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Property Tax Increases: Are Sailboats the Best Investment of the Past Two Years?

Since fall 2020, when we bought our 1989 Sabre 38 MkII, the major stock market indices are about even. But, according to the Marin County property-tax folks, the value of our boat has climbed almost 30%. We were inspired to look more closely when a local yacht broker told us they were getting frequent requests from boat owners wanting a comp. value for their boat. Depending on the county you live in, the property tax on your boat might have climbed 20-30% over the past couple of years. We heard about one boat in Contra Costa County revalued from $160k in 2021 to $190k in 2022.

Since the pandemic started, we know boat sales have been strong, and brokerage prices for used boats have firmed up and have increased in many cases, but are these property tax valuations a true reflection of what’s going on in the marketplace? Or are county property tax assessors recognizing that all Latitude 38 readers are “rich yachtsmen” who can easily afford tax hikes?

Rich yachtsmen
“Rich” yachtsmen are facing dramatic hikes in property taxes on their yachts.
© 2022 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John

Owning a sailboat has always been a good investment for your personal health and enjoyment of life, but if property tax authorities are right, sailboats are now also a good financial investment.

Where do the counties get these ideas? We spoke with Torben Bensen of Passage Nautical, who looked into it and forwarded a copy of a letter sent from the State Board of Equalization to county tax assessors, giving guidance to the counties on Vessel Valuation Factors for 2022. In the example they use, a $200k powerboat bought in 2009 and valued at $105k in 2021 becomes valued at $129k in 2022. A new powerboat bought in 2021 for $300k goes up 22% to $366k in 2022. It’s possible, but we all know valuations can vary wildly based on make, model, condition and location, or whether you bought your boat on January 1 or December 31.

We’ve heard of more dock talk on the subject with another anecdote about a new 41-ft sailboat bought in 2021 for $341k being evaluated 21% higher at $413k in 2022. You can contest the value of your boat with your county property tax office; however, it’s easier for them to make blanket proclamations for tax increases than to have their small staffs handle and evaluate a flood of individual contested valuations. We know some have succeeded. We’d be interested in knowing your story, or what your boat property tax experience has been.

If you are looking to rebalance your investment portfolio, it sounds as if it would be best to jump into the market and call a yacht broker from the pages of Latitude 38 today and take a look at the Classy Classifieds. Or check out your tax bill and see if you think your property tax bill squares with reality.


  1. Dennis 1 year ago

    I noticed my 40-year-old classic plastic was assigned an increase in value over the past couple of years by the assessor. No basis for that … whoever had their sailboat go up in value under normal circumstances?! Clearly it’s a play for more tax revenue and it’s annoying. I think I may challenge the assessed value on principle but it’s not trivial from a time basis.

  2. M Park 1 year ago

    We have a 2012 sailboat in Alameda. Last year our assessed value was $377k, this year it was assessed at $488k. We checked sales and other comparables, and this boat is selling for $335k. Many of us stretch our budgets to have a boat and enjoy the lifestyle we are not “rich”. These reassessed values are arbitrary and inaccurate.

  3. Ems 1 year ago

    We have the same issue. 2020 boat new for 339k and now assessment commming I’m in the low 400’s. Crazy as I understand people were willing to pay more for a boat but that temporary insanity has nothing to do with the value of the boat. Personally I think tax on buying a boat and tax for property is already crazy. Double tax is already unfair if it is not your primary residence.

  4. Ken Brinkley 1 year ago

    Appeal immediately!

  5. Joseph F Maciorowski 1 year ago

    A few years ago I got a junk/parts boat for $100 a Macgregor 25. The county argued for a long time that it was worth over $5000. In the end they agreed with me but it took effort.
    I told them if they could get $5000 for it I would split the profit. They must think I am a Alchemist
    Everyone should demand realistic valuations not their sight unseen values.

  6. Peter Le Lievre 1 year ago

    2016 Valuation was $253348.
    2022 is now $ 426676.
    Not really justifiable so I have appealed.
    Thanks for the article. The BOE info is interesting in as much as the Marin Assessor COMPLETELY ignored it.

