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Buying a Boat in Canada: The Process

Buying a boat is different from buying a vehicle or a home, although our boats often serve both of those purposes. Logan and I have purchased and sold two sailboats and one power boat in the past 7 years. Each process has been a little different, with two of those vessels being licensed and one being registered. All three we purchased privately, but the third we are selling with the use of a broker. The boat buying process is usually fairly easy going, but it can involve a lot of money exchanging hands. From the survey to the actual sale, buying boats is not a cheap process. However, knowing how the purchasing process usually unfolds can eliminate some of the stress involved. So, here are the usual steps involved in buying a boat in Canada:

  1. Find a boat you wanna buy. Search Facebook, Craigslist, Kijiji, Boat Traders and various other websites. If you just do a google search for sailboats for sail BC, you will find numerous sites to scour to find your boat. But be patient. One of the biggest tips we got when searching for a boat was to figure out which boat you want first and then search for it. In Canada there aren’t a ton of boats for sale at any point in time, so be patient. The other thing you can do is actually go and physically walk around the docks to find some of the boats that may be for sale but aren't online. Also, ask people when you are down at the docks if they might know of anyone with a boat for sale similar to what you are looking for. You never know who has a gem waiting for you.

  2. Go see the boat. Once you've found a boat you're interested in, get in contact with the seller or broker and then go see the boat! If it looks great to you, follow on to the next step. But make sure you actually go and physically see the boat. The number of horror stories we've heard from people buying a boat sight unseen is high. Don't make this mistake. If you can't physically be there, send someone to see it for you and get them to do a video chat tour with you at the very least. Don't trust the broker pictures. In other parts of the world in particular pictures are often old, outdated and misleading.

  3. Make an offer. This is pretty straight forward. If the boat checks out after you go see it, find a price to agree on that works for both you and the owner. Keep in mind your budget, how much money you are going to have to put into it for repairs, etc. The general rule of thumb is that you will invest 20% of the purchase price into personalizing whatever boat you buy, even if it is up to par when purchased.

  4. Get it surveyed. Once you have made an offer, hire a professional surveyor to come check out the boat. During this process, keep in mind that general surveyors are not there to check out the mechanics of the boat or the rigging and that you might have to hire another surveyor to handle these things if you want a more in-depth opinion. Also, do your research ahead of time so you know what the usual problems are with your boat and can check for them yourself, or at least give the broker a heads up to check them out for you. Also, not all surveyors are knowledgeable about every type of boat. Most are well versed in fibreglass, but steel boats and wooden boats have completely different needs and if you are buying one of them, this is something you might want to keep in mind when choosing your surveyor.

  5. Take it for an ocean trial. This step can happen before the survey, but usually happens after an offer has been accepted. This is where you get to raise the sails and make sure the boat actually sails, the motor works, etc. In BC it is sometimes hard to find a day windy enough to actually sail, but it’s a good idea to plan around this if you can. You really don't know what you have in a sailboat until you get those sails raised in a little bit of weather.

  6. Sign a bill of sale and give the owner some money. Woot! Congrats! You're buying a boat! You can print off an official bill of sale from this government website, or write up your own. If you are dealing with a broker, they will probably have this process laid out for you, but if you are dealing directly with the owner, the two of you have to figure it out. Using the government bill of sale will ensure you include all the info you need to make sure things are official and ownership can smoothly change hands.

  7. Officially change the ownership in government documents. If your boat is licensed, this process is free, but if it is registered, it will cost you a little bit of money ($150). Here the official government website to figure out if your boat should be licensed or registered. Your boat will always only be one or the other, but never both.

I hope this was helpful! The boat buying process can be a bit convoluted and confusing, and that can be scary when you have quite a bit of money changing hands. If you have any experiences yourself from purchasing boats and could add a bit of knowledge to what we have above, please reply in the comments!

sailboat in the fog

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Jennifer Selbee
Jennifer Selbee
18 oct 2021

We are thinking of buying a boat but can't get a straight answer on insurance without first buying the boat. Do you have any tips or information on how much it could cost for insurance?

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