Category Archives: Boat Ownership Items

Boardings by Law Enforcement

Background:

In the United States, the supreme law of land is our Federal Constitution. God blessed our founding fathers with great intelligence and insight as they developed and adopted that wonderful document. The first 10 amendments, collectively known as the “Bill of Rights,” give citizens specific protections. Among them, the Fourth Amendment states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probably cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” Probable cause is “the level of suspicion that would cause a reasonable and prudent person, given the overall circumstances, to believe a crime has been committed.” A warrant is a “court order authorizing police to arrest a person, search his or her private property, or take his or her belongings.” All boaters should note, in these United States, this Constitutional protection DOES NOT extend to boats and boaters.

United States Coast Guard:

References for this section:

  1. http://www.uscg.mil/d1/prevention/NavInfo/navinfo/documents/Enforcement.PDF
  2. https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/14/89
  3. http://navwaters.com/2012/11/12/the-fourth-amendment-rights-vs-boarding-power-of-the-united-states-coast-guard/
  4. http://boatswainsmate.net/BM/BOStudyGuide.pdf
  5. http://www.dtic.mil/get-tr-doc/pdf?AD=ADA329162
  6. http://military.wikia.com/wiki/Posse_Comitatus_Act

The United States Coast Guard mission is to “enforce or assist in the enforcement of all applicable federal laws, on, under and over the high seas and waters subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.” This mission is conveyed by Congress under 14 USC 2 (1). The Coast Guard has the authority to board any US flag vessel anywhere in the world, and any vessel, regardless of Flag or stateless status, in US waters. The Coast Guard has four fundamental sources of authority:

  1. 14 USC 89 for Maritime Law Enforcement;
  2. 14 USC 143 for Customs and Border Protection;
  3. 50 USC 191 for protection and security of vessels, harbor, and waterline facilities including law enforcement ashore, and
  4. The history and traditions of the sea for Mariner Assistance

The Coast Guard’s authority under 14 USC 89 is to “address inquiries to those on board, examine the ship’s documents and papers, and examine, inspect, and search the vessel and use all necessary force to compel compliance.” The word, “inspect,” can be used to justify much more intrusive searches. For example, the Coast Guard can “inspect” your engine room for “adequate ventilation,” but in the process, take note of anything that happens to be there that some 18 y/o Petty Offices decides to be curious about. Not that cruisers have anything to hide, but there is no analogy to this warrantless and intrusive police authority in your home on land.

The US Coast Guard also has Customs authority under 14 USC 143, which states “commissioned, warrant, and petty officers of the Coast Guard are deemed to be officers of the customs and when so acting shall, insofar as performance of the duties relating to customs laws are concerned, be subject to regulations issued by the Secretary of the Treasury governing officers of the customs.” Who knew?!

The Posse Comitatus Act (18 USC 1385) prohibits United States Department Of Defense personnel from assisting civilian law enforcement in keeping the peace, arresting felons, or enforcing civil law in general. The US Coast Guard is exempt from the Posse Comitatus Act because it operates under the Department of Homeland Security, not the Department of Defense. (The National Guard is also exempt from Posse Comitatus, because the National Guard is a state agency under civil control of the Governors of the respective states.)

Firearms:

For those that carry weapons aboard, certain weapons are always prohibited:

  1. Short Barreled Shotgun:
    1. Barrel Length is less then 18”
    2. Overall Length is less then 26“
  2. Short Barreled Rifle:
    1. Barrel Length is less then 16”
    2. Overall Length is less then 26”
  3. Machine Guns:
    1. Any weapon that is designed to shoot, or does shoot, more then one shot automatically, without manually reloading, by a single function of the trigger
    2. Includes the Frame and Receiver or any combination of parts designed and intended for use in the converting into a Machine Gun
  4. Smooth Bore Pistol:
    1. Any pistol whose barrel does not have spiraled grooves inside the barrel as does other pistols
  5. Muffler or Silencer:
    1. Any device that attaches to a pistol that might lessen the sound of a round being discharged

Furthermore, under 18 USC 922 (d), certain persons are always prohibited from carrying firearms, including:

  1. Convicted felons
  2. Dishonorably discharged persons of the military
  3. Adjudicated mentally incompetent
  4. Renounced US citizenship
  5. Illegal alien
  6. User/Addict of a controlled substance
  7. Fugitive from justice
  8. Has a court order restraining the person from harassing, stalking, or the threatening of an intimate partner or child of such partner
  9. Convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence

Boardings:

Coast Guard boardings are usually for enforcement of “Substantive Law.”  Substantive Laws prohibit certain actions or require certain affirmative conduct.  Categories of substantive law enforced by the US Coast Guard include:

  1. Drug enforcement (46 USC Appendix 1903);
  2. Smuggling and immigration (8 USC 1324);
  3. Fisheries laws;
  4. Protected areas and species;
  5. Environmental and pollution;
  6. Port and waterway;
  7. Coastal security;
  8. Vessel safety and “manifestly unsafe voyage (46 USC 4302 and 4308); and
  9. General criminal law.

