Dealing with Boat Brokers

If you had an expensive boat and wanted to sell it, how would you go about the process?  There’s a whole lot to consider.  You will probably want to advertise the boat to potential buyers, perhaps by putting a “For Sale” sign on the vessel and maybe posting an ad on eBay or YachtWorld.  You’ll then have to field questions from people who responded to the advertisements.  If they turned out to be solid prospects, you’ll have to arrange to show them your boat in person.  If they get to the buying stage, you’ll have to deal with all the legal aspects of transferring the boat’s title, registration, and USCG Documentation.  You’ll also have to deal with buyers face-to-face with price negotiations, which makes many people uncomfortable.

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This is simply too much work for many boat sellers, so they hire a professional to do these things for them.  Such people are called “Boat Brokers,” and they’re licensed professionals.  It’s their job to market the vessels for the sellers, handle the entire sales process, and make sure that everything is done in a legal manner.  In many ways, they’re similar to realtors who manage the buying and selling of brick and mortar houses.

So if you’re looking to buy a boat, chances are you won’t be dealing directly with the seller.  Instead, you’ll be interacting with his or her agent throughout the buying process.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Since the broker makes a living by selling boats, he’s going to be highly motivated to make himself available at your convenience (days, evening, weekends, holidays).  Because he’s licensed and has sold many boats over the years, he’s going to have a tremendous amount of knowledge of boating and all of the legal issues when it comes to buying and selling boats.  He’ll also have friends who work in the boating industry; insurers, lenders, surveyors, marina managers, etc.  His network of friends can make the buying process a lot easier.

Here are a couple of e-mails from brokers who were kind enough to respond to my initial questions (online postings and individual e-mails) when I first started looking for a boat so many years ago:

Robert, your Dad came by yesterday to talk about boats and to line up some things to see on 7/27. I look forward to meeting you. The most important thing you can do to help us is to define how you plan to use the boat  “most of the time” (e.g., “live at dockside- leaving the dock two days a year”, or “live aboard cruising, never staying in one place for more than a week, living at anchor, coming into the dock only to buy fuel, etc.)  Obviously, these are two extreme examples that very few people actually do, but HOW YOU USE THE BOAT determines which boat is best – there is no perfect boat, but any boat in the marina can be the absolutely best choice you could make, and that same boat could be the absolutely worst choice you could make, depending on how you use it.  Fortunately, most boats, and people’s plans fall somewhere in the middle and work out.

Make up a list of “absolutes” – if the boat does not have “this,” I will not buy it even at a true bargain price, and/or if it does have “this” it is unacceptable, (e.g., gas vs. diesel engines, wood, steel, ferro-cement, fiberglass construction; aft-cockpit vs. center cockpit).  It is the things that can not be changed (aft cockpit or center cockpit) that should be absolutes; having or not having a radar is unimportant – (take it out and throw it overboard, or install one).

Being able to focus the search is important, as you can spend years “looking for the perfect boat” – that does not exist, except in our minds.  In any case we can help you find the “dream” boat, and look forward to doing just that!

– John Owen

I really enjoyed reading your questions and all the answers people sent by way of opinions and replies. Those who are suited to life onboard would have it no other way, and are always eager to encourage others to give it a try.  I think I have a pretty good idea of “who you are” from your excellent response to Capt. Neal. Everything onboard becomes a trade off. You are doing exactly the right thing to research this new project and get as much feedback as possible. I have lived aboard for many years, done yacht deliveries (ocean passages), refinish boats for a living, cruised with 2 kids onboard while home-schooling. I have seen the transitions from celestial navigation to GPS, from zero boats in a given anchorage to 30 plus. It ain’t like it used to be – in some ways better, in many ways worse. But nothing compares to the joy of cruising (and that includes the challenge of miserable conditions too) and therefore all the effort is still worth the result ! Since you will be entering a learning phase I would recommend living in a nice marina where you will enjoy meeting other yachties, exchanging info, and be able to conveniently carry out maintenance chores. It is also logical for phone and plug-ins, and water availability. I ONLY anchor out when cruising. It is quiet, bug-free, breezy, and peaceful. You don’t need AC. But, while living and working onboard, having AC would be a plus since you cannot “swing into” the wind as you would at anchor, and I KNOW your cabin space, clothing, and expensive computer equipment would benefit from the cool, dry air. I understand that you hope to be “free” to go long-range cruising in approx. 10 years. In that case, I rather suspect no boat you buy now will be what you ultimately take off in. Possible, but not likely. You need a comfortable home and a learning vehicle.

