Ask a Maritime Attorney
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?
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?
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?
We are interested in starting a charter business with the purchase of a 50 foot sportfishing yacht that is currently located and registered in Mexico. I have done some research and I understand that a boat must be built and registered in the United States to legally carry passengers for hire. The boat we are buying was built in the U.S., but it was taken to Mexico when it was first sold and has always been Mexican flagged. Assuming we transfer the boat to U.S. documentation after we take delivery, would there be any legal restrictions against operating the boat in a charter business?
I work as a chef aboard large motor yachts, mostly in the Caribbean. I have a job lined up for three months aboard an American flagged yacht, but I am a little concerned about the owner’s track record when it comes to paying crewmembers on time and withholding tips. Can I do anything to prevent this from happening? What can I do if he fails to pay me when I leave the boat?
Q: I made an offer to buy a boat several months ago but we had to back out of the deal before closing. My mortgage broker conducted a title search and determined that the boat’s Hull Identification Number was a duplicate of another boat and the boat I was looking at was stolen. I obviously withdrew my offer but I am out several thousand dollars in expenses for surveys, travel and time off to attend the surveys. The purchase agreement was a standard form contract from the California Yacht Brokers Association and it includes a provision for the buyer to recover reasonable expenses if the seller defaults. We believe the failure to provide clear title to us is a default and have demanded that the seller pay our expenses but he refuses to respond. Before we pursue this any further can you confirm for us that this was a default under the contract?