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Make the Essential Paperwork for Boat Selling

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Discover how to prepare bill of sale for boat and other essential documents, including the certificate of title, registration, maintenance records, and sales agreements. Ensure a smooth and successful sale with our detailed guide.

You are going to be accumulating a little paperwork in the course of selling your boat, so get yourself organized by creating a boat sale folder. Buy a regular-sized manila folder, or better yet, one of those pocket folders. Label it and store it near the telephone or in the area of your home where you expect to sit the lucky buyer down and get his money.

Certificate of Title

The first thing to put in your folder is your boat’s Certificate of Title. This is a document issued by the state that certifies ownership of a boat and is issued when the boat is registered in the state. For a new boat, the manufacturer’s Certificate of Origin is submitted to the local tax collector’s office along with some money, and the tax collector’s office issues the registration. The state then mails the Certificate of Title to the new owner. The dealer frequently takes care of this process on behalf of the original buyer of a new boat.

If a loan was used to purchase the boat, the lender’s interest or “ownership” of the boat is recorded on the original title in the area of the title document set aside for the “lien holder”. A copy of the title is then sent to the boat buyer, while the lender keeps the original, transferable title. This is done to prevent the boat owner from Prepare the Boat for the New Ownerselling the boat and using the proceeds at his discretion rather than dutifully sending it to the lender to pay off that annoying loan balance.

If you borrowed money to purchase your boat, and you have paid the loan off, the lender, i. e., the lien holder, should have already mailed the original certificate of title to you, with the lien released.

If you have paid off the purchase loan, but you never received the original title from the lender with the lien released, you will need to contact the lender to have the original title marked and mailed to you before you can close the sale of your boat to a buyer.

If you still have an outstanding loan balance on your boat, then the lender will still be in possession of the original certificate of title, which you will need to obtain in order to sell your boat. If you have sufficient funds to pay off the loan balance and obtain the certificate of title, then by all means do so. Otherwise, you will have to borrow the money to pay off the boat loan. A credit card advance may be sufficient, although this can be costly since the credit card cash-advance fees and interest rates are sometimes quite high.

Photo of the boat
Boat on river Thames, London
Source: unsplash.com

Another option to consider is using your home equity as collateral for a temporary loan to pay off your boat. Yet another option is to use the buyer’s money to pay off the loan. Get a check from the buyer sufficiently large to pay off whatever you owe, and give him possession of the boat in exchange. Take the money and pay off your boat loan, and retrieve the title with the lien marked as released. Then take the title to the buyer and exchange the title for the balance of the purchase price.

In the case of small sailboats or other small boats without permanently installed engines that fall below the state threshold for registration, there may not be a state Certificate of Title. In that case, you may only have the manufacturer’s Certificate of Origin to transfer to the buyer along with the “Boat Sale Agreement” that you will create at the time you close the sale.

As long as the boat does not need to be registered, this is fine.

Your original purchase receipt, along with the manufacturer’s Certificate of Origin, proves both your ownership and legal ability to sell the boat.

In the event you have paid off your loan, but the lender failed to send you the title with the lien released and has since disappeared in one of the many waves of bank meltdowns and takeovers, then you have a four-star problem on your hands. Hopefully, the local tax collector will take pity on you, verify that your former lender is indeed no longer in existence and help you get a new title issued. Good luck!


In addition to the Certificate of Title, you should also have a registration receipt for your boat. This document is evidence that you have paid all the annual registration fees for the boat, and may be useful in case you need to apply for a replacement Certificate of Title for your boat.

The buyer of the boat does not need a registration receipt to take ownership of a boat.

Title Transfer

Once you have located the title to your boat, the next step is to figure out what you need to do to legally transfer ownership of your boat to a buyer.

In Florida, title transfer is fairly simple. The owner or owners selling the boat simply sign the title and print their name or names along with the date of the sale in the spaces provided. They also fill in the sales price. The buyer or buyers must then sign and print their names in the appropriate spaces on the title as well. The buyer then takes the title to the local tax collector’s office, pays the sales tax and transfer fees for the transaction, pays the current registration fees and possibly pays a few other miscellaneous local fees, and, voila! The tax collector’s office will issue a new registration document and sticker on the spot, with the state mailing a new Certificate of Title a week or two later.

Note that in Florida, the title transfer and payment of taxes and fees is required to occur within 30 days of the date of sale, or an additional tribute in the form of penalties will be charged. In other words, if the buyer walks into the tax collector’s office after sitting on the old title for six months, he is going to be penalized.

The situation in your particular state may vary slightly, but the basic steps are generally the same. Gall your local tax collector’s office and ask them to tell you how to transfer title of your boat to a new owner. Take notes and store them in your boat sale folder so they will be handy when you need them. It is important to do this ahead of time to avoid any unpleasant surprises.

If, for example, you discover a requirement that the signatures on the Certificate of Title must be notarized to complete the sale, you will need to arrange for the closing to occur at a place and time when a notary is available to assist you. Otherwise, you will have to wait. Banks usually offer notary services to their customers. The tax office may also be able to provide notary services.

