Are you making room in your garage or backyard? Did you know you can donate small watercraft like kayaks, canoes, sailfish or sunfish-style sailboats to charity? You can even receive a tax deduction for it. Read on to find out how to be sure your donation is accepted by the charity of your choice.

Check Out the Paperwork

First, find out if you need a title to transfer ownership when you donate a boat to charity. Depending on the state you’re in, it might be a vessel that is 17 feet long or less and does not have a motor will not require a title to prove ownership. If this is the case but you aren’t sure your boat’s length, a normal carpenter’s tape measure, the kind you can find at any hardware store, will do the trick. Measure from the stern to the bow through the middle of the boat.

Even if your boat doesn’t need a title in your state, it probably has a hull ID number (HIN). HINs are required on any boat made or imported to the United States after 1972. The numbers include a code for the manufacturer, the individual serial number of the boat, the date of certification and the model year. The year of build (the last two digits) can help you when calculating the boat’s worth. Even home-built boats should have a HIN. To find your boat’s HIN, look on the back of the boat (the starboard side of the transom, to be precise) and the starboard side near the bow.

If you need a title to legally transfer ownership but your boat doesn’t have one, take a pencil tracing or high-quality photo of this number and contact the state watercraft agency. Any bill of sale or certificate of gift you have for the boat may be pertinent.

Find Out Its Worth

If you want to write off the donation of a small watercraft on your taxes, you want to estimate the boat’s value. Do this by searching on the Internet or in boating magazines for similar used boats and checking the advertised sale prices. If you have a hunch your small watercraft is worth more than a few thousand dollars, it might be worthwhile to call an appraiser. Note the IRS form 1098c (the one concerned with donating motor vehicles) doesn’t require a dollar amount on the receipt for your donation, unless the items sell for more than $500 each. If there’s no title for your kayak, sunfish or other small boat, stating the model year on your simple 1098c form is usually fine. For more detailed information and advice about itemizing your deductions, consult an accountant or other tax preparer.

The Alternative to Donating Online

If donating a canoe or sailing dinghy online isn’t as hands-on as you’d like, search your local area for nonprofit organizations or church charities that need a boat like yours.

For example, the item could be given to a church for use in a summer camp. A lot of youth outreach programs actively look for useable boats so they can teach responsibility and water safety. In fact, if you know of a summer camp in your area, consider giving the boat directly to the camp without going through a charity. Before driving out to the location with your watercraft, call ahead and make sure your donation is needed.

Many thrift stores use their proceeds from the sale of used items to benefit a cause. Some larger stores may have the room to accept a donation like a kayak or canoe. Again, to be sure that your donation is welcome, call ahead to check.

Alternatively, check listings for local community or church yard sales and sign up as a seller. Price the boat low enough to move and you’ll make a buyer very happy.


About the Author: Leslie Smith is a watersports coach for inner-city kids. She grew up “messing about in boats” and doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon.