Sailboat Brokerage Market Opening Up For Buyers Who Are Ready To Pounce

Sailboats are still moving quickly through the market, say brokers, but FY 2023 showed fewer instances of immediate, full-price sales.
Sailboat harbor in evening, many luxury moored sail yacht in the port, ship mast reflected in water, marina in European city, summer holidays
Brokers are seeing some opening up on the sailboat market, with fewer quick sales at asking price, and longer listing times. Anna Om/

Mark Pillsbury can see the change in his email inbox. The longtime editor for Cruising World has been looking to buy a brokerage sailboat for the past year, maybe year and a half, but the pickings have been slim. Buyers scooped up pretty much anything that could float during the pandemic. Even when Pillsbury took the time to input his criteria for an online brokerage database, he never got a single email alert about a matching listing.

“Now, it’s maybe three or four boats a week that get listed and meet the criteria I put in,” Pillsbury said in late March. “It’s definitely opening up a little bit, but you can look at the pictures and then get to the boat, and you think, Were those really pictures of this boat?”

His experience mirrors what numerous brokers and sailors say they’re seeing in the marketplace for brokerage sailboats—especially popular, sought-after models. The overall number of available boats is starting to increase, with more boats for sale now than there were just six or eight months ago. 

The quality of those boats, though, can vary, and savvy buyers are still ­waiting in the wings to make fast offers on well-maintained, right-priced vessels.

Shannon 43 Nighthawk
The classic Shannon 43 Nighthawk sold pre-pandemic at a premium, largely due to its pedigree and Bristol condition at the time of sale. Billy Black, Courtesy David Walters Yachts

“Last year, 2022, we sold about 18 boats before they even listed, which is unheard of,” says Josh McLean, president of David Walters Yachts in Annapolis, Maryland. “If you look at certain models, like a Hylas 54 or a Hylas 49—if I had a listing on a Hylas 49, the boat had multiple offers before it even hit the market. There are still certain boats where that’s true today because there’s been such a lack of inventory. I have a list of people waiting to buy one as soon as it becomes available.”

At the same time, the broker says, he’s seeing what boaters say they’re ­experiencing as shoppers: “For the first time in a while, we’re starting to receive emails announcing price reductions,” McLean says. “We’re seeing fewer ­instances of boats selling at full asking price, and we’re starting to see boats sitting on the market a little longer.”

Boats are still moving relatively quickly, in the grand scheme of things, but it’s only a matter of months, not years, to get most boats sold, McLean says. For certain boats—particularly semicustom boats where the manufacturers built only a handful every year—options remain extremely limited.

We’re seeing fewer instances of boats selling at full asking price, and we’re starting to see boats sitting on the market a little longer.

Rich Hoyer knew this while looking to buy a Sabre 38. He and his wife ­co-owned a Hylas 54 built in 2006, but the Hoyers wanted to switch to a different style of cruising. They put the Hylas on the market in spring 2022, when friends of theirs managed to sell an Island Packet 480 immediately at full price. “We had a full-price offer pretty much the same day,” Hoyer says. “We heard that wasn’t too uncommon at that time.”

That buyer didn’t pull through, though, so Hoyer ended up selling the Hylas 54 to a different buyer in fall 2022. 

Kurt Jerman

Supply and Demand

Kurt Jerman at West Coast Multihulls says that he sees the market for catamarans “calming down but not really slowing down.” Folks aren’t as crazed as they were during the pandemic, but there’s still limited brokerage inventory, and new boats continue to sell. § “I think the big takeaways are that catamarans are still pretty en vogue,” he says. “They’re not really keeping up with demand right now because there aren’t as many builders for catamarans as there are for monohulls.” Courtesy Kurt Jerman

“It felt like after spring, things got slower,” he says. “It took a while to find another buyer. We felt like we had missed the window.”

The buyers who landed that deal this past fall were Gayle and Kevin O’Sullivan, who owned a Beneteau 461 but had been thinking about a Hylas 54 for years, after seeing one at a boat show. Gayle started watching advertisements online in summer 2021. She saw a different Hylas 54 pop up for sale in fall 2021 and went to see it at the Annapolis boat show. 

“By the time we got down there, they had an offer on it,” she recalls, adding that the broker told her and her husband to get on the boat for a look anyway. “He was right. We walked around, looked at him and said, ‘I can’t believe we missed this.’”

Hylas 54 Caris
Though the market has begun to soften, highly sought-after models like the 2001 Hylas 54 Caris are still selling above list price. Courtesy David Walters Yacht

When the first buyer on Hoyer’s Hylas 54 fell through a year later, the O’Sullivans didn’t want to lose out again. They had their broker, their financing, their ­insurance, everything in place. 