The Coast Guard does have a category of boardings called “Consensual Boardings.”  Consensual boardings usually involve non-US Flag vessels, and have three criteria:

    1. Done with the permission of the vessel’s master;
    2. Can only look in spaces that the master permit; and
    3. Ends when masters say so.

State and Local Law Enforcement Officers:

References for this section:

  1. http://blog.tradeonlytoday.com/dealer_outlook/?p=1543%22
  2. http://opinions.aoc.arkansas.gov/WebLink8/0/doc/310905/Page1.aspx
  3. http://www.outdoorhub.com/news/2012/04/30/michigan-public-act-62-revises-random-boat-stops-for-safety-inspections/
  4. http://www.ohiohouse.gov/republicans/press/ohio-house-passes-boater-freedom-act
  5. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/11/nyregion/stepped-up-security-checks-on-hudson-anger-boaters.html?_r=0
  6. https://boatingonthehudson.wordpress.com/2012/07/28/schumer-demands-reduction-in-unnecessary-boat-stops-and-universal-inspection-sticker-system/

Keep in mind that the United States Coast Guard is an agent of the United States Federal Government. The US Coast Guard has sweeping authority granted by Congress. That authority actually originated with the Revenue Act of 1790, and has been handed down to today’s Coast Guard. I would note that in the 1790s, there were very few pleasure boats, and even fewer full-time cruisers and liveaboards. Do I have an “expectation of privacy” on my boat? You bet I do. My boat is my home; my “castle.” I live there; I eat there; I sleep there; our boat is definitely our “castle.”  But not at law!

The fact is that state, county and local marine police agencies do not have the sweeping authority that the Coast Guard has. In fact, even other Federal agencies do not have those sweeping powers, including Customs and Border Protection. Only the US Coast Guard has those authorities. However, LEOs of these lesser agencies will not hesitate to assert that they do, and act bullishly to abuse a boat operator’s  confusion, innocence and anxiety. So, what is the truth?

Arkansas: On Feb. 7, 2013, the Arkansas Supreme Court (case: Arkansas v. Robert M. Allen) handed down a ruling that the random stopping of Allen’s boat was unreasonable and violated Allen’s constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment.

Michigan: On February 23, 2012, the Michigan legislature adopted Public Law 62, prohibiting random stops of recreational boats for safety inspections.

Ohio: On June 4, 2013, the Ohio legislature adopted House Bill 29, entitled “Boater’s Freedom Act,” which specifies that the state’s law enforcement personnel may only stop a vessel if they have reasonable suspicion that the vessel or vessel’s operator are in violation of marine law or otherwise engaged in criminal activity. The bill had broad support from Ohio’s boaters, the marine industry and the Ohio Division of Watercraft.

Florida: As of the 2016 session of the Florida legislature (the time of this writing), there is a bill pending that would stop gratuitous boardings without probable cause.

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut state, county and local LEOs conduct many gratuitous “boat safety” boardings. Boaters in the tri-state region are outraged. I am not personally knowledgeable of conditions on the West Coast.

None of these new state laws give boaters the same protections they would have in their land-based residences under the Fourth Amendment, but states are beginning to respond to boater angst about repetitive, abusive and inappropriate behaviors by some – clearly not all – LEOs.

What individual boaters choose to do with this information is a personal choice. I consider boarding without consent, and in the case of law enforcement officers, without probable cause, to be an act of “piracy.”  Piracy is, “an act of robbery or criminal violence at sea.” For myself, I have learned to ask, “am I obligated by law to allow you to board?” Officers know that I am not so obligated, and usually will not press the point. If they do, I do not affirmatively grant permission to non-Coast Guard agencies to board. That said, I certainly cooperate if law enforcement officers choose to board. Non-cooperation would only make things worse. Much worse.

