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What to do first - Title

Before proceeding too far down the line you need to satisfy yourself that upon buying the boat you will inherit satisfactory title to it.

Unlike houses, boats do not automatically have deeds or title documents. The requirements to register a boat vary from country to country and depend upon usage. A British owned 30 metre Dutch barge used for cruising inland in France must be registered as a British Ship under Part 1 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1894, and this form of registration provides useful confirmation of title. The same barge at 23 metres in length only actually needs SSR registration (Small Ships Register), which is basically a piece of paper issued at nominal cost to satisfy the paper thirst of French bureaucrats. It does nothing to establish title to the vessel.

As another example you could be looking at a £300,000 Fairline in Port Hamble, only used in the Solent, or a £75,000 narrow boat at Braunston. Neither needs to be registered, excepting that the narrow boat must be "registered" with the navigation authority, but this again is no proof of title.

So, before embarking on the expenses associated with survey (docking (dear!) + surveyor (a bargain for what he does!!!)) you may wish to seek some reassurance that the boat you are considering buying is actually the property of the apparent vendor. Some brokers, if ABYA members (Association of Brokers and Yacht Agents) will actively help you do this. Others may not, and owners could be offended, but you have every right to the reassurance you are seeking. The risks are not just that the boat that you buy may not be his to sell, and hence will not be yours after you "buy" it, but also that under maritime law any boat carries its debts with it and there could be an undischarged mortgage or other lien which would become your liability upon purchasing the boat.

If the vessel is officially registered (not SSR) in the name of the vendor then you can be fairly sure that he/she will have title to the boat, although you need of course to check that the registered number tallies with the number carved or marked on the vessel. The registration authority (in the UK the Register of Shipping & Seamen, tel. 01222 747333) will have a record of any undischarged registered liens on the vessel. There could still be unpaid bills for moorings, repairs or whatever but a properly worded Bill of Sale (i.e. "free from all debts and encumbrances") could take care of that risk. You could also ask for sight of a paper trail to further establish ownership, i.e. last Bill(s) of Sale from the previous owner(s), bills for moorings, insurance, docking etc. (preferably receipted!) made out to the vendor.

If the vessel is not registered then all you can do is ask for the paper trail, and this may be the only way of supporting a vendor's assertion that he owns the boat, so a convincing trail is essential and if there is any doubt walk away!

If the vessel has been registered abroad it is very important to ensure that it has been removed, or will be removed at sale, from that country's register. If a vessel is left on a foreign register then it cannot be registered under Part 1 in the UK. For Dutch barges the essential piece of paper is the "Schepen 38", which is the official Dutch document confirming that the vessel has been removed from the Dutch register. If the vessel does not have this document amongst its papers it could still be registered in Holland with possibly an untraceable past owner, and removing it from the registry to permit UK registration may involve an approach to the Dutch courts. If you are buying in Holland it is well worth using a Notaris (an official independent solicitor) to handle the complete sale transaction.

Note that any vessel over 24 metres loadline length must, if UK owned and travelling overseas, be registered under Part 1 of the Merchant Shipping Acts. If under 24 metres length then SSR registration is adequate for proceeding abroad, but remember that a future buyer may want or need to register the vessel under Part 1, perhaps for finance purposes, so a clean registration history is still important.

Marine Surveyors/Consultants

Principal Surveyor:
Balliol Fowden FYDSA.

UK
+44 1788 541020

Mobile
+44 7831 232823

Fax
+44 1788 543517

balliol@
angloeuromarine.com

Burleigh House,
273, Hillmorton Road,
Rugby,
England.
CV22 5BH