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By Dr. Anthony Marinac, Solicitor Advocate

Purchasing a new boat should be an exciting and memorable experience, which results in the lifestyle benefits of boating on our waterways. Most of the time, that is exactly how it works. However, particularly when buying boats second-hand, there are pitfalls to be avoided.

A recent matter before the court provides a cautionary tale for any prospective purchaser. A boatie saw a second-hand vessel advertised online, through someone who appeared to be a reputable broker. The vessel was ideal for his needs and was listed at a great price. A short negotiation followed, and the boatie was soon – apparently – the owner of a new Bavaria. He even registered it in his name. It was winter, so he did not really take the boat out, but it was tied up awaiting the warmer weather.

A few weeks later, he went down to the wharf, and found that the vessel was gone. Stolen? It turned out it was not! The vessel was in fact owned by someone else, and it had been fraudulently sold by the broker. Two years later, the boat purchaser found himself in the District Court, trying to get possession of the boat that he had paid for.

He failed. The boat had never been the broker’s to sell. Now, the purchaser faces a costs order against him, and he is still in the unhappy position of having no boat and losing the purchase price – even though he was the victim of the fraud, not the perpetrator!

How can you stop this from happening to you?

1- Check out the broker. When buying a secondhand boat via a broker, it is always important to ensure that you know as much as you can about the broker you are dealing with. How long have they been in operation? Can they provide references from previous purchasers? Have you spent some quality time searching on the Internet to learn about other people’s experiences?

2- Speak to the vendor. Even though you will inevitably be dealing with the broker mostly, there is absolutely no reason why you cannot communicate directly with the vendors. Ask for their contact details and say hello. Ask them a bit about their experiences with the boat, and confirm with them that they have placed the boat with the broker. If you can get an email from them, even better.

3- Consult with the Australian General Shipping Register (AGSR). Pleasure craft are not required to be registered on the AGSR, but it can be done voluntarily, in which case the details of the true owner will be registered and publicly available. If the vessel is not registered and you proceed to purchase it, one of the most important things you can consider doing is registering the purchased vessel yourself. Registration on the AGSR protects your title in the vessel against any earlier holders of title in the vessel, unless you knew about their interest at the time of the purchase.

There is another register called the Personal Property Securities Register (PPSR). Registering your ownership of the vessel on the PPSR does not in fact protect you at all. The PPSR only protects those who have a security interest in the vessel (such as a chattel mortgage).

Finally, registering the vessel with Queensland Transport does not protect your ownership of the vessel at all. Vessels can be, and often are, registered by somebody other than the formal owner.

It is worth taking a little bit of time before the purchase to make sure that after the purchase goes ahead, the only things you need to worry about are the weather, and where the fish are biting. If you’re looking at buying a boat (new or second-hand), and need further guidance on how to best protect your interests, please contact the team at Pacific Maritime Lawyers on 1300 797 627.



Published in print July-September 2021




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