Owner’s Manuals

If you have any owner’s manuals for your boat, motor and associated equipment, locate them and place them in the folder. In addition, if there are any quirky operating instructions that the new owner needs to know about, it’s a good idea to make some notes about them and store them in the folder as well.

That way if the closing goes well and the buyer does not push you around too badly during the deal, you will be ready to give him this useful information right away.

Maintenance Records

Maintenance receipts are often handy, but you will want to think about which ones are helpful and which ones are not. If, for example, you have the receipt from when you bought your new sails or proof of annual service by a certified marine mechanic, by all means compile those receipts and have them handy to demonstrate to the buyer how well you have maintained the boat.

Read also: Top 7 Secrets to Successfully Sell Your Used Boat

On the other hand, if you still have the repair bill from the time your teenage daughter mistook “reverse” for “emergency brake”, and smashed in a part of your boat’s topsides with the car, you are probably better off just discarding that receipt and trying to forget about the entire incident.

Sales Agreement

Place several copies of a boat sale agreement form in your folder where they will be ready in the event you have a buyer in the mood. A boat sale agreement is a form on which you will record the details of your transaction agreement with the buyer at the time that an agreement is reached and a deposit is taken. It is very important to record these details on paper and make sure that both you and the buyer have a copy. This prevents:

  • misunderstandings,
  • hard feelings,
  • allegations,
  • fistfights,
  • lawsuits, etc.

In fact, I cannot overemphasize the importance of putting an agreement in writing whenever money changes hands. People’s memories are not perfect. In fact, our memories tend to be downright mercurial, changing our recollection of events usually in a way to make us feel better about the world in which we live. When you discuss a deal with someone, there may be several alternative terms and conditions discussed, some including this, some excluding that, until at some point you reach an agreement with the buyer.

Woman writing on peace of paper
Boat selling agreement
Source: unsplash.com

After the buyer leaves, fragments of the different options you discussed may migrate into and out of the actual deal you made. Not only that, the buyer may have discussed other deals with other boat sellers, and little pieces of those discussions, in retrospect, may seem to have happened when he was discussing your boat with you.

In the strongest possible terms then I urge you to record the terms of your agreement on a simple form at the time you accept a deposit and that you be sure both you and the buyer have a signed copy of the agreement.

If you do not have access to a copier, you can fill out two copies of the sales agreement, word for word, and get both signatures on each copy. Then again, you can use carbon paper to replicate the original as you fill it out and sign it. Whatever you do, get it in writing.

A sample boat sale agreement form is provided below:

Boat Sale Agreement

I This agreement is between ____, Buyer, of ____, and ____ Seller, of _________.

II This agreement is to transfer ownership of the boat identified as make ____, model ____, length ____, hull number ____ from Seller to Buyer, according to the following terms and conditions.

A The sales price is $___, to be paid as follows:

  1. A deposit in the amount of $___, paid upon the signing of this agreement.
  2. An additional deposit in the amount of $____ due on or before.
  3. A final payment in the amount of $____ due on or before the closing date of ____, 20__, in the form of _________.

B Seller warrants that he has clear title to said vessel, fully authority to sell and transfer same, and that the vessel is sold free of all liens, claims and encumbrances, and Seller warrants that he will defend and indemnify Buyer from any adverse claims.

C Seller hereby states that the vessel is a used vessel, and is sold “as is”, without warranty.

D Other terms and conditions: _________.

Accepted and agreed on ____, 2003, by _______ (Buyer Signature).

Accepted and agreed on ____, 2003, by _______ (Seller Signature).

Feel free to use it as a guide in drafting your own form, adding or omitting items as needed to fulfill your requirements.

Sales Brochure

Next you need to create a sales brochure. When I say a brochure, I don’t mean a four-color job on heavy coated paper with beautiful, shapely models in the teeniest of bikinis, posing seductively on your boat while gazing up at you as though you have the looks of Fabio and the wealth of Bill Gates.

Although producing a brochure like that would be a lot of fun.

What I have in mind is more a simple sheet of paper listing all the basic information concerning your boat, along with all of the nice features and fun things about it that make it worth having. You might also want to include a digital photograph. This brochure will serve several purposes.

First, while you are compiling it, you will be reminded of all the good things about your boat, which will help you speak positively about it to prospective buyers.

Second, you can give a copy of the brochure to those prospective buyers who come to see your boat but for some reason do not instantly decide to buy it. This will keep a clear impression of your boat in their minds as they go look at other boats. Then, as they leave those other boats – disillusioned and disappointed – your brochure will remind them of how nice your boat was, and what a great experience it was both to see it and to meet you.

Photo of the yacht
Yacht on Lake Michigan

Third, the information on the brochure will be very helpful as a reference when it comes time for you to compose your advertisements.

If you can locate a copy of the original sales brochure for your boat then your job is half done already In fact, if you have such a copy, you can simply take it to a local copy and print shop and run off about a dozen copies Of course, in the event that your brochure contains a copyright notice, then you cannot make and use copies without permission, but you can still use the information it contains to create your own sales brochure. Many sales brochures do not contain copyright notices.x.