  7. Rod 1 year ago

    I had the same arbitrary issue in Marin County. I appealed with a copy of a yacht world add for a boat in similar condition as mine with partial success. The assessor lowered the value albeit not to the level I think is correct.

  8. Ed Hughes 1 year ago

    Actually, air-cooled Porsches are! They’ve increased substantially, and in Oregon is still $55 a year to register-no property tax bills!

  9. Woody 1 year ago

    Bay Area tax assessors have gone crazy in the last few years, especially Alameda, and one of the assessors at Marin. The other assessors at Marin and the Assessor herself and great, and very reasonable and understanding.
    As a Sausalito based yacht broker I have been fighting with several assessors for years. Especially Alameda, which has had a long history of questionable and very aggressive conduct with regard to assessing boats, and often act as if they don’t have to answer to anyone.
    If you want to challenge the assessment, you can contact a yacht broker for “boats sold” information, it will show what the boats actually sold for not the listing prices. Most boat owners can get their assessments reduced, you just need to get a Vessel Statement of Value (not a survey or appraisal, just a statement of value) from a yacht broker.
    Also check with your insurance, if your assessed value is now $300,000 but your insurance value is $200,000 and its on your bill, that is sufficient proof and can get your value adjusted. If none of these gets your value reduced and your assessor is ignoring you, then you can easily contact the California State Board of Equalization Taxpayer Rights Advocate Lisa Thompson .
    And be sure to keep all your correspondence with assessors or BOE or any government agency by email, not phone, so you have a written record of it. Don’t do it by phone or by mail because you won’t have proof of sending it. Email is best and all assessors have email addresses. And you have to get the right department. You need assessor, not tax collector , which is where the bills comes from. And in most assessors offices I have dealt with, one hand (office) does not know what the other hand (office) is doing..

  10. Charles Pick 1 year ago

    yup, I had Marin County pump up the value on my boat. It took some effort but got them to re assess and drop the assessment by over 30% which was fair value.

  11. Michael Carey 1 year ago

    Government wants to decrease inflation, yet County assessors increase taxes by 20-30%. Go figure.
    Taxes on boats and planes are arbitrary luxury taxes from a bygone era. When I am sailing or cruising, I see families and friends from all walks of life enjoying the experience. Why would you want to tax that away? The letter from the State BOE is certainly telling: State telling the Counties when and how to raise taxes on boats because everyone who has a boat must be rich and can afford inflationary expenses. My impression is most boat owners in places like of Eureka, Monterrey, or the Delta are not rich. The letter is an insult to taxpayers, and the 20-30% tax increase is a money grab. I’m fighting my increase.

  12. David J Gruver 1 year ago

    I own a 37 year old Santa Cruz built boat. In 2021, it was assessed at $7812. That was not unreasonable. This year, it went up to $9687. That’s only a $21 increase in my actual tax, so not a big hit on me. But the principal is absurd. It’s hard to understand how a boat that old could just jump in value like that in 12 months. Maybe an assessor saw us varnishing the wood bits or servicing the winches?

    • Ken Brinkley 1 year ago

      Dispute that just on principle alone! If you let it go it’s only gonna go up year after year after year

  13. Woody 1 year ago

    Boaters who do not agree with the value of the vessel can offer documents/information to their County Assessor’s Office for their review to support your view that the value of your particular boat is lower than its 2022 assessment. However, to protect your rights to have the value of the vessel reviewed, you may file a formal Assessment Appeal Application with the County Clerk of the Board’s Office. The appeal filing period in most county began July 2, 2022 and ends Thursday, September 15, 2022. Move quick !!

  14. Tim Anderson 1 year ago

    is this just supposed to be boats over a certain valuation? boats that are left in the water?
    or everything with a CF number?
    I have some canoes and little boats with CF numbers in Alameda county. do I have to fear them sending me tax bills? I’m already paying for registration. is Sacramento county any better? what happens if I have some little jalopy boat on a trailer registered in Alameda county but on the registration I say it’s kept in Sacramento county?
    or a boat worth maybe $10k, same scenario?