Sanctuary has, in the past, been boarded to check our Marine Sanitation Device for overboard discharge. The procedure is that the LEO puts dye flakes in the head, and then flushes about 30 doggoned gallons of water. Presumably, non-complying boats would leave a dye trail in the water. Of course, that is a “destructive test,” wherein it is the usable capacity of the holding tank, for which the boater has paid, that is “destroyed.” So if/when faced with that again, I plan to refuse the test unless I am provided with $25 cash or a chit for a pumpout at the LE agency’s expense. We’ll see how that plays. Wish me luck…

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Title, Registration and Taxes

I AM NOT A LAWYER, AND NOTHING IN THIS POST SHOULD BE INTERPRETED AS LEGAL ADVICE.  AS ALWAYS, READERS MUST DO THEIR OWN DUE DILIGENCE BASED ON THE DETAILS OF THEIR OWN PERSONAL CIRCUMSTANCES.

10/2016: Article edited-for-update to clarify understanding and add detail.

Vehicle registration and titling – automobile, aircraft and boat – are normally handled by state vehicle and traffic laws.  Taxes are handled under various sections of state revenue laws.  From state to state, these laws and not consistent; in some cases, actually mutually exclusive.  For cruisers – especially those who travel the US East Coast seasonally – it is extremely difficult to comply with the laws of all of the states at the same time.  Boaters must understand that there are gray areas to which personal preference and judgement must be applied.  Different people will have different preferences for “operating near the boundaries.”  The ability to deal with ambiguity will be a great personal asset.

For boats that move between states while cruising, this complex area is fraught with questions that can only be answered based on the circumstances of the individual doing the asking.  Where is the owner’s legal residence? What are the “principle cruising waters” of the boat?  Who determines the boat’s principle cruising waters?  Based on what factors/conditions?  Was a sales tax paid when the boat was purchased? If so, what was the percentage rate? Does the boat’s state of registration have a Personal Property Tax? A Use Tax? What is the time-limit for a non-resident visitor before the registration must be transferred to the visited state? Does the visited state require the vessel to be registered “somewhere” before entry? Is the boat USCG Documented? For USCG Documented vesselsIs, is state registration also required in the state where the boat is domiciled? All of this creates very complex questions which are specific to the details of each individual boat owner’s situation.

I’ll start with some terminology that is widely mis-understood and mis-used:

Title:
In law, title is the means by which the owner has just and legal possession of his or her property. It is distinct from the document that provides evidence of the title; e.g., a deed or certificate-of-title. Title can be lost or acquired only by the methods established by law; that is, by inheritance or by purchase. Several persons or entities may have different titles to the same asset. While one holds a legal title (a claim to the asset that is recognized by a court), another may hold an equitable title (the right to have the legal title transferred to them if certain conditions are met/not met). This occurs if there is a mortgage or other lien.

Title – USCG Certificate of Documentation:
The process of obtaining a US Coast Guard Certificate of Documentation is an administrative process of the US Federal Government administered by the US Coast Guard. It is analogous to a state’s registration and titling processes. The process results in the issuance of a Vessel Identification Number and a title document called a “Certificate of Documentation,” or “COD.” The Vessel Identification Number identifies the vessel, and is associated with the vessel’s Hull Identification Number; i.e., the boat, not the owners. The US Coast Guard vessel COD is recognized internationally as a certificate of ownership and nationality. Therefore, documented vessels are protected as vessels of the United States.

The COD is equivalent to a title document. The issuance process includes a title search to ensure the vessel is the legal property of the seller and clear of mortgages, bank loans, Mechanic’s Liens or other financial encumbrances. That can be an advantage for both seller and buyer at time of sale.

To be eligible for US Coast Guard documentation, the owners of the vessel must be citizens of the United States. Usually, any boat over 26 feet in length qualifies for US Coast Guard Documentation. A documented vessel falls under federal law enforcement jurisdiction vs. the jurisdiction of any state or local agency for recovery and prosecution in the event of theft or involvement in criminal activity.

Title – State:
Each state has a titling process for vehicles, vessels and aircraft. The state title is proof of legal ownership, but not necessarily equitable ownership, as equitable title will be subject to satisfaction of mortgages, bank loans, Mechanic’s Liens, and any other recorded encumbrances. These processes operate at the state level, and enforcement is the responsibility of state authorities. In international cases, there is no backing for the owner by US federal authorities.

Registration:
Vessel registration is an administrative procedure of state government, usually under the state’s Vehicle and Traffic statutes.  For cars, it results in the issuance of license plates; for boats, it results in the issuance of a Vessel Identification Number, and usually decals to prove that the process is complete and current. Registration serves to document the contact information of owners and provides a tracking system for the vehicle/vessel/aircraft and provides a mechanism for collecting infrastructure use taxes.  For wheeled vehicles, It grants a “license” that permits the use of public rights-of-way.  For boats, it provides a license to use public trust waterways under the state’s jurisdiction. Registration does not prove ownership.  In some states, a use tax is collected as part of the initial/periodic re-registration process. The use tax is not an excise tax or personal property tax, but both excise and personal property taxes can tag along on the registration process.   SOME STATES REQUIRE REGISTRATION OF USCG DOCUMENTED VESSELS AND SOME STATES DO NOT REQUIRE STATE REGISTRATION OF USCG DOCUMENTED VESSELS.

