How to Find Free or Cheap Boats For Sale? (Step-By-Step Guides)

As an avid outdoorsman with a passion for nature, there may be nothing better than loading up your boat before dawn for a day out on the water.

If you have always dreamed of having a boat, then I would like to share specific strategies that you can use that will help you find a free or cheap boat for sale.

Up until now, you may have just continued to push your water-faring dreams to the side because you thought you could never afford the lifestyle.

But, after plenty of research and time lost, I’m here to tell you that you need to know where to look and what to look for as you scour various sources. I will share resources to begin a boat search with you and include specific tools that you can use to optimize your results.

Finding Out Your WHY

Finding Out Your WHY

As you may already know, people use boats for plenty of various purposes. For millions of years, boats have been an integral part of society, from transportation, trading, sports, and leisure.

As you begin to dedicate more time to finding the perfect boat, you should first ask yourself what the intended use will be:

  • Does it need to meet the demands of a specific adrenaline sport?
  • Are you getting into sailing for the first time?
  • Do you plan on casually cruising along the coastline to spot wildlife?
  • Would you like to read or paint from the seclusion of a boat out in the lake?
  • Are you searching for new adventures and creating new experiences with your family?

While only you know what your why is when it comes to boat ownership, the good news is that you can most definitely realize this dream sooner than you had expected.

Finding Tools

Finding Tools

But where should you begin to look for a boat? To find a free or affordable used boat, I recommend that you exhaust these primary listing resources as you find your trusty vessel:

  • local marinas and boatyards
  • classifieds and magazine listings
  • marine auctions
  • police auctions
  • online marketplaces

Classified Resources

Below, I will explain the various finding tools mentioned above and include links to several reliable resources from where you can begin your search from the comfort of your home.

1. Local Marinas and Boatyards

Local Marinas and Boatyards

I always begin my search close to home and expand outwards according to availability and transportation requirements. If you happen to live nearby the water, then the chances are that you pass a marina or boatyard relatively often. You can choose to call ahead or drop by when you have a minute and head on over to the main office.

Mention your passion for the water and ask if any abandoned boats are lying around. Owners will sometimes abandon their boats for one reason or another, and if you are in the right place at the right time, you may just land the deal of a lifetime.

Whether the boat is dry or wet-docked, you may even be able to negotiate a parking spot with the owner of the marina or boatyard you house your new project.

2. Classifieds and Magazine Listings

Classifieds and Magazine Listings

Although people, including you and I, rely on the internet for almost everything, many printed classifieds and magazine listings are still in circulation.

And the truth is, many boat owners may not have internet access or the know-how to list their boat on one of the thousands of online classified sites available.

To find local print options, search the phone book for local newspapers and magazine print companies to establish a small list of publications that you can follow each release cycle.

If you do not consider yourself too tech-savvy (although you did find this awesome article), ask a friend to show you some tips on navigating the internet.

Sellers can usually publish their listings in either print or online format. And for a package price, sellers can even enjoy the benefit of reaching more viewers with both.

If you want to find a free or cheap boat for sale, you need to schedule a pocket of time to search the listings at each release cycle so that you don’t miss out on any potential deals.

Here are just a few great listing resources to get you started on your boat searching journey:

  1. 48North Classifieds Section
  2. GoodOldBoat Sales
  3. BoatCrazy Used Listings

3. Marine Auctions

Marine Auctions

Pull out a map and put a pin on all the auctions within a reasonably comfortable circumference- say fifty to one hundred miles. While you can usually find pictures of the auctions inventory online, you may prefer to make your boat search more adventurous.

During your preliminary research, you may even be lucky enough to come across a marine-specific auction. In any case, bring your family along for fun, and plan out a few trips to some local auctions. I know plenty of boaters who found their dream boats at auction, and you could be the next.

4. Police Auctions

Classifieds and Magazine Listings

In addition to regular auctions, where items are often repossessed, salvaged, or written-off as a wealth liability, sometimes boats are seized by the men in blue.

Unfortunately, not all boat operators are ethical or law-abiding citizens, so sometimes, the police will have to knock on their doors and seize unlawfully used boats.

One man’s loss is another man’s victory! That said, do not dwell on the irresponsible behaviors of the previous owners, but contact your local and regional police departments to get information on upcoming police auctions that are open to the public.

Chances are you could ride out into the sunset on a yacht for the price of a fishing boat. But, of course, anything is possible in the auction world, so onwards with your boat search matey.

5. Online Marketplace

Online Marketplace

You may find the boat of your dreams locally by exhausting one or several of the resources mentioned earlier. However, if you still have not found anything suitable, you can always turn to one of the more popular online marketplaces.

