We are aware of several websites that allow people to advertise their own boats for sale. These “for sale by owner” sites are important resources, since the largest boats-for-sale websites accept advertising only from brokers.
But our reader asked for a “service,” and as such he appears to be looking for something more comprehensive than an Internet advertising site. Such a service would presumably advertise the boat, but it would also assist with closing, provide form contracts for the transaction that have been professionally vetted, and offer other services relating to the marketing and sale of the boat. Unfortunately we are not aware of such a service being offered in California, and this is likely due to California’s broker licensing laws.
In California, it is illegal to represent a vessel buyer or seller unless you are a licensed yacht broker or an attorney. Specifically, the Yacht and Ship Brokers Act requires a broker or salesperson license for anyone who “sells or offers to sell, buys or offers to buy, solicits or obtains listings of, or negotiates the purchase, sale, or exchange of yachts, and who does not own those yachts.” (See California Harbors and Navigation Code sec. 701).
A website that allows a boat owner to advertise his or her own boat is not offering a service that falls within the licensing law. However, any service that is performed after a potential buyer enters the picture will involve the representation of one or both of the parties, and it will probably require a yacht broker’s or salesperson’s license, or an attorney. A licensed yacht broker could, of course, provide these services, but this would start to look more like a conventional yacht brokerage and less like a “for sale by owner” service.
Our reader also asked whether he should hire a maritime attorney to assist with the transaction, if he chooses not to hire a broker. The question of whether anyone should hire an attorney depends on many things, including the value of the boat and the complexity of the transaction.
In fact, complex transactions may require legal advice, whether or not a broker is involved. Brokers are not, for example, trained or experienced in the sale of a corporation or LLC that owns a boat, or where the boat has numerous unsatisfied lien claims, or where it is a commercial boat inspected by the Coast Guard.
However, regardless of the complexity of the transaction, an attorney is unlikely to have the resources to properly market a boat unless he joins with a broker who can help with that part of the process.
In the end, the question of whether to use a broker in a boat sale is a personal question based largely on the level of trust and comfort the boat owner has with his or her broker. But if you decide to go without a broker, your resources for marketing and selling the boat will be limited, even if you bring an attorney into the picture. We recommend using a broker.