There were several suggestions to you that only a power boat would give you the space needed, or have one of each!!! Nonsense!! But the compromise of a motorsailor might just be the ticket for you for now. Needless to say, I have a lot of opinions, and a lot of experience with what works and what doesn’t, and I am still learning! Every boat and every trip is a new experience. Look very much forward to meeting you when you come to St Augustine/ Jax. Since I am Bruce Albros’ (the broker’s) girlfriend, currently land-based and not real happy about it, I enjoy “boat-shopping” with customers and helping out in any way I can.

– Una Kruse

What I decided (1998):

Unless you purchase your boat directly from the owner, you’ll be dealing with a yacht broker who acts as an agent for the seller. In Florida, these brokers must be licensed with the state (my understanding is that it takes two years to get a broker license in Florida). There are advantages and disadvantages to dealing with brokers.

Some of the disadvantages are:

  • Brokers work on commission, so it’s not necessarily in his or her interest to give you the best deal
  • To keep afloat (pun intended), the broker must sell a certain number of boats each month. He or she may not tell you that the under-body needs to be redone or that multiple homicides have been committed on the boat and it’s haunted by an angry poltergeist
  • The broker will always be on the side of the seller (his client)

Some of the advantages of working through a broker are:

  • The ones I dealt with are extremely knowledgeable (or very good at bullshitting)
  • Have many boats to show (a “parking lot” full)
  • Will do all of the paperwork for you (and make sure it’s all legal)
  • Will pay for the sandwiches and softdrinks when the boat is taken for the sea trial.

I strongly suggest making the broker work for YOU! I encountered a few brokers who wouldn’t even talk to me unless I had been “pre-approved” for a loan on the boat. My recommendation is to call every broker in the area (or use the Internet and start sending e-mails) and see how much time they spend with you. If they simply blow you off, you should ask yourself if this is really the type of person whom you want to work with (after all, if you buy the boat you’ll be spending a LOT of time with this person).

Here’s the letter that I sent to several different yacht brokers through e-mail. Some responded (like the ones you read above), and others didn’t. I was looking for brokers who would take some time with me:


For quite some time, I have been harboring a dream. It started when I was a college student and joined our University’s sailing club. We spent a bit of time learning how to navigate, race, and maintain sailing vessels. After a week-long cruise in the Florida Keys, I made up my mind to one day live on a sailboat.

I’m closer to this dream than I’ve ever been before. Presently, I live in Dallas, Texas. I work from home, and I’m not tied to any particular location. Three weeks ago, I was given permission to relocate to Jacksonville, Florida – which is where I was raised.

My goal, over the next three months, is to find a suitable boat in the Florida area. I’ll be making “boat-hunting” trips to Jacksonville, Tampa, and Miami during July and August. In August, I’ll be purchasing a sailboat to use it as my home and office in Jacksonville. I’m looking to spend somewhere in the $90,000 – $120,000 range (or less, if I can find a suitable vessel).

I’m not exactly sure what type of boat I need, so I thought I’d contact you. Any guidance or suggestions you’d care to share are greatly appreciated!

Since I’ll be using this boat as an office, I’ll need plenty of space to work in (I’m in the computer business, and I’ll have a laptop, fax, laser printer, etc.). Are there boats available in my price range that have office-like facilities? Any particular manufacturer I should investigate?

What size sailboat makes a comfortable home? This is my largest concern – I want a lot of space, but I also want to make sure that I can sail the boat alone.