Some of the most well-known sites where you may just find a free or cheap boat for sale include:

Step-By-Step Guide

Now that you know where to look for free or cheap boats for sale, it would be a good idea for you to use various tips and tricks to optimize your search results.

And anytime you purchase used, there is the risk that you may get your hands on a real clunker that will just gulp down every extra penny you have, so you need to approach your search from both a practical and functional standpoint.

Knowing what to look for in a boat (mechanically speaking) requires some basic marine knowledge that can be compensated for by the experience of a trusted friend or mechanic. But before you even get to the point of a pre-sale inspection, you still have plenty of homework to do.



First of all, you probably have been told that timing is of the essence before regarding any one of a million situations that you may have found yourself in. Guess what? One of the first tips I will share directly relates to this well-known phrase about proper timing.

Generally speaking, climatic seasons often dictate the owner’s willingness to negotiate on the price of their listed boats. During the off-season, looking for boat sales affords you the prospective advantage of less competition.

What does that mean? Well, boat owners who are not happy with their winter parking fees or other storage costs may be more willing to lose a few bucks on a sale to save a pretty penny during the off-season.

Another good time to seal a deal on a boat is during natural disasters. While enduring a natural disaster is not a fun time for anyone, storm season may just be the ticket you need to become a boat owner.

I have lived and survived several hurricane and tornado seasons, and let me tell you that damage is inevitable. Storms do not take anyone’s side, so some people are luckier than others, but often boat owners just do not have the time or resources to provide a safer enclosure for their boats.

The result is a weather-damaged boat that they may very well decide to sell rather than invest in its refurbishment.

Using seasonal changes to your advantage is just one way to save money on a used boat purchase. Dealers need to make room for new inventory, and boaters are looking to get their hands on the latest model with all the little trinkets and accessories.

[Pro-Tip]: In general, late fall and the winter months are a great time to search for good deals on used boats. However, remember to keep your eyes open after a large storm system has passed through your area because people may need to sell their boats for some extra spending money.

Search Optimization Techniques

Search Optimization Techniques

Now that you are aware of how timing plays into all of this, it’s time we go through many searching strategies that will help make sure you are not overlooking any options out there.

Face-to-face interactions will flow much differently than if you end up using the internet for the majority of your searching efforts. That said, you will want to start with a set of parameters that are easily translatable across various platforms.

1.) Price Limits

We are all concerned about price, and that is probably why you are reading about how to find free or cheap boats for sale– but I could be wrong. So, it would help if you began by having an approximate price range set that fits your economic situation.

Often though, we tend to set our price limits that disregard potential negotiation. What I mean is that if you think you can only afford to spend roughly $10,000 on a boat, then that is where you place the price cap in your online search.

The problem is that you are potentially losing out on potential deals because you are not considering the 20%-40% decrease in overall cost after negotiation.

So, set your price limits higher when scouring the internet because it is very likely that you will be able to negotiate on the boat that once seemed out of economic reach and purchase it under the price limit you initially set.

2.) Let Technology Do The Work

Make sure you save your search preferences and unlock the alerts feature in your account settings so that you receive notifications to your device of choice as new listings appear.

You can permanently disable this feature when no longer functional, but this can seriously save you loads of time. Receiving alerts from your favorite websites also opens up time for you to discover new resources and invest some salvaged search hours across other platforms.

3.) Get Educated on Boat Values

Anytime you pursue the purchase of a used item, you should carefully evaluate the pros and cons of proceeding with the purchase. In addition, you have to have at least a basic understanding of the item’s value; otherwise, your search is inutile.

If you are new to the marine world, then I would not suggest that you try to calculate a boat’s value on your own. Instead, hire some professionals or lean into a trusty friend for advice.

Price comparison is essential while conducting your search, but the structure and engine of the boat are what counts. Consider hiring a boat surveyor, broker, or marine mechanic to carry out an inspection (often including a sea trial) to test the worthiness of the boat.


For as long as I can remember, I have always experienced a unique calmness and serenity any time I am near the water. Every one of my boat adventures begins by venturing out further than the rest of the crowds so that I have the water all to myself.

Before you can have the pleasure of loading up before dawn for a day out on the water, you need to find a great deal on a boat. I hope you follow the tips and tricks offered in this article to find the boat of your dreams.

With a bit of patience, lots of research, and well-implemented strategies, you will run across a free or cheap boat for sale that meets your desired purpose.

Please share your searching experience in the comment section below, and make sure to post pictures next to your love vessel.

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