    • Ken Brinkley 1 year ago

      Never underestimate the greed of the tax collector. Just play the Beatles song the taxman!

    • Woody 1 year ago

      Avoid Alameda County like the plague that they are. Whether you have a boat in Sacramento, San Francisco or even Mexico- if Alameda County thinks the boat was in their county on January 1, 2022, even if it was just to stop at a marina overnight as a guest, Alameda will tax you.
      And more than likely, they won’t send a “Vessel Owners’ Statement ” first. Alameda County likes to “shoot first”, and then ask questions later…. That means they will send you a bill for Property Tax on what they think your boat is worth, and generally give you less than 2 weeks to pay the bill. If you don’t, they will put a lien on your boat. If it was not in Alameda, you have to prove it. You can’t just say the boat was in Sacramento or elsewhere. You are “guilty till you can prove beyond more than a reasonable doubt ” that the boat was not in Alameda, and they usually hope you will “pay the bill first”, and then question it.
      And then the boat owner just has to ‘surrender’ because otherwise they will put you through labyrinth of offices and “sections” till you cry “Uncle”, and pay the bill. The term “scoundrels” hardly describes their behavior.
      I have known boat owners chased down in Mexico years after they left Bay Area for tax they supposedly owned in Alameda.

      I believe that there will eventually be a “special place in Hell” for Alameda County Assessors…

      RE boats less than $10K, assessors never bothered with boats under $10,000 before, but recently they will chase you down for a $500 boat. Like the IRS, who will spend 1000 man hours to collect at tax bill for $200, most county assessors do not answer to anyone, and in the last few years, since the California Board of Equalization split off a separate divisions for sales tax – California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA), the Board of Equalization has been acting like “Vipers” with respect to boat values and assessments, arbitrarily raising the values of boats up to 30 % PER YEAR without any accountability, nor recourse from owners.
      Time to contact County and State offices and tackle this injustice issue once and for all.

      USCG Licensed Captain/ Sail and Power 500 Tons
      State of California Licensed and Bonded Yacht Broker since 1984

    • Ken Brinkley 1 year ago

      Thank you for that information Woody!

  15. George Derry CPA 1 year ago

    The taxing system is using average market value to allocate the tax pie to all boat owners. Allowing this builds in an unfair bias against older boats by increasing their taxes to that of recently purchased boats. If the old boat purchase price were adjusted using present value calculations one could then subtract this from the current market value to calculate the increase or decrease in roll value which should not be allowed.
    Simply stated a $100,000 boat purchased 10 years ago would be on the tax rolls at $130,000 in todays average market value dollars. While $100,000 would be a present value of $121,899. The fact is older boats end up paying taxes on a gain which has not been realized. We are not being taxed fairly.

  16. Joe Shmuck 8 months ago

    In California, my 33 year old sloop (and an ex-charter boat) went from about 500 bucks in tax to 750 bucks in 2022 due to COVID. The tax person I wrote the check out to said it’s because during COVID, when people were forced to stay home they took that time to make improvements to their boats and also boat sales went up too. So the value of my boat, even though I did NOTHING to improve it (and lost by business due to COVID) is worth much more now. At least that was her logic. Can someone please do this math? My boat was built in 1991. I purchased the boat used in 2004 for the sum of 125k. It’s now 2023. I have been paying roughly 500 a year for the last 10 years after I argued the value has gone down since purchase. It was about 1200 a year. In 2022 my bill went up to 750.00. So what is the tax man saying about my 33 year old boat? How much are they claiming it’s worth? At 33 years old and an ex charter boat, it’s at that age where most all major components are at the end of its life and need refurbishment/replacement not to mention esthetics like paint, scuffs etc etc. I’m moving off my boat and out of California as soon as it’s possible. I’m sick n tired of every thing going up in cost and so fast. And I consider this latest money grab tax to be a blatant lie as to their excuse in raising it. it’s one thing for taxes to go up for legitimate reasons but this is tax increase is a ridiculous middle finger in our face from the tax man.

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