For many buying a boat is one of the more enjoyable experiences in life. It certainly has the potential to be one of the most life-enhancing purchases you can make, opening up a new world of time on the water with friends and family. Like buying a house it can also be stressful, and that’s where this boat-buyer’s guide aims to provide assistance on each step in the buying process you need to consider.

how to buy a boat guide

This boat-buyer’s guide aims to provide assistance on each step in the buying process.

In this guide we’ll start with the assumption that you’ve identified a suitable vessel. If the boat is brand new much of the following will be handled by the boat dealer as a matter of course, but it’s still worth reviewing each step so you can go through the process with your eyes open.

Your first step, especially in the case of a used boat, is to ensure the seller actually owns the boat and that there are no outstanding encumbrances such as unpaid marine mortgages. Buyers can search for the boat via the online Personal Properties Securities Register or PPSR, which assists consumers to obtain information about personal property in a simple and inexpensive way ensuring it can be purchased free from security interests that could lead to repossession by a finance company or other individual or company.

The PPSR is linked to a vessel’s Hull Identification Number or HIN, a unique numbering system that makes it easy to identify a vessel.

You can check to see if a boat you are interested in has been reported stolen via the register, though if a boat is not listed it doesn’t mean it hasn’t be stolen. Ensure that the vendor is knowledgeable about the boat and has sufficient documentation to support his or her claim of ownership.

Typically licenced brokers offer buyer protection utilising some or all of the following checklist:

  1. Listing agreement signed by the seller

  2. Sales agreement with the seller

  3. Statutory Declaration to say there are no encumbrances on the vessel

  4. PPSR check

A yacht broker or dealer can take the legwork out of compiling all the relevant paperwork. This provides more assurance than buying a boat privately, and there’s also a degree of legal protection. It’s important to note that unlike when buying a used car, boat dealers rarely own the second hand vessels they advertise – they are rather acting as agents.

Brokers should be members of their state Boating Industry Association, which binds them to a Code of Ethics, and only buy a used boat from a licenced second-hand dealer and pawnbroker.

The national peak body is the Boating Industries Alliance Australia, an alliance of six member states, which between them represent more than 90% of the boating industry in Australia. In NSW the BIA went further for its members working as brokers, establishing the Marine Brokers Association in 2003 to identify and grant accreditation to experienced brokers.

Remember purchasing a boat in Australia is very different from buying a car. There are many fees and processes that need to be understood by the buyer and unlike the motor industry, there is no legal requirement for a boat dealer or broker to offer any kind of warranty or guarantee when a second-hand vessel is purchased.

Boat title documentation

It is important to see title documentation for the vessel, including the appropriate state-based registration certificate and receipt of purchase, the documents that transfer legal title in a boat. Ideally these should show a complete paper trail back to the original builder’s certificate. In reality older boats (particularly those of more than 20-30 years old) may not have a full set of documentation. An owner of an older boat can arrange a HIN via their state registry office to show they actually bought the boat, as well as other documentation such as receipts for moorings, boatyards and so on that substantiate their involvement with the vessel over a period of time.

Registration certificates

Vessel registration in Australia is done on a state-by-state basis by the relevant registry office:

In the state of NSW the following vessels must be registered with Roads and Maritime when occupying NSW navigable waters:

  • Power-driven vessels that are powered by an engine with a power rating of 4.0 kilowatts or more (greater than 5 horsepower)

  • Any power-driven or sailing vessel of 5.5 metres or longer

  • Every vessel subject to a mooring licence (including marina berths)

  • Personal watercraft (PWC)

When using a vessel registered in another Australian state or territory, or overseas, on NSW navigable waters, different conditions apply.

It is an offence for an Australian-owned vessel to sail for a foreign port unless it is registered in the Australian Register of Ships. The majority of ships won’t go abroad given the vast distance to other countries from Australia, but if they do they must first register with the Australian Government’s Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s Australian International Shipping Register.

Builder’s Certificate

A person importing a recreational boat from another country will need to ensure compliance with the Australian Builder’s Plate (APB) standard before the boat is first registered. If you privately import a boat into Australia you will be treated as the builder of the boat for the purpose of the ABP legislation and will need to fit it with an ABP.

If buying within Australia, Australian Builders Plates are required for new recreational powered vessels that are either:

  • Offered for sale to the public for the first time

  • Being registered in WA for the first time.

Vessels built before 2 September 2006, when the law was introduced, do not need an ABP. There are some other exceptions for special categories of boats.

The APB confirms boat builder and year built, the HIN, year built and often a yard number so that later in the boat’s life, its age and origin can be proven. The certificate also provides maximum outboard engine power, maximum number and weight of persons and maximum load.


If a broker is buying and importing from overseas on your behalf they will handle the taxes and advise the amount payable. The amount of duty depends on the country of origin and the trade agreement between Australia and that country.

There will be a 10% GST component payable on the valuation, for customs importation.

