Buying a boat in Europe: Introduction
Yachting & Boating World: There’s a lot to consider when buying a boat in Europe. In the first of our four-part feature, we explain how to go about finding a reputable seller and what to expect.
The first thing to decide when buying a boat in Europe is whether you’re going to use a broker or purchase the boat through a private sale. In some cases you may not get a choice depending on the type of boat you’ve found and where it’s being advertised.
There are different things to consider with private or commercial sales in order to make sure you’re covering all the necessary points and avoid common pitfalls.
Using a broker
The most important thing you can do when choosing a broker is to ensure that they are a reputable yacht brokering business. You don’t want to fall in love with a boat, only to find out that the broker doesn’t have any of the title paper work, or does not produce an adequate sale contract to govern the sale.
And when it comes to deposits, you want to feel confident about who you’re handing your money over to, as solicitor and founder of YachtingLawyers Hannah Cash explains.
“One of the main issues boat buyers have is that brokers are going to ask you to provide a deposit and if they are not a reputable, well established broker, you will have concerns about how your money is being held and if will it be refunded to you in the event that something goes wrong. Ultimately you want peace of mind and confidence in the broker especially when buying a boat abroad.”
One of the ways to find a reputable broker in Europe is to use is a member of the Mediterranean Yacht Broker Association (MYBA), similar to the British Marine Federation (BMF) in the UK. The organisation exists to guide brokers on ethical and technical standards and produces standard forms and sale contracts for their brokers to use which are in English.
Another thing to do is visit the broker’s website and see how they’re advertising their boats. Are brokers using other well-known international websites such as YBW or Yachting Monthly. Is the broker’s business address and full contact details provided? If you can’t find genuine examples of these then it should ring a few alarm bells.
There is more risk involved with a private sale, as anybody can sell a boat and you’ve no way of knowing if they’re reputable.
Instead, make sure you take the following guidance on board and if at any point you feel unsure about the sale, contact a specialist such as law firm YachtingLawyers, who specialise in helping people buy boats at home and abroad and will help guide you through the process.
When it comes to the contract, all brokers (especially those who are a member of the MYBA) should use a standard sales contract. The MYBA standard contracts are internationally well known.
In the event that you’re dealing with a smaller brokerage that doesn’t use standard sale contracts, you should still expect to be given a sale contract. This will specify the terms & conditions of the transaction such as sale price, forfeiture and refund of deposit, complete date, place of delivery, what happens if the survey is unsatisfactory etc.
There are standard forms available online but, unless you’re confident in handling the contract yourself, it would be advisable to seek legal advice first.
One important thing to ask for at this stage when purchasing a boat abroad is to have your contract translated into English and for it to be governed by English law in case a dispute arises.
The majority of brokers should be able to provide this service for you but, if not, make sure you get your contract translated before you sign anything.
Having these documents translated into English will also be extremely useful when you come to sell the boat later down the line.
TOP TIP: Make sure anything you sign is in English
Within the contract it’s important for the person selling the boat to state that they are the legal owner and they have the right to sell it. You’ll also want to see title documentation and evidence that the person selling the boat, does in fact own it.
Examples of title documents include bills of sale, previous sale contract, a builder’s certificate, insurance certificates and registration certificate. If you’re using a broker, then they should hold all this information.
Make sure the owner declares in the contract that they are the legal and beneficial owner, and have the right to sell the boat, which is free from any debts and encumbrances of any kind. This will help to establish yourself as a bona fide purchaser and will protect you if it turns out a bank or a third party owns the boat for example.
Hannah Cash says: “Ultimately buying a boat should be a pleasurable, experience and you should be excited about your intended purchase. The moment it becomes stressful and you feel unsure about the purchase, that is the time to proceed with caution and seek legal advice.“
If you’re buying a second-hand boat, make sure that VAT (also referred to as IVA in Europe) is accounted for. Ideally you want to see proof of VAT by way of original receipted invoice from the manufacturer or first owner.
If the seller is unable to prove VAT, then you may want to consider whether you wish to proceed with the sale.
If the vessel is not VAT paid, you may want to consider paying the VAT on the boat post sale, however seek advice on this before doing so as the rules are different depending on where in Europe the vessel is being purchased.
Making an application to pay the VAT in the UK can be straight forward, but in Europe the law is VAT is may be payable in the first port of entry, so seek advice if this is something you are thinking about doing.
Please note that this article does not constitute legal advice