Sales Tax/Excise Tax:
Whether a tax paid for the purchase of a vessel is a sales tax or an excise tax  or a use tax is a matter of definition of the state department of revenue law where the tax is assessed. To a buyer, it matters little. There is no federal excise tax in the US, but many states impose one. The excise is applied at the time of transfer of title (sale), commonly at a percentage rate of the sale price. Some states do not impose an excise. The rate of excise imposed by states that do varies from state to state.

In a state that imposes a sale-time excise, the tax will be due and payable on a new boat at the time of registration.

Maryland and Florida also have maximum caps on excise tax rates.  Others may; do your own due diligence.

All of this varies from state to state. Using Florida as an example, if an owner moves a currently owned boat from Maryland to Florida, the following Florida tests apply [cit: Florida Department of Revenue Brochure GT-800005]:
1.  the boat was purchased outside Florida, AND
2.  it’s been registered in some US jurisdiction for more than 6 months (registered, like a car, not titled, like the USCG COD), AND
3.  You DID NOT intend to bring it into Florida when you bought it,
then there will be no excise due if you choose to register the boat in Florida.  [cit: Florida Department of Revenue brochure, GT-800005.]

Personal Property Tax:
Specific items of personal property (vs. real property) may be taxed by some states, counties and local municipalities. PPTs are usually imposed on an annual basis.  The owner of the property as of January 1 before the fiscal year begins is generally the entity assessed. Not all state, county and municipal jurisdictions impose PPTs. Items that are subject to PPTs vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Personal Property Taxes can attach to the assets of non-resident transients in some jurisdictions under some circumstances. If a non-resident fails to pay a lawfully imposed PPT, the debt can and may be recorded as a lien against the title of the asset.

Use Tax:
A “use tax” is a tax on “goods and services that you bring into Florida untaxed or taxed at a rate less than Florida’s.”  [cit: Florida Department of Revenue brochure GT-800005.]  This definition is fairly consistent across the US.  Use taxes are essential equivalent to sales taxes, except applied to those who acquired the goods or services in another taxing jurisdiction.  Selected “Use Tax” scenarios that apply to boaters follow:

  1. For resident boaters who purchase a boat within their state of residence jurisdiction, the sales tax – if any – is paid at the time of vessel registration.  Simple and clean.
  2. For non-resident boaters who move from one state taxing jurisdiction to a new state, a sales tax (or equivalent use tax) may be due upon vessel registration in the new state.
  3. For non-resident boaters who cruise through a taxing jurisdiction other than their home jurisdiction, a reciprocity period applies.  During that reciprocity period, no taxes are assessed.  If the length of stay exceeds the reciprocity period, a sales tax (use tax) may be due in the new taxing jurisdiction.  The reciprocity period varies from state-to-state.  How the use tax is collected also varies from state to state.    (Note: see “Reciprocity,” following below.)
  4. What happens if a currently owned boat is moved from state to state depends on the department of revenue law of the new state. Usually, credit is given for the amount of excise paid in another state at the time of prior registration there. So, moving a boat from Maryland (5% excise) to New York (8-3/4% excise), the owner would pay NY 3-3/4%. Moving the boat from Maryland (5% excise) to Ohio (5.75% excise) would result in a 3/4% tax. Moving the boat from Maryland to Rhode Island (no excise) would NOT result in a refund.  [Cit: rates based on BoatUS information, updated occasionally, and located here: http://www.boatus.com/gov/states/default.asp.%5D
  5. Some states require marina managers to report the presence of non-resident boats on specific dates (like January 1st) to Department of Revenue authorities for the purpose of applying use taxes upon the owners.

Reciprocity:
Time limits apply for the length of time that a state will honor vehicle and vessel registrations from other states. For business travelers and vacationers (short term visits) any state’s vehicle registration is honored everywhere. Likewise, for boaters, any state’s vessel registration is honored everywhere. However, time limits may affect long range cruisers, such as “snow birds,” in some situations. The laws of the various states generally require “domestic” registration within a reciprocity period. This varies from 30 to 90 days, depending on the state.

Florida Sojourner’s Permit:
Florida has a unique use tax called a Sojourner’s Permit.  This is a short-term form of registration of the vessel in Florida.  It does not change the homeport state of registration, but it extends the lawful reciprocity period in Florida, usually by several months.  Those who cruise and move occasionally will almost certainly not come into contact with the authorities on this one, but those who leave their boats in a marina for the entire winter season may.