Here is my initial wish-list:

  • The boat MUST have air conditioning
  • I’d prefer a boat with an aft cockpit
  • RO water maker would be a plus
  • Wind generator would be a plus
  • Fridge is mandatory
  • Auto-pilot would be a plus
  • Radar would be a plus


Thoughts from 2000:

Now that I’ve lived aboard for a while, I have neighbors and friends who are licensed boat brokers. They’ve visited this site and take offense to the statement, “The broker will always be on the side of the seller (his client).”

They know that I work in sales for a living, and one of them asked me the question, “Do you always take the side of your company?” To be honest, I don’t. A lot of times, my customers are right and I have to go to battle for them with my employer. “So,” he asked, “do you always take the side of you clients?” Well, no.  Sometimes customers can be unreasonable. In these situations, I try to convince them of my company’s perspective. There is no such concept as “the customer is always right.”

“Well put!” my broker-friend said. “So you see why your statement is unfair?”

I do. Nonetheless, keep in mind that your broker will only get a commission check if you decide to purchase the boat he’s showing. I’m sure there are some unscrupulous brokers who behave more like the proverbial “used car salesmen” than the professionals they should be.

Thoughts from 2003:

A couple of things about boat brokers…a LOT of them live on board, and a LOT of them have Internet access and have visited this website!  They’re also an opinionated bunch, and haven’t shied away from teaching me more about their profession.

Over the years, I’ve come to know several of them in person. I’ve learned from them an important aspect of their job which isn’t advertised heavily enough, in my opinion. It’s a little-known fact that if you like a particular broker, he or she can represent you on anyboat purchase you make!

When I told my house-owning friends this fact, their reaction was, “Well, duh! Real estate agents do the same thing!”  Having never purchased a house myself, I didn’t know this.  Let me give you an example of how it works.

A few months ago, a girl stumbled across this Web site. She was looking to sell her house, buy a boat, and make it her home and office. We exchanged several e-mails, and I invited her to spend a weekend with me aboard Candide. She would get a taste of liveaboard life, and we would have plenty of time to look at boats in the Jacksonville area. She flew down a week later.

On Saturday morning, I introduced her to Linda Reynolds, who sells boats at Whitney’s Marine and happens to be a friend of mine. Linda spent a lot of time interviewing my new friend and taking plenty of notes. She showed us several boats at Whitney’s, and encouraged us to look at a few more in the area.

We took her advice and visited Ortega River Boat Yard (my old marina!). While we were there, my friend found a boat that got her truly excited. It was the first time she had “the feeling” about a particular vessel. Unfortunately, the boat was listed by another broker.

My friend explained to me that she was comfortable working with Linda, and didn’t really want to deal with another broker. So, we called Linda and asked if she could show us a boat listed with another brokerage. “Of course! No problem!” was her answer.

Linda simply went to the competing brokerage office, told them that she had a client who wanted to see one of their listings, and that she needed the keys. In a short time, we were on board the boat…lifting hatches, examining the engine, poking around the galley…

So, how is this possible? Well, I found out later that brokers can serve on two sides of the fence by either representing the seller or the buyer! The brokers usually work out a split commission so that both manage to make money without it costing the buyer or seller anything extra.

Had I known about this little fact, I would have had Bruce Albro be my “buyer broker.” I really liked Bruce; he spent a lot of time with me, and I felt that I could trust him. Unfortunately, I found Candide listed with another broker and it never crossed my mind that Bruce would have been able to help me! So, I wound up buying my boat through a broker I barely knew (sorry, Bruce!).

So, if you find a broker who you really like, my suggestion is to have him or her represent you…no matter which broker has the listing!

Thoughts from 2012:

Remember what I said earlier about a boat being haunted by poltergeists and the broker not saying anything about it?  Well, this broker seems to have turned a ghastly murder-on-board into a selling point:

California Yacht Broker to Sell Boat of Murdered Couple

I followed this story for quite a while.  A liveaboard couple decided to sell their boat (presumably without a broker), and one of the potential buyers forced them to sign over the boat, tied them to an anchor, and threw them overboard.

If they’d hired a boat broker in the first place, they’d probably be alive today.

Just sayin’.