Can I buy a boat with no paperwork?

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We answer your questions. This month – Can I buy a boat with no paperwork?


I have found a boat that I am really keen on and it is potentially available within my budget.

The boat was bought by the boatyard as a bad debt. It is being sold to recover costs.

The issue is that the boat has no original paperwork for proof of purchase, VAT, builder’s certificates and so forth.

Is it a really bad idea to buy a boat that doesn’t come with any of this paperwork, or is it not an issue?

Could it be an issue for insurance? And if we sail to France and get inspected, if we are not able to prove payment of VAT?

Is there anything we can do to rectify this lack of paperwork without running up big bills?

Paul Colley


Marine surveyor Ben Sutcliffe-Davies replies:

A lack of paperwork throws up a number of issues and you should proceed carefully.

Without original paperwork and a complete history, you need to consider whether the vessel has suffered neglect or damage in its past.

Could you find out where it has been moored and if the boat’s name has ever been changed?

Armed with the hull number, name and SSR number, you can then search online to see if it has been involved in any rescues.

Continues below…

Should we add radar to our new boat?

If you have AIS do you really need to add radar to your equipment package?

Secondly, you need to be sure that the yard selling the boat has the right to sell it.

You will need to see a bill of sale from the owner of the boat to the boatyard, or something that is a proof of title to the boat for the yard selling it.

Ideally, you would have something that shows the boat did indeed belong to the previous owner.

You will need your own proof of ownership in order to register the vessel. A history of where the boat was moored for the last six or seven years may be the best you can do.

The final major issue is that of VAT payment. If you sail to France without any proof, you could land yourself a hefty fine.

If you can prove that the boat has been kept in the UK for several years, this may be enough.

A spokesman for HM Revenue & Customs replies:

If the vessel was built prior to 1985, has remained within private ownership since that time and has been moored in the EU on 31/12/1992, then we can provide you with a letter stating that it is deemed VAT paid, but we would need to see proof that it was built pre 1985 and moored in an EU marina in 1992.

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