your budget, be sure to include estimated fuel costs, docking costs, trailer costs, insurance, etc.

Where Should You Buy Your Boat?

There are many places to buy a boat. Here are some things to consider when identifying the right seller for you.

  • Dealerships: New boats, like cars, are often bought through a dealership. If you are in the market for a new boat, here are some tips to help you find the right dealership.
  • Attend a boat show. Just about every dealership and boat manufacturer in your area should also be in attendance. A boat show will allow you to familiarize yourself with manufacturers and dealers alike and help you find the right boat and the right dealership.
  • Trade-ins. Again, like cars, dealerships also take trade-ins.
  • Do your research. Ask around and see what information (reviews, articles, etc.) you can find out about local dealers. Be sure to also check to Better Business Bureau (BBB) for any complaints against any potential dealer. You might also consider checking online review sites and social media pages as well. Keep in mind, though, that you should evaluate any negative reviews to determine if it truly was a bad situation or if it’s just a frustrated person who doesn’t like the seller.
  • Consider reputation. A boat is a big purchase. Make sure you choose a dealer with a long-standing reputation of selling boats to satisfied customers.
  • Warranties. A benefit of buying a new boat is that is comes with a warranty, which (again, like a car) covers several services, repairs, etc. Look for multi-year warranties on the more expensive and vital parts of the vessel. For example, osmotic blistering is common in fiberglass boats, but is very expensive to repair. Also, figure out if the warranty will transfer to future owners if  you sell the boat. This will prove important in determining the future resale value. In addition, read all fine print associated with the warranty. Remember that the dealer must provide you with a written warranty before you buy the boat. Fill out and return your warranty cards ASAP so you can service the boat as needed.
  • Not all dealers service both boats and engines. Preferably, you should buy from a dealership who service  both. This will make future repairs much easier to coordinate.
  • Log EVERYTHING. Take pictures and detailed notes of the condition of the entire boat.
  • Take it for a test drive. As with cars, you can test drive boats. Be sure to take yours for a spin before buying. When you do, pay attention to how it drives and use it like you plan on using it once it is yours.

Moreover, pay close attention to the following:

  • How loud is the vessel?
  • Functioning trim
  • Response time
  • How long does it take the boat to plane after pushing off?
  • Shifting smoothness
  • Reverse: make sure it works!

Trading in a Boat at a Dealership

Most dealerships take used vessels as a trade in. Obviously, the better condition the trade-in is in, the more money you will receive towards a new one. Make sure your boat is in peak condition when you take it in.

You should also research the trade-in laws in your state with your state’s boat registration agency. This is importance because it can affect your taxes.

Used Vessels

If you’re considering a high-end boat, we recommend you find a reputable broker with extensive boat knowledge and information about your boat’s history. Doing so will ensure the process goes smoothly will save you time and worry.

A proper used boat broker will conduct extensive market research for you and make sure the boat you choose meets your needs and is offered at a fair price.

Legal Considerations

Make sure any boat you buy is National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) certified. NMMA standards exceed the minimum regulations set by the US Coast Guard and will help ensure you don’t get a lemon.

When to Buy

You’re more likely to find a good deal during the off-season, when people aren’t not using boats. January through March is the best time to buy. However, places like California and the Gulf Coast have no off-season. So the time of year makes little difference in boat pricing. Outside of those locales, winter boat shows usually offer the best specials on new boats.

Staying on Budget

Despite what many people assume, you don’t have to be rich to buy a boat. The National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) says that 72% of American boat owners make less than $100,000 per year.

With that in mind, be sure to choose a boat you can comfortably afford to purchase and maintain. If you plan on financing the boat, we recommend you finance through a marine lender. Marine lenders deal largely with boats and often have better loan terms.

You should also calculate the cost of each use. Here’s how to do so:

  • How often will you use the boat?
  • What is the annual cost of maintenance, fuel, gear, docking, hauling, etc.?
  • How many years do you think the boat will last?

Once you have these numbers, do the following:

  1. Divide the purchase price of the boat by the number of years you plan on having it (assuming you won’t sell it one day).
  2. Take that result and add the annual maintenance costs to it.
    1. That sum equals the annual cost of the boat.
  3. Divide that by the number of times per year you plan on using it.
    1. This amount equals the cost per boat excursion.
    2. Is it worth it? If not, perhaps owning a boat isn’t right for you.

