Personal finances are often a key factor in the decision to buy a new or used boat.
Boat brokers typically sell larger, more expensive boats. They're similar to real estate agents but with important differences: They're far less regulated, and their commission is usually 10% rather than 6%. Unlike real estate agents who must take classes, sit for an exam, and be licensed in every state, only boat brokers in Florida and California have to be licensed, and only California requires an exam.
Ask around at your marina or boatyard, and get referrals from others who have used a broker before. Talk to two or three and get a feel for them, just as you would with a real estate agent. One way to increase your chances of finding the right broker is to look for a Certified Professional Yacht Broker (CPYB). These brokers are members of the Yacht Brokers Association of America, have taken a comprehensive exam, and have pledged to abide by a code of ethics.
Brokers should have a separate bank account for holding deposits, and there should be wording in the contract specifying what the sale is contingent upon, as well as how and when the money will be returned if the sale falls through.
Download the BoatUS Buyers Guide PDF to read this article and the entire guide.
It's important to remember that the broker in a typical sale is getting paid by and working only for the seller, not the buyer. A broker will try to get the highest possible price (that's what his commission is paid from) and will try to sell his client's boat even if it's not necessarily the best deal for you. You're on your own with negotiations and paperwork advice.
You can, however, enter into an agreement with a broker through a buyer's broker arrangement. A buyer's broker will represent you, not the seller. Once he knows what you're looking for, he can scour his sources and suggest likely boats for you to view, assist in negotiating a price, and help with the paperwork. Typically, a buyer's broker gets a commission split from the seller's broker so there's no cost to you. But read the agreement carefully before signing.
Sales Between Private Parties
Many boats, especially smaller ones, are sold between individuals. While in the past these were often done with a handshake, a better idea is to use a sales contract (download one here) so everything is spelled out and you have all the information you need to title and register your new boat.
The internet has made boat shopping much easier because you have access to listings across the country — even the world. One of the largest websites for used boats is yachtworld.com. Its content is populated exclusively by brokers who have to pay to use it, and there are many thousands of boats listed with pictures and descriptions.
Websites like eBay and craigslist also have thousands of boats for sale all over the country, and while good deals can be found, these sites carry their own set of risks, especially between individuals. Because craigslist is free for sellers to list and there are no reviews or ratings for sellers, you must use extra caution. There are many unscrupulous "sellers" who would like to separate you from your money.