Trade-In Boat Values: NADA Guides & Blue Book
Trading in a boat isn’t exactly like trading in a car. It’s a bit more complex. Understanding the critical differences in trade-in boat values and how they’re reflected by NADA Guides and “Blue Book” values is key to making a good deal. Let’s talk about all the factors that affect your boat trade-in value:
- Boat Condition & Trade-In Value
- The Used Boat Marketplace
- Boat Brand
Boat Condition & Trade-In Value
The condition of your boat will significantly impact its value, similar to how a car’s condition plays a role in the automotive used market. When it comes to boats, the disparity between two boats of the same make, model, and age, can be quite a bit more extreme than it is with cars.
Boats require regular maintenance and tend to deteriorate a lot faster than cars, so the difference between a boat that’s been properly maintained versus one that’s been ignored can be huge, and it’s not unusual for a boat to sell well outside of the published book value.
The Used Boat Market
The used car market goes up and down, but the used boat market is more volatile. Boats are generally considered to be luxury commodities. People who can’t spend the money on a boat just rent one for a few hours or a couple of days. So when the economy suffers, the Used Boat Market does too.
On rare occasions, such as during the COVID-19 Pandemic, the market for used boats can spike because boat manufacturers can’t keep up with demand. They aren’t nearly as large as automotive manufacturers, so adding an assembly line or building a new plant is a huge undertaking for most boatbuilders. The used boat market can get backed up easily.
Location has a role here too. Boats may be more or less in demand based simply on your location. For example, several years of hot fishing action in a particular lake or bay can increase demand for fishing boats in the area.
The year after a big storm or hurricane, the area it struck may see a glut of used boats on the market. Also, boats used only in freshwater are always worth more than those used exclusively in saltwater.
As is true with cars, brand plays a part in determining trade-in boat value. Name brands have longstanding reputations for being priced higher. So, how does all this come into play when you look up the trade-in boat value in the NADA Guide or Blue Books?
The predicted values become a lot less exact than they are for automobiles. Take a 10-year-old 25-foot bowrider, for example, with a predicted range of between $50,000 on the low end and $60,000 on the high end.
When the market peaked during COVID, a boat in good condition might have been worth $70,000. If the new owner fails to keep it in good shape, just a year or two later, it could be worth as little as half of that amount. Remember how we said location matters? If that same boat was located in middle America and always used in freshwater, you could put it on a trailer and haul it to the Atlantic coast, and suddenly its value might go up by 10 percent.
The Bottom Line
Properly determining a boat’s trade-in value takes wisdom. The NADA Guide and Blue Books provide a mathematical breakdown, but several factors make it hard to tell an exact number.
Plus, many boat dealerships will have fees associated with the transaction. So as you try to understand boat trade-in values, remember that even the experts grapple with finding the most accurate valuation each time they take a trade.
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With over three decades of experience in marine journalism, Lenny Rudow has contributed to dozens of boating and fishing publications and websites ranging from BoatU.S. Magazine to BDOutdoors.com. Rudow is currently the Angler in Chief at Rudow’s FishTalk, he is a past president of Boating Writers International (BWI), a graduate of the Westlawn School of Yacht Design, and has won numerous BWI and OWAA writing awards.