The best days in a boat owner’s life are the day they buy it and the day they sell it. Boats can be notorious money pits but don’t be discouraged—you can still flip a boat for profit.
If you go through a site like YachtWorld, you’ll notice a considerable number of boats listed for sale at a seemingly affordable price. Some appear to only require minor refurbishments like general cleaning and upholstery work. You would consider purchasing one of these boats and spending your summer sprucing it up. But are there hopes of selling it for a profit? Generally, if your pockets are deep enough, by all means, go for it. It’ll be an enjoyable project. However, making a profit isn’t guaranteed because refurbishing a boat can be quite expensive.
From my observations, boats tend to be cheaper during winter and can fetch a higher price in summer. Some may discourage you from flipping for the most money. And while they are correct about not guaranteeing a profit, it’s still a worthwhile experience. As someone who helped manage a marina, I’ve heard two sayings that apply to this situation:
1. B.O.A.T. = Bring Out Another Thousand
2. The two happiest days of a man’s life are the day he buys a boat, and the day he sells it.
Having lived on a cruiser myself, I can’t completely agree with the second saying, but I’ve heard it countless times.
Can you make money flipping a boat?
Sure, you can make money flipping a boat but you’re probably not going to see significant profit, especially if you have to pay for labor. As a rule of thumb, you typically regain only about 15% of what you pour into a boat. However, if you have expertise in engine maintenance or any aspect of boat upkeep, consider marketing your services rather than trying to turn a profit by flipping boats.
The boat market is peculiar. Unlike houses, boats aren’t a necessity. Generally, boat buyers fall into two categories.
The first category consists of those who buy brand-new boats. They don’t mind paying a significant premium to get precisely what they want, along with a warranty. This segment is your best bet for making a substantial profit, but they won’t be interested in a used, refurbished boat.
The second category comprises those of us who buy used boats. We’re willing to get our hands dirty with repairs, and we can find decent deals for good boats. Boat repairs are costly, and this market will typically only value your fixes at about what they cost you, making it hard to turn a profit.
But that’s not to say there are no flippers earning some side money by sprucing up old aluminum fishing boats and trailers and flipping them. If you handle one project at a time and have the skills, your labor costs can stay low.
How to flip a boat for profit
Regardless of whether you make money or not, I’m sure you’ll learn a lot from the project. My main advice would be to start small and consult with as many knowledgeable people around you as you can. But before then, follow these tips to flip a boat for profit:
1. Look out for good deals
Your goal should be to identify the optimal range for boats in your region in terms of size, length, type, year, and price. This way, your boat will appeal to a broad market when you decide to sell. You should be prepared to look around a lot or simply stay alert when you’re on the water or at marinas.
Sometimes, you might come across someone who must part with their boat due to various reasons such as a lack of interest, insufficient funds for winterizing or storing, or even divorce. This is your chance. If you have strong mechanical skills and know what to watch out for in a used boat, you might land a great deal with some promising upside.
2. Understand your market
You need to study your local market and identify the types of boats that sell quickly.
If you’re eyeing larger boats, you might need to cover the cost of moving it from one place to another (from less expensive or difficult-to-sell markets to a more ideal location for the boat).
Also, account for any storage expenses.
Seek out distressed sellers, individuals ready to accept a lower price, enabling you to secure a profit.
Are you considering a loan to fund this venture? Keep in mind that interest rates will cut into your profit. Coupled with storage expenses, if you don’t sell your boat promptly, you might find yourself becoming the next distressed seller.
3. Inspect the boat thoroughly
First and foremost, ensure all necessary titles are in place. This includes titles for the boat, trailer, and if you have an outboard motor, make sure there’s a title for that too. Next, inspect the hull for stability. A quick poke, prod, and yank on the transom several times should confirm its solidity. Don’t forget to check for any noticeable holes or damage.
Thirdly, run a compression test on the motor, especially if it’s outboard. Given its age, it’s likely a two-stroke, and running straight gas through it just once can significantly reduce its worth.
Even a grimy, run-down hull is worth at least a few hundred dollars. If the interior doesn’t need a complete overhaul and the seats only need reupholstering or carpet replacement, you might be looking at around the 1k range.