If on the other hand, the dealer’s original brochure is unavailable, you can try to obtain a copy of a sales brochure for the current year’s model of your boat, since many of the features and fun uses of the boat will have remained the same. You may need to modify some of the specifications, but it will still be easier than starting from scratch.

If no professional literature is available, begin composing your brochure by simply listing all the good things about your boat on a sheet of paper:

  • What does it do well? What have you enjoyed doing with it?
  • What did you dream of doing with it when you bought the boat, even though you may never have actually gotten around to doing it?

The new owner can dream the same dreams and never get around to doing it too, just like you did.

List the benefits of owning the boat and all the fun things the boat enables you to do in your leisure time:

Things you should list
Appealing featuresAccessoriesFor sailboats
Reclining seatsAutopilotSail inventory
Storage compartmentsSpeedometerCovers
RadiosDepth gauge or depth alarmSpecial sail controls
Builtin coolersFish finderWinches
Pigeon lockerBimini topCleats
ColorsCanvas coverGround tackle
Galley featuresTow toysAny charts or other navigational aids
HeadsGround tackle
ShowersSpare propellers and so on

On another sheet of paper, list the factual specifications:

  • year,
  • manufacturer,
  • model,
  • length,
  • beam,
  • dry weight,
  • engine type,
  • engine power,
  • top speed,
  • fuel consumption in gallon per hour or miles per gallon (use the best known number),
  • fuel capacity,
  • water capacity,
  • holding tank capacity.

Sailors will list things like the sail area, mast height above the water, minimum and maximum draft, keel type and steering system.

After you have mulled over your two lists for a while without coming up with anything new, it’s time to put them into some kind of order. Put the benefits, features and accessories on one side of a sheet of paper, and the factual specifications on the other. Be sure to put your name, address, telephone number, e-mail and price (see How to Choose the Best Selling Price for Your Boat“How to Determine the Selling Price of Your Boat or Yacht”) at the top and bottom on every page.

If you want you can create a fancy, professional-looking typeset version with a computer and printer, but a plain, neatly handwritten format will get the job done. Take the original to a print-and-copy center and have them run off about a dozen copies for you. Get wild and use some brightly colored paper if the print center offers it. Store these in your boat sale folder, making sure to reserve the originals in case you need to make more copies.

Call List

Once your brochure is done you need to make a call list, which you will fasten to the inside of the front of the boat sale folder. Set up a column for the date and time of each call, the caller’s name, telephone number, where he or she saw your ad and where he or she is from. This will help you determine which ads are producing and which are not.

The call list will also help you to determine the response to any changes you may make to your ad. Whenever you publish an ad or modify an existing ad, draw a line across the call list, enter the date and make a note of the advertising change you made, such as lowering the price or offering:

“Free hot dogs and beer served by hot babes in bikinis next Saturday, call for details and directions”.

Your boat sale folder is now complete. As stated earlier, store it near the telephone you plan to use to talk to the buyers when they call.

Why Are You Selling?

While you are creating your sales brochure, think about how you are going to answer the question:

“Why are you selling?”

Sometimes the truth will do just fine. Other times it’s best not to get bogged down in the actual personal reasons you are selling the boat.

Prepare a concise, non-controversial answer to this inevitable question, and be sure you can deliver it without a problem. Usual reasons given are that you are moving up to a bigger boat or that you are moving away from the water for your job. Avoid any reason that implies you are sick of your boat or fed up with boating in general. Your boat is the greatest boat that you have ever owned, buying it was the smartest thing you ever did and boating is the greatest recreational pastime in the world.

Author photo - Olga Nesvetailova
  1. Baber, Michael. How Champions Sell. New York: AMACOM, 1997.
  2. Carter, Rita, and Christopher Frith. Mapping the Mind. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999.
  3. Farber, Barry J. State of the Art Selling. Piawthorne, NJ: Career Press 1994.
  4. Lawhon,John F., Sherwood Harris, ed. The Selling Bible: For People in the Business of Selling. Tulsa, OK:J Franklin Publishers, 1995.
  5. Thorson, Esther. Advertising Age: The Principles of Advertising At Work. Lincolnwood, IL: NTC Business Books, 1989.
  6. Wechsler, Warren, Kristine Ellis ed. The Six Steps of Excellence in Selling: The Step-By-Step Guide to Effective Selling. Edina, MN: Better Books, 1995.
  7. Willingham , Ron. Integrity Selling: How to Succeed in Selling in the Competitive Tears Ahead. New York: Doubleday, 1989.
  8. National Marine Manufacturers Association. “Pre-Owned Boat Market Analysis”. Chicago: NMMA, 1999.
  9. “Boat Buyers Stay Loyal in Cooling Economy”. Press Release. Chicago: NMMA, December 29, 2000.
  10. “Boating 2001 — Facts and Figures at a Glance”. Chicago: NMMA, 2002.
  11. The Sailing Company. “The Sailing Market: State of the Industry 2001”. Chicago: The Sailing Company 2002.
  12. “The Sailing Market: State of the Industry 2002”. Chicago: The Sailing Company 2003.


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