A Beginner’s Guide to Boat Auctions (8 Tips)

Auctions offer an excellent opportunity to land a dreamboat at a discounted price. It’s possible to secure a boat for a fraction of its retail price so long as you’re ready to take a risk. The odds of landing a great deal or the worst are determined by your luck, skill, and experience in auctions. With the fun involved in boat auctions, many beginners get swept away when they overpay, and others buy a boat that costs them too much in repairs.

That’s why it’s best to go through this beginner’s guide to boat auctions before attending one. We’re giving you tricks and tips to keep at your fingertips next time you plan to buy your dream boat from an auction.

What to Consider When Attending a Boat Auction?

Buying a boat from a boat auction comes with benefits and risks as well. As a beginner, you might want to know everything involved before making a move that costs you your investment and proves to be a poor decision later. Here are the many things you ought to consider next time you plan to buy or attend a boat auction.

1. Know What You Are You Looking For

When considering buying a boat at an auction, it’s always best to draft an idea of the boat type you’re looking for. Understand why you need the boat and how often you will use it – all year round or seasonally? Be sure that you need it now.

Draft a budget and make sure you stick to it. Boat auctions can be fun but don’t be carried away. Most beginners get swept away by the auctioning moment and end up bidding too high than their budget allows, and when they win the bid, the boat ends up being so worth the price.

2. Find a Good Boat Auction

You can find a suitable boat auction anywhere in this world. And thanks to everything going digital, you can quickly locate one that is taking place near you.

You can even come across boat auction websites that hold the sales online, allowing you to land your dream boat with only one click. However, the risks are way higher with online boat auctions.

That’s why you must ensure you check the boat dealer’s credentials before you can place the bid. Make sure there is enough information on the boat you’re interested in.

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3. Know the Auction Rules

Boat auctions have a few rules and regulations that every participant has to follow. And as you well bidding is a legal obligation.

So, if you want to enjoy a successful boat auction experience, get a copy of the auction rules and understand the procedures involved.

Don’t forget to go through the house’s terms and conditions before placing any bid. Also, check how to bid and how to progress after you win a bid.

4. Attend Boat Preview Session or Hire a Surveyor

The boats listed in the boat auction are listed early, 20-30 days before the auction. Take any opportunity arising that allows you to pre-book and survey your dream boat as it will enable you to inspect and uncover any repairs that might not be visible to an untrained eye.

If you’re no expert, hire a boat surveyor to check everything out and expose the risks involved. Keep an eye at the viewing times – generally announced on the auctioneer website.

You can also make the viewing time to identify potential boats meeting your specific needs and wants. Compare them to be sure of the best boat that offers the best value for money.

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Visual inspection

If you locate a potential candidate, take time to carry out a thorough visual inspection. Start by checking the hull for visible defects or irregularities, dings or cracks, unevenly painted spots, and fittings. Don’t also forget to inspect the steering and the throttle cables and controls.

After this, inspect all the other systems, including the lights, bilge pump, stereo, winches, freshwater sink winches, shower, heater, air conditioner, galley stove, generator, and more.

You also want to ensure all the hardware is firm and the backing plates hold correctly. If it’s a sailboat, inspect the ragging and sails hardware. While at it, open and close the hatches.

Also, inspect the fuel tanks, lines, and fittings to ensure no clogs and leaks. Ensure the batteries are in fastened acid-proof containers.

Be sure the cabin doesn’t have mold or mildew, the hull fittings are firm and not leaking, and the electrical devices and connections are rust-free.

Engine Check

It would be best if you also gave the engine some special attention. You want to make sure there is enough oil in the bilge, and there are no signs of oil leaks. If the oil looks milky, there might be a mechanical problem causing water to enter the engine. Check for lubricant leakages around the gaskets, hoses, and freeze plugs.

Make sure the hoses, fittings, and belts are crack and brittle-free. Don’t forget to inspect the spark plug to know if it’s relatively new, gapped right, or burnt. It will tell you how well the previous user serviced the engine.

Make sure there is no chalky residue on the drive and engine, as that can indicate it’s running hot. Also, ensure the sacrificial anodes on the drive are in good shape. Check for cavitation damages signs on the propellers – it can indicate poor performance. Don’t forget to inspect the engine mounts for broken signs.

If possible, ask for the engine to be started and check how well it starts and runs. Listen to the engine for any sound irregularities. Check for the engine smoke. Blue-whitish smoke from the exhaust means the engine is worn out to a point it’s burning oil. If it’s producing excess white smoke, the engine is burning coolant.

A Beginner’s Guide to Boat Pro tip: If you’re not an expert in these things, get a technically savvy friend to help you out.

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5. Do Your Research

Research, research, and research even more. You want to arm yourself with all the helpful information you can gather about the dreamboat before attending the auction. Search the internet for similar models and understand how much they retail.

Using the information you gathered during the inspection, try to estimate the boat’s market value ahead of the auction to know your limit during the bidding.

Familiarize yourself with the boat’s manufacturer’s datasheet for your dream boat to understand its specs, such as length, weight, speed, and applicable engines. Also, check out the boat permits, registration, licensing, storage, and maintenance costs.

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6. Stick to Your Budget

Auctions are filled with thrill and excitements that can carry you away when the bidding starts, and before you know it, you’re overspending.

You want to stay focused and keep in mind that the goal is to take home a great deal with a significant bargain on a used boat.

Don’t allow yourself to get dragged into the bidding wars; keep yourself calm and ensure you observe and stick to your budget from the start to the end.

7. Check for Unforeseen Fees and Payments

Plan for additional costs that might be involved before the boat auction. Check the auction terms document for any payment that might be involved when bidding.

If it’s online bidding, you might be required to make a deposit percentage on the online auction day. Most of the time, the fee gets locked in and payable if you complete the deal or not.

The buyer’s premium ranges from 4% to 15%, and extra physical vessel transfer costs might be involved. If you live in another city, you’ll need to find a way to ship, and you’ll have to pay for it.

8. Avoid Police and Salvage Auctions

Unless you have a professional and experienced boat surveyor, avoid the police and salvage auctions. They are typically run, professionals. It can be challenging to estimate the boat’s damages and its actual market value.

What Do You Do After You Have Won A Boat?

Once you win the bid and get confirmed with the hammer, go to the auction office and make your deposit straight away. Ensure you settle the full payment. Before you rush out your maiden voyage, complete the ownership contract by legally transferring the boat to you.

Pick up your boat the same day or within 1-2 business days from the auction day – If you take a long to deliver the full payment, the risk of losing your boat and your deposit increases.

Ensure everything about the boat is specified in the auction contract. That included the boat’s ownership history, mileage, maintenance details, and more. Everything should be in writing to avoid legal problems in the future.

Beginner’s Guide to Boat Related Questions

What is a salvage boat?

A salvaged boat is a listed vessel acquired after someone filed an insurance claim for damages. Still, the insurance company realized the repair costs exceed a substantial portion of its value, typically around 80%.

Can I keep an abandoned boat?

You don’t automatically get full ownership if you found and saved an abandoned vessel as a derelict vessel. However, in a rare case, you can be the owner – if you can prove that its true owner has abandoned all the boat’s ownership claims and abandoned possession, you can keep it.


Hi, I’m John who owns multiple different boats and i love all kinds of water activities. From boating to fishing, from scuba diving to windsurfing, from water tubing to snow tubing.

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