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Saturday, May 30, 2015
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Ask a Maritime Attorney

What are the requirements for running a spectator boat?

David Weil, Esq.  |  posted: 5/23/2015

I volunteer my boat every year as a spectator boat for an annual fund raising regatta run by a large charity. I will typically have five or six guests aboard, plus a volunteer from the foundation who acts as a steward for the guests and a friend who acts as my crew. I don’t receive any money for my participation, but we are invited to a banquet the night before, receive lunch before the race and attend the hosted party afterwards. We had a small incident last year and, while no one was hurt, the incident raised a few questions. First, would the volunteer spectator boats for this event be considered to be carrying passengers for hire, for which a Coast Guard licensed captain should be running each of the spectator boats? If so, would the spectator boats need to be inspected by the Coast Guard? And finally, regardless of the Coast Guard requirements, should we look into a special insurance policy for the event or perhaps ask the guests to sign a liability release before boarding the spectator boats?


Does my marine insurance policy cover earthquake damage?

David Weil, Esq.  |  posted: 5/10/2015

I just renewed my homeowner's insurance policy and it reminded me that I have never seen an earthquake insurance policy offered for a boat. I know that homeowners have to take out separate earthquake policies through the California Earthquake Authority to get coverage. Are boat owners eligible for anything similar? If my boat suffers damage during an earthquake — whether it's in dry storage, on a trailer at home or tied to a dock at a crowded marina — will my marine insurance policy cover it?

What kind of Coast Guard license do I need?

By David Weil, Esq.  |  posted: 4/11/2015

I am interested in starting a charter business with a small boat on Lake Havasu, and I have a few questions about licensing. I have been told that I will need to get a Coast Guard license and have my boat inspected by the Coast Guard to carry passengers for hire. However, a friend of mine operates a passenger boat on Lake Shasta and he tells me that the Coast Guard has no jurisdiction on a lake, unless the lake is accessible by a boat from the ocean. What exactly are the rules for carrying passengers for hire on a lake?

A focus on liveaboard rights

David Weil, Esq.  |  posted: 3/30/2015

I had the surprise of my life a few nights ago when two United States Marshals boarded my boat while it was in its slip and instructed me to leave. They handed me some paperwork and told me that I had 5 minutes to gather my belongings and get off the boat. I told them that I lived aboard the boat but they ignored that fact and repeated their demand for me to get off the boat. Then a Vessel Assist boat arrived and towed my boat away. The paperwork included a complaint that was filed in federal court by my former business partner, claiming that I had defaulted on a loan that had been secured by a mortgage on the boat. I was in fact a couple of months past due on the loan but I never expected to be tossed out of my home in the middle of the night with no warning. What are my rights in a case like this?

Can I use a foreign-built boat in a charter fishing business?

Can I use a foreign-built boat in a charter fishing business?

David Weil, Esq.  |  posted: 3/18/2015

I own a foreign-built motor yacht that I would like to use in a charter fishing business, and I have a few questions about some of the legal issues I will face. I understand that federal law currently requires a charter boat to be built in the United States, but I read a news report that Congress is considering a repeal of that law. Is this correct? If the restriction is still in effect, would it apply to a “six-pack” charter? Also, I have heard that commercial fishing boats are subject to the same regulations but that Canadian boats routinely participate in commercial fishing in California. Do commercial fishing boats qualify for an exception to the law?

Distinguishing Authority

David Weil, Esq.  |  posted: 3/4/2015

Last summer, I participated in a vessel safety check conducted by members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary. The men who conducted the inspection were very professional — in fact I was surprised by their very businesslike and “no-nonsense” approach to the whole process. I was also surprised by their uniforms, which appeared to be the same as those that are worn by active duty Coast Guard personnel. I had always assumed that the Auxiliary was a civilian organization comprised of local boating volunteers. Is this right? What exactly is the Coast Guard Auxiliary? Is it a reserve arm of the Coast Guard? What is their legal authority?

Sunken boat liability — who’s responsible for its removal?

