Does a boat repair professional need a contractor’s license?

I am in a dispute with a boatyard regarding its invoice and the quality of its work on my boat. The boatyard sued me in small claims court to collect the disputed funds, and I have been doing a little research for my defense in the lawsuit. I discovered the boatyard does not hold a California contractor’s license, and an unlicensed contractor may not file a lawsuit to collect fees. Furthermore, I found in Business and Professions Code sec. 7057 a “general building contractor” is someone who works on, among other things, structures for the shelter or enclosure of persons or animals or who works on “moveable property.” So based on my research it appears the yard is an unlicensed contractor and prohibited from suing me to collect its fee. Am I correct?

No, our reader is not correct.

From time to time I am asked to explain the application of a statute or regulation that may affect people in the boating community. I am reluctant, however, to dive into that process because it tends to put people to sleep. But this is not the first time that we have been asked whether a boat repair person needs a contractor’s license so we should take a look at the question.

Preliminarily, our reader is correct in his observation about unlicensed contractors. They are prohibited from filing a lawsuit to collect their fees pursuant to California Business & Professions Code sec. 7031. So the question is whether the shipyard is an unlicensed contractor.  

Our reader found some support for his theory in Business & Professions Code sec. 7057, which refers to work done to a “structure” and “moveable property,” and a boat could possibly be deemed to be a “structure” and it is certainly “moveable property.” However, statutes and regulations cannot be read in a vacuum. They are almost always linked in some way to other statutes or regulations, and this is where we start to lose people as their eyes glaze over. 

Let’s look first at closer look at sec. 7057. Our reader misunderstood the reference to “moveable property.” The statute actually refers to work done on a structure which provides shelter or enclosure for persons, animals or moveable property. It does not refer to work that is actually done on moveable property — a slight but significant distinction. 

Now let’s take a look at some related statutes, starting with Business & Professions Code sec. 7046, which provides the following restriction: “This chapter [the section of the code which regulates contractors] does not apply to any construction, alteration, improvement, or repair of personal property.” So, we need to look next at the definition of “personal property.”

California Civil Code sec. 663 defines “personal property” as anything that is not “real property.” So – you guessed it – we need a definition for “real property.” Civil Code sec. 658 defines “real property” as “1. Land; 2. That which is affixed to land; 3. That which is incidental or appurtenant to land; 4. That which is immovable by law.”

When we look at all of these statutes together, we see that a boat is personal property because it is not real property. And, since a contractor’s license is not required for someone who works on personal property, people who work on boats in California do not require a California contractor’s license. I applaud our reader’s efforts to research the law in preparation for his court appearance, but he unfortunately failed to complete his research. He will need to either defend the case on its merits or pay his yard bill. 

David Weil is licensed to practice law in the state of California and, as such, some of the information provided in this column may not be applicable in a jurisdiction outside of California. Please note also that no two legal situations are alike, and it is impossible to provide accurate legal advice without knowing all the facts of a particular situation. Therefore, the information provided in this column should not be regarded as individual legal advice, and readers should not act upon this information without seeking the opinion of an attorney in their home state.

David Weil is the managing attorney at Weil & Associates ( in Long Beach. He is an adjunct professor of Admiralty Law at Loyola University Law School, is a member of the Maritime Law Association of the United States and is former legal counsel to the California Yacht Brokers Association. If you have a maritime law question for Weil, he can be contacted at 562-438-8149 or at

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