Ask a Maritime Attorney
I own a large motoryacht and I employ a licensed captain to operate and manage the boat. The captain has a number of medical restrictions on his license, and he recently had a stroke. Can you give me some idea how this will affect his license? And, if he doesn’t report the stroke to the Coast Guard, should I as the vessel owner make a report?
I am working with a partner to market a line of new boats that we are manufacturing in the United States. I recently took delivery of a “demo” boat here in California, and we are using the boat as a platform to introduce potential customers to our boats. We did not want to title the boat while we are offering the boat for sale, so we obtained a manufacturer’s registration number from the California DMV and we display the number on a portable registration board mounted on the bow. I thought I was following the rules perfectly but we were recently boarded by a harbor patrol officer during a weekend cruise, and we were cited for operating an unregistered vessel. He told us that the manufacturer’s number was not appropriate for our use of the boat but he did not provide any details. What did I do wrong?
My boat was damaged in its slip during a storm last winter, when a cleat pulled out of the dock and my remaining tie up line parted under the resulting strain. Several months before the storm, I advised the marina manager that the dock cleat was loose and I was concerned that it might pull out of the dock in bad weather. I continued to complain, but he never sent anyone down to repair it. After the storm, I asked the marina to repair my boat, but so far they have refused. I decided, therefore, to withhold my slip fee payments, but now they are threatening to evict me. I have heard that the California Floating Home Residency Law may protect me from this kind of intimidation by the marina, since I live aboard my boat. What are my options?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.
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?