Should My Boat’s Carpenter Have a Valid Contractor’s License?

I am in the middle of a dispute with a boat carpenter regarding the construction of a custom sailing yacht. He has far exceeded the promised delivery date, and he has increased the cost of the project without my approval. I learned from the California Contractors State Licensing Board that the carpenter does not have a contractor’s license, but the Licensing Board has refused to take any action against him. Other than a lawsuit, are there any remedies that I can pursue against an unlicensed contractor?
This question is based upon the reader’s incorrect assumption that a carpenter or other service provider who works on a boat is required to hold a contractor’s license. In fact, with the possible exception of a local business license, no license of any type is required to work on a boat in California.

The reader’s confusion may be based upon information provided by the California Contractors State Licensing Board (CSLB) on its Web site (www.cslb.ca.gov). On the CSLB “Basic Facts” page, the agency advises that “anyone performing construction work in California on jobs that total $500 or more in labor and materials must be licensed by CSLB.” This statement is somewhat misleading, in that the licensing requirements apply only to work being done on real property.

For regulatory and licensing purposes, California Business and Professions Code section 7026 defines “contractor” as someone who works on a “building, highway, road, parking facility, railroad, excavation or other structure, project, development or improvement, or to do any part thereof.” And, section 7046 provides that the licensing provisions do not apply to “any construction, alteration, improvement, or repair of personal property.”

A boat is an item of personal property and, as such, it clearly falls within this exemption. Therefore, no contractor’s license is required to work on a boat.

We have often noted in this column that transactions that occur in the maritime environment are substantially unregulated, when compared to similar transactions in the real estate or automobile industries. We have pointed out that issues such as lien enforcement, surveyor licensing and regulation, and seller disclosure requirements are unique when a boat is involved. This case provides yet another example of those differences, since the CSLB has no jurisdiction over our reader’s dispute.

It is also unlikely that any other government agency will have an interest in the dispute, unless it appears that a crime has occurred. The Coast Guard, which does have jurisdiction over certain construction and safety standards, will not get involved in a civil dispute such as this. Likewise, the California Department of Boating and Waterways regulates certain boating activities in California, but it does not regulate vessel repair or construction.

Many marine service providers are members of various trade associations, and those organizations may have a procedure for lodging a complaint against a member. And, the local Better Business Bureau may provide some helpful information. 

In the end, however, the reader’s only recourse may be through the court system. Contact an attorney experienced in this type of dispute for more information.

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