Arranging a viewing

Check that the vendor is knowledgeable about the boat and has a legitimate reason for the sale. Ask yourself whether the price is similar to other boats on the market. If a deal looks too good to be true it probably is. In most cases it’s unlikely that you will be able to arrange to view the boat at the seller’s home address, as you would expect to when buying a used car privately. If after viewing a boat you’re interested in the vessel it’s worth speaking to the boatyard, marina or mooring operator where you viewed it, to confirm they know the vendor and that there are no outstanding bills that could be levied as a charge against the vessel.

Sea trial

Any costs that involve the trial, such as launching or skipper fees, where applicable, would normally be the responsibility of the buyer, not the seller. This is an opportunity to ensure that the equipment is all in good working order. With a sailing boat, for instance, you can check that all sail handling systems, plus items like the anchor windlass operate as they should. Similarly, engines should start easily, both when cold and warm, and should not produce undue amounts of smoke.

To feel more confident, at this point a buyer may wish to engage the services of a professional marine surveyor, much like a building inspector inspects a house prior to purchase for unseen faults. They know what to look for!

Negotiating the right price

You want to make sure you do not pay over the market price for your boat. Doing your research will give you an idea of the value for similar boats, although the value of boats can vary enormously based on equipment, condition and other factors, including location.

To get the best evaluation you need to look at various sources of information to help, which can include websites and forums. Yacht brokers will also have access to details of sold boat prices should there be no other similar boats for sale on the market at the time. The more research you can do, the more accurate a picture you will have of a boat’s value. Once you have a good idea of the boat’s fair value, speak to the seller using your research information to help negotiate the price to pay.

While the cost of purchasing the boat may be substantial, it’s also essential to bear in mind the costs of maintenance, mooring, insurance, certification, and many other factors depending on the type, size and age of the boat. Once an offer is accepted – usually subject to survey – then you enter into a contract in which you are legally bound to buy the vessel. Note that the stage at which you enter into this legal obligation happens much faster than when buying a house.


A written contract is advised in any purchase or sale, laying out the terms and conditions relating to the sale and purchase. The BIA’s member states can provide their members with a template for a private sale or if purchasing through a broker they will use a BIA template, which also sets out the duties of the broker acting on behalf of both the buyer and seller.

Contracts normally give a two-week period for a survey to be carried out and are binding unless material defects, of which vendor and purchaser were previously unaware, are uncovered by the survey. At the same time as signing the contract a 10 per cent deposit is normally paid. With a boat sold by a broker this should go into the company’s trust account.


A full condition survey, often known as a pre-purchase survey, is the most appropriate when looking to buy a boat whether it is new or used. This comprehensive and detailed survey is a non-destructive examination of all accessible areas and equipment as specified, to provide an opinion on the condition, integrity and durability of the hull and structure of the vessel and its equipment. If you require finance for the purchase then you may also need to have a valuation of the boat completed as a part of the survey.

It is advisable to explore the costs and terms of any boat insurance before instructing a qualified marine surveyor, as the survey requirements of insurers can differ and if you find you need additional checks after you have already had a survey completed, this may involve more costs.

Your broker and insurance company can provide a list of certified surveyors.


In many cases, the review of finances happens when you first look at purchasing a boat. It’s important to look carefully at the budget required and the amount you need, if any, to get on finance. There are many finance providers and it is worth getting quotes from a few different ones, as well as details of their services. As already mentioned, when transferring funds to a yacht broker or agent these should be paid to their trust account.


You will need to check what type of insurance you need to purchase as it will depend on how and where you use your boat, how fast it goes, where it will be kept and the age of the youngest driver.

In terms of minimum cover it is recommended that theft, fire, malicious damage, loss or damage while in transit and third party liability insurance is included. Using a boat on waterways will require a minimum AUD$10 million of third-party cover and most harbour authorities and mooring providers have a similar requirement. Otherwise, the policy can very much be based around your own peace of mind, when away from the boat or out and about enjoying it.

Buying outside Australia

Marine dealers and brokers are authorised to sell specific product brands in Australia and the product must comply with Australian standards. Product sold through non-authorised channels is known as a grey or parallel import.

Buying a distress sale from overseas sight unseen doesn’t offer any warranty and the buyer then becomes responsible for its compliance with Australian standards. The BIAA encourages buyers to work with Australian dealers or brokers and has produced this helpful brochure to explain the risks of a grey market purchase.

Useful further reading

We’ve mentioned a variety of relevant pieces already, but if you are serious about buying your first boat, take some time to look at our buyer’s guides. Useful examples include How to inspect a second-hand boat before buying and How to choose a yacht for ocean cruising. Once you’ve done your research, the world of boating and yachting is ready to welcome you.


Written by: Rupert Holmes
Rupert Holmes has more than 70,000 miles of offshore cruising and racing experience, in waters ranging from the North Sea to the Southern Ocean and Cape Horn. He writes about all aspects of boat ownership and marine travel, including destinations, seamanship and maintenance, as well as undertaking regular new boat and gear tests. He currently sails around 5,000 miles per year and in the past couple of seasons has cruised from the UK to the Azores, as well as winning his class in the 2014 two-handed Round Britain and Ireland Race. He also owns two yachts, one based in the Mediterranean and the other in the UK.