“Within 15 minutes, we had made an offer, and it was accepted,” she says. 

Hoyer, in turn, then had the ability to do exactly what the O’Sullivans had done: He pounced on a good-quality Sabre 38 that popped up. He had wanted one for about 30 years but had experienced similar challenges finding one that met his criteria.  

“I was not planning to buy and sell at the same time,” Hoyer says. “That’s kind of a nightmare. But this was an incredibly special boat. It was built in 1988, but the owners live in Greenwich, Connecticut, and they summered on the boat in Maine. They would give it to Hinckley every fall and say, ‘Do what you need to do to make this a good experience next summer.’ It had a new Yanmar engine, new plumbing, new electronics—Hinckley had been rebuilding it for the last 10 years. I had never seen a boat that special.”

He snapped it up inside of two weeks during fall 2022—after negotiating with the owner on price, something that also was virtually unheard of during the pandemic boat-buying craze.  

H54 Rover
Hoyer’s H54 Rover is also still selling above list price. Courtesy David Walters Yacht

“I paid $115,000,” he says. “I think they were asking $145,000. Most Sabre 38s would go for about $85,000, but it had a new Yanmar and the boat was stored indoors for 10 months a year. It was an outlier.”

McLean says that the ability to ­negotiate, as Hoyer did, was impossible for most buyers during the pandemic, but it’s happening more often this year. 

“Buyers are having a little more ­negotiating room now,” McLean says, adding that some sellers are taking a bit longer to come to terms with that marketplace reality, so buyers should be prepared to encounter pushback on price. “Anybody who bought a boat in the craze of 2020 to 2022, if they’re coming back now to sell, they’re people who bought their boat at a premium, at the peak of the market. They’re not going to see those same numbers that they saw a year or two ago, so you’re having a little bit of sellers saying they bought their boat for X, and they don’t want to be told it’s worth less now.”

During the ­pandemic, it was full-price offers on everything, sometimes multiple offers. We’re seeing that slow down a little bit. 

Kurt Jerman at West Coast Multihulls in San Diego says that there’s a similar dynamic in the brokerage market for catamarans. He also has savvy, prepared buyers waiting in the wings to snap up the more coveted models, but he’s also seeing the negotiation process normalizing somewhat.

“During the pandemic, it was full-price offers on everything, sometimes multiple offers,” Jerman says. “I think we’re seeing that slow down a little bit, but that said, a nice, clean, fairly late-model catamaran is still going pretty quick.”

Looking to buy a catamaran brand such as Leopard, Lagoon or Fountaine Pajot—builders that pump out a lot of boats—will typically give a buyer more options, he says. Those cats can stay on the brokerage market for up to six months, while more-boutique brands get sold much faster. As an example, he said in late March, he recently had a Seawind come up for sale. It’s a smaller builder. The listing lasted barely 24 hours.

Rich Hoyer

Old or New?

Sailor Rich Hoyer, after being a buyer and seller recently, advises friends to look beyond the age of any boat when deciding whether to buy it. His advice: Look at how the boat was maintained. “If you put your mind to it, you can kill a boat really, really quickly,” he says. “I think what’s happening now with these boats is that if they’re not trading, they’ve been let go. Buyers know, do you want to go sailing? Or do you want to fix something for the next three years? The boats that are turnkey are selling.” Courtesy Rich Hoyer

“The next day, I had it under contract,” Jerman says. “There are certain brands that people are looking for, and there’s not as many of them. The more-sought-after ones, they sometimes don’t make it very long.”

Pillsbury is still waiting for his ship to come in. His budget is for a boat in the 40-foot range built in the 1970s or ’80s. His requirements include a windlass, a good amount of refrigeration and reasonably sized water tanks. “I have a pretty open mind about what boat,” he says. “It’s more about the condition it’s in. Hopefully the previous owner hasn’t turned it into Frankenstein’s monster.”

So far, nothing has gone on the market that fits his bill. And he’s not alone; a friend of his with different requirements has also been looking for about a year and a half. 

“What we’re finding is that if there’s a boat with all the stuff you want, it has, like, no keel, and it will be a horrible sailboat, which is a turnoff for me,” Pillsbury says. “Or you find a boat that’s got a decent hull, decent sails, decent everything else, but it doesn’t have a windlass or refrigeration, or it’s got only 40 gallons of water. Finding that Goldilocks boat where everything is perfect, it’s hard.”

But, he says, he has faith.

“It’s like getting lucky with a gal,” he says. “It takes just one.”