The “Sojourner Permit” is a temporary registration that allows out-of-state visitors to remain in Florida longer than the 90-day standard reciprocity period.  The Sojourner’s Permit applies only to Florida, and does not supersede, cancel or impair the home-state registration of the vessel.  The Sojourner’s Permit applies statewide across Florida as a legislative provision of the State of Florida.  With the Sojourner’s Permit, there is no sales tax assessed, since by definition, the intended stay is “temporary.”

Vessel owners apply for the Sojourners Permit at any of the various county tax collector offices.  There is a standard State of Florida fee.  A small number of counties also tack on local fees.  The Sojourner’s Permit expires in the birth month of the first person on the vessel’s certificate of title.  If the vessel is owned by a trust, a corporation or an LLC, the Sojourner’s Permit expires in June.

Here is a link to the vessel registration fee schedule.  At the bottom of the page is a list of counties that charge the local surtax: http://www3.flhsmv.gov/dmv/Proc/Fees/Fees-04.PDF

To apply for the Sojourner’s Permit, submit HSMV Form 87244.  Here is a link to the form:  http://www.flhsmv.gov/dmv/forms/btr/87244.pdf

Here is a link to all Florida HSMV office locations.  Use one that offers full service.  https://www.flhsmv.gov/locations/

In addition to the Sojourner’s Permit mentioned above, Florida law also requires that a vessel be registered in some US jurisdiction to be eligible in the first place for the 90-day reciprocity “deal.”  The “logic” here is, “reciprocity” implies a courtesy extended between two or more entities; if the boat isn’t registered somewhere, then there’s no state with which to extend the courtesy of reciprocity.

Florida law requires that boats be registered AT THE TIME THE BOAT ENTERS FLORIDA WATERS.  (Michigan and some other states have similar laws.)  In the very specific case of a boat from a state that DOES NOT register boats, the Florida Sojourner’s Permit will satisfy Florida law; i.e., registered – albeit temporarily – in FL.

Residency:
The specific requirements for legal residency vary from state to state.  Furthermore, different state agencies have different definitions of what constitutes “residency” when the topic is receiving public benefits, in-state tuition at colleges, and liability for income tax.  All decisions around changing residency have tax implications, and due diligence will be based on each person’s personal situation.  For those without land holdings and living on a boat, changing residency is actually very easy.  A few items seem obvious:

  • maintain a residence for personal use in the state;
  • get a driver license;
  • register an automobile;
  • register to vote;
  • live in a motor home or vessel which is not permanently attached to any property while not having a permanent residence in any other state;
  • use an address in the state for federal/state income tax filings.

All of the above items “show intent” for the purposes of filing a “Declaration of Intent to Domicile” in Florida.  Florida is a very common seasonal destination for “snow birds.”  Snow birds often own property in other states, and not everyone who spends the season in Florida intends to change residency.  To establish fully legal “primary” residency in Florida, one need only fill out a one-page form called “Declaration of Intent to Domicile.”  The form is filed with the clerk of the circuit court’s office in any county courthouse.  You are a Florida resident at the moment the clerk signs that form.   Florida does not have a personal income tax, but for other-state tax purposes, that declaration would take effect the next following calendar January 1st.   Send a copy to the appropriate taxing authority in the former state of residence as proof of change of residency.

The Boat Survey

A boat survey is a multi-step business process that is initiated by a boat owner or prospective boat buyer. The purpose of the survey is to establish the safety, seaworthiness and market value of the vessel. The survey process consists of the following steps:

  1. establish the purpose and scope of the survey,
  2. qualify and select the surveyor,
  3. agree on survey scope, cost and deliverables,
  4. formalize the survey contract,
  5. perform the inspection,
  6. receive the survey report, and
  7. finalize payment.

There are two types of surveys. One is the pre-purchase survey, and the other is the insurance survey.

A pre-purchase survey is commissioned by a prospective boat buyer. Its primary purpose is to confirm representations made by the seller to the buyer as an inducement to purchase, and to identify as far as possible any unknown conditions or defects that affect safety, seaworthiness and value. Because the buyer is unfamiliar with the vessel and its history of use and operation, the pre-purchase survey will involve many personal judgement factors on the part of the surveyor, including cosmetic condition and opinions relative to condition and suitability-for-purpose.

Prior to issuing a liability and casualty insurance policy for pleasure craft, virtually all insurance underwriters will require the applicant to submit a survey report about the boat. The survey report will accompany and be part of the application for insurance. Application for insurance can occur at the time a boat is first purchased, or it can occur with policy renewal after 5 – 7 