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BUYER BEWARE – Not All Vessel Purchase Contracts are Created Equal!

BUYER BEWARE – Not All Vessel Purchase Contracts are Created Equal!

by Nathan Lum

Buying or selling a vessel is usually an exciting event. From catamarans to superyachts, new builds to second-hand vessels, it is one of those quintessential moments we live for as maritime enthusiasts. Many a day will be spent cruising Australian waterways with family and friends.

However, amongst all the excitement, it is important to remember that the contract for your vessel purchase is exactly that, a contract! It needs to be tailored to the circumstances of the vessel and the parties to the sale.

Unfortunately, as maritime lawyers we see a fair share of third-party vessel contracts that don’t cut the mustard. Particularly with new vessels being built overseas and imported to Australia, sellers may use simple domestic boat sale contracts which simply aren’t fit for purpose.

These contracts need to reflect the international shipbuilding and sea freight reality to include terms covering construction, sea freight and importation. Further, sellers may use a different contract from a previous sale which includes irrelevant terms, opening the buyer up to liability.

Such inadequate contracts provide little protection when things go south.

As a buyer, if you are presented with a purchase contract from a seller, it’s important to receive advice from a legal professional. Prevention is always better than the cure, and having a legal professional ensure a contract is ‘watertight’ can help prevent future headaches down the road (or provide a clear path to remedy them if they do arise).

People will often go to great lengths to dot the i’s and cross the t’s when purchasing real property, like a house, but won’t do the same for a vessel purchase of equivalent value, or more! At Pacific Maritime Lawyers, we have vast experience on vessel sale and purchase. We regularly provide advice on existing contracts, as well as draft bespoke agreements tailored to the circumstances of the vessel and the parties to the sale. After all, purchasing a vessel is meant to be a happy moment – lets keep it that way!

As always, fair winds and following seas.

If you need advice on your next vessel sale or purchase, get in touch with us:

Capt. John Kavanagh (Principal Lawyer – Master Mariner)

Ph: 0481 170 373

Pacific Maritime Lawyers is an Australian-based global Law Firm. Capabilities as follows:


Coastal trading regime advice to government and shipowners.

Salvage and the intervention convention in the great barrier reef.

Competition law and exclusive towage license arrangements.

Established a marine based joint venture between corporate owners.

Advised owners in relation to ship repair contracts, both domestically and overseas.

Advised a statutory agency in relation to legislative reform.

Successfully defended regulatory action against domestic commercial vessels.

Successfully defended regulatory action under Queensland marine safety laws.

P&I Club work, including wreck removal.

Maritime Law, Expert Witness and Regulatory Compliance.


Incident Investigation.

Salvage and Maritime Incident Project Management.

Business analysis, Business and Project plan development.

Risk assessments.

Safety Management Systems.

Applications for specific exemptions.


Published in print October-December 2023