David Weil, Esq.  |  posted: 2/12/2015

I recently lost my boat in a marina fire in Northern California. The fire started aboard a boat in a neighboring slip and my boat was one of four that were totally destroyed. The burned-out hull of my boat is still in the slip but it is totally submerged. The marina has demanded that I remove the wreck but the boat was not insured and I don’t really have the funds to take care of it on my own. Since it is not in a navigable channel, am I legally required to have it removed?

Concerns about buying a yacht from a private party without a broker

David Weil, Esq.  |  posted: 1/29/2015

I am buying a yacht in California from a private party without a broker, and the seller’s attorney drafted a two-page purchase agreement. I am a little concerned about whether the agreement adequately addresses the issues that are relevant in this kind of transaction since the agreements that are used by yacht brokers are typically six or seven pages long. I am sure that a lot of the provisions in the longer contracts are designed to protect the broker, but what are some of the issues that I should be looking for in a shorter contract? Also, the seller has asked that I pay a deposit, but he wants to hold the deposit himself rather than depositing the funds in an escrow account. That idea makes me a little nervous since the deposit would need to be returned to me if I reject the boat after it is surveyed. Is there some way that I can protect those funds?

What Consequences Are There in Failing to Record a Bill of Sale?

David Weil, Esq.  |  posted: 1/21/2015

I sold my boat almost a year ago. I signed and notarized a bill of sale on the official Coast Guard form and exchanged the bill of sale for a cashier’s check when we closed the deal. It came to my attention when I received the annual documentation renewal form from the Coast Guard that the buyer never recorded the bill of sale, and the boat is still in my name. I tried to contact him, but I have been unable to reach him. What kind of liability am I facing by allowing someone to operate a boat that is still registered in my name? How can I get the bill of sale recorded?

How do the U.S. Coast Guard, SeaTow and Vessel Assist respond to distress calls?

David Weil, Esq.  |  posted: 1/7/2015

I am researching the services offered by commercial assistance towing companies (such as SeaTow or Vessel Assist), and I am a little confused about the interaction between these services and the U.S. Coast Guard. Under what circumstances will the Coast Guard respond to a call rather than deferring to a commercial service? And, does the U.S. Coast Guard ever charge a fee for responding to a distress call?

Can ignoring equipment failures become a problem for marine insurance coverage?

By David Weil, Esq.  |  posted: 12/19/2014

My boat was out of the water last week for some bottom work and an insurance survey. My marine surveyor told me something about marine insurance coverage that did not make any sense. We were talking about insurance claims that arise from equipment failures. He said that a boat owner who knows about a problem and ignores it may have more success with the claim than a boat owner who has no information at all about the problem. This seems counter intuitive.

Shedding some light on the maritime title search process

  |  posted: 12/7/2014

I am buying a boat through a yacht broker and the sea trial and survey will be completed next week. In the interim I asked my broker and the documentation company to start the title search, but I quickly learned that the title search process for a yacht is a lot different than it is for a house. For example, the documentation service has ordered an Abstract of Title from the Coast Guard, but they advised that they cannot confirm that the boat has a clear title even after reviewing the Abstract. Can you shed some light on the maritime title search process and the role of a vessel documentation service?

Shipyard liability release

David Weil, esq.  |  posted: 11/8/2014

My boat is listed for sale through a California broker and I recently accepted an offer from a prospective buyer.  The offer is contingent on a sea trial and survey, which will require the boat to be hauled out of the water at a local shipyard. Unfortunately my broker warned me that the fine print on the yard’s contract will probably include language which absolves them from liability for damage which may be caused by their negligence. Is this enforceable?

Using a California broker

David Weil, Esq.   |  posted: 10/25/2014

Purchasing a bank repo boat

David Weil, Esq.  |  posted: 10/13/2014

I am in the process of buying a 40 foot motor yacht that was a bank repo. The broker disclosed that the previous owner was a couple years behind on his property tax payments, and I am concerned that the county may assert a lien against the boat or take some kind of action against the boat after I take title. In a normal purchase I could probably get the seller to pay the back taxes but the bank won’t negotiate. What are my legal rights in a case like this?

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