After Buying

After purchasing your boat, get insurance. Basic boat insurance policies cover physical damage to the boat, bodily injury, property damage liability, medical payments, etc. You can also add optional coverage for personal effects, emergency services and trailers.

Selling a Boat

For boat owners looking to sell, there are several things to know in order to maximize the sales price of your vessel. Here’s a rundown of what you need to know:

When to Sell

Once the boat season is on the horizon, here’s what you will need to do to prep the boat for sale:

  • Maintenance. Be sure to make any necessary repairs to the boat. While some repairs may seem optional to you, what you consider optional might be essential to a buyer. In other words, you need to minimize any boat issues that might deter a buyer.
  • Cleaning. Declutter and thoroughly clean the entire boat. A cluttered boat looks smaller than it is. A messy boat will deter buyers.  
  • Devise a sales plan. There are many ways to sell a boat. Choose a strategy for your sale. Choosing the right strategy will increase your chances for a faster, higher-priced deal.
    • Begin by deciding if you want to enlist the help of a broker or dealer, or if you’ll handle the sale yourself. Dealers and brokers obviously charge fees or take percentages of the sales price, but they bring greater visibility and more traffic to your boat.
    • Once you know how you’ll sell your boat, determine an asking price and a best and final offer. In other words, how much will you ask for the boat and what is the lowest offer you will accept? When setting a price, be sure to research similar boats online to assess the market value for your vessel.
  • Advertise the boat. If you decide to sell the boat on your own, you’ll need to advertise it.
    • Start by taking high-resolution digital photos of the boat. The more images you provide, the better. Be sure to capture the boat from various angles.
    • From there, put ads on boating websites, newspapers, newsletters, social media groups designed for buying and selling in your area, etc.
    • Be sure to screen callers. It is important you engage with anyone seriously interested and capable of buying the boat. With that in mind, you need to be sure to not waste your time with folks who are not serious buyers.
  • Once you have generated serious interest, take potential buyers on sea trials.
    • Sell it. Once you have a buyer, negotiate the sale by remembering the following:
    • Stick to your rock bottom price
    • Counter-offer wisely. The buyer is likely to start with a lowball offer. You should counter this, but don’t be too drastic. Take around 10% off your asking price in your first counter-offer.
    • Don’t forget the logistics. Selling a boat is about far more than agreeing on a sales price. Don't forget to verify owner financing, determine when and how all requisite paperwork will be filed, how the buyer will transport the boat, etc.
  • Watch out for fraud. Beware of any buyer who does the following:
    • Asks for any of your bank information;
    • Sends an email with link to a bank/escrow service;
    • Makes an offer unseen or for more than the asking price;
    • Asks you to send a check first;
    • Pays with a check;
    • Uses a middle man to negotiate;
    • Asks to pay for the boat in installments.

Be sure to meet the buyer in person and insist upon payment via wire transfer.

Closing the Deal

Before finalizing the sale, make sure you consider or do the following:

  1. Check with the DMV, tax assessor, or gaming and fishing division to determine which documents are required to complete the transfer of ownership.
  2. Write a bill of sale. This document must include a vessel description, Hull number, purchase date, price, the names and addresses (including city state zip) of the parties, and the signatures of both the buyer and seller. If the boat is used, you’ll likely need the boat’s previous registration number.
  3. Boat title. The state will issue a new title with the sale.
    1. However, if there is an outstanding loan on the boat you cannot transfer the title until the loan is repaid.
  4. Hand over warranty cards, maintenance records, and any other pertinent documents to the buyer.
  5. Cancel your boat insurance for that boat.
  6. Boats on trailers may require separate paperwork and separate registration. This varies by state, so make sure you know your state’s laws on this matter.

Conclusion

As you can see, buying or selling a boat is a lot like buying or selling a car. However, there are several unique features, requirements, and considerations when buying or selling a boat. We hope this guide introduces and informs you about those oddities and equips you with the information you need to safely buy or sell a boat.

See https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/forms/reg/reg135 for a sample Boat Bill of Sale form for California.

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