If the boat has been stored on a trailer, it should be in good condition. If not, inspect the bottom boards for rot. Before you take it onto the interstate, ensure the trailer tires haven’t undergone severe dry rot (trailer tires are affordable – if you’re even slightly doubtful, replace them). The aftermath of neglecting this a few times is never good.
If the motor passes your tests, you’re potentially looking at a minimum of 1k for a 100+ hp two-stroke.
So yes, you might hit it big, but first, make sure the hull and the motor are in good shape. Otherwise, if you decide to buy it and they’re not, you may end up with a sizable piece of lawn decoration that sticks around for a rather long time.
As a precaution, have the seller take the boat to a mechanic to ensure there’s no major work required. If you know a mechanic, see if the seller would let them inspect it. If they refuse, they may already be aware of a significant issue.
4. Focus on the collectible market
One way you could flip a boat for profit is by focusing on the collector boat market.
A friend fixed up a collectible boat, and it could potentially sell for 3-5k depending on the condition. However, finding the right buyer can be tough. It’s similar to dealing with classic cars – buy a collectible, not just any old thing, and remember that the new owner may want to reconfigure everything.
5. Be careful with too good to be bargains
If you buy a boat at a fantastic price and you’re aware of all its problems, if nothing unknown crops up, and if you can do near-professional work (especially on fiberglass, clearcoat, carpet, and upholstery), you might turn a profit. But that’s quite a lot of ifs for someone looking to flip a boat for profit. Unless you can afford not to make a profit and are prepared for the possibility of losing most of what you put into the boat, it might not be the best decision.
6. Become a licensed marine mechanic
If you’re serious about making money with boats, consider becoming a certified marine mechanic. Many boat owners prefer to do minor work themselves but would gladly pay a professional to handle bigger tasks. Some specialists charge more than $200 an hour for their services.
You could potentially earn more by securing a summer job at a local marina or boat mechanic shop, and you’d still have the opportunity to work with boats.
A realistic scenario
All costs for materials came out of my pocket, and I didn’t pay for labor. I purchased a 24′ cuddy cabin needing a top and an interior for roughly $4,000. This price mainly covered the pristine motor and a brand-new outdrive. I knew it required some fiberglass work because the floor felt “a bit soft.”
However, the rest of the wood turned out to be equally bad. Over the next seven months, I dedicated approximately 20 hours per week (in addition to my full-time job) to rebuilding all the stringers. I spent about $2,000 on wood and fiberglass/resin and about $4,000 on vinyl, canvas, and foam, adding these to my $4,000 boat. So, I’ve invested $10,000 into a $12,000 boat. That translates into minimal earnings for the time and effort I’ve put into it.
I have no regrets (now), but I knew from the outset I wouldn’t make a profit. If I’m fortunate, I might recover my investment. If you’re interested in this venture, I’d recommend sticking with smaller boats.
To highlight the high costs associated with boat repairs, I needed a new gas filler component. I primarily needed the cap, which cost me $100. Are those vents at the back connected to the blowers? They were $40 each, despite being made of cheap plastic. These expenses quickly pile up.
To give you an idea of potential costs, a shop may charge $90 per foot for a convertible top on boats up to 22′, and $90 per hour for upholstery work. Rates could vary in your area.
Remember to watch out for soft floors, transom rot, and cracked blocks.
Where to buy used boats for sale
Kick off your boat-flipping journey by scouring Craigslist – it’s typically teeming with a variety of options and can give you a good grasp on the kind of price ranges you’re looking at. But don’t stop there! Remember to sift through a plethora of buy & sell apps like Letgo, Mercari, OfferUp, and, of course, the veteran, eBay.
Don’t underestimate the power of the traditional footwork, either. Some of the best deals are found when you hit the pavement. Take the time to go through and compare auction listings, poke around local marinas, and even swing by garage sales.
Do note that finding the right boat might just be the most critical part of your endeavor to flip a boat for profit.
Read also: peeps use their businesses to get boats
Don’t buy to flip a boat for profit. Instead, buy a boat to experience the joy of being out on the water. The general mechanical aspects of boats are much simpler to handle than cars. It’s dealing with rot and fiberglass that can become a real chore. I’m happy to answer any other questions you might have. Good luck
Ps. The ideas may not be organized — do understand.
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