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How to avoid buying a stolen boat

Boat theft is still a problem in the UK with many boats still being reported stolen each year. While there has been a reduction in outboard motor theft since a police crackdown on scrap metal dealers in 2013, theft of yachts, motorboats and dinghies do still occur.

So if you’re in the market for a second hand boat and concerned about the provenance of the craft you’re interested in, here’s our handy tips to make sure the purchase you make is a legitimate one.

Where possible, use a recommended boat broker

For larger boat deals, a boat broker usually facilitates the sale between the seller and the buyer. Ideally the broker will be a member of a relevant professional or trade body and will follow that body’s respective codes of conduct. Remember that the broker will usually be acting on behalf of the seller so be sure to ask for as much information about the boat as possible before you agree to any deal.

Make sure the documentation stacks up

Before you conclude the sale, you should ideally obtain copies of the build certificate, previous Bills of Sale, Certificate of Registration, ideally the Original receipted  VAT invoice and if not available a good copy; Recreational Craft Directive (RCD) compliance and all other relevant documentation.

Although the law does not generally prescribe the documentation that should accompany a sale, documentation is required to comply with certain legal requirements such as the RCD, compliance with national and EU-wide VAT rules and any national registration requirements. 

Check the Hull Identification Number (HIN)

The Hull Identification Number or HIN, is a unique combination of letters and/or numerals affixed or embossed on the outside of the transom, generally on the starboard side above the waterline on most vessels. This is essentially your boat’s license plate.

From 1998, the HIN is made up of a fourteen character code in line with the international ISO format, so check that this is the case on the boat you’re looking at.

The HIN should always appear on the transom permanently moulded or etched into the hull and occasionally on a permanently affixed plate. This is in the majority of cases to the starboard side of the transom.

A second plate is often affixed within the vessel in a location known only to the manufacturer and, sometimes, the police.

Check the stolen boats database

If you’re still in any doubt about the legitimacy of the boat in question, you can check the stolen boat database at stolenboats.org.uk where a record of all reported boat thefts are recorded, including outboard motors and trailers. If you have the HIN number, you can search for any boat within the database.

Be prepared to walk away

If a deal is too good to be true, it’s within your rights to walk away. Be aware that if the seller is unable to produce all the required documentation, you are fully entitled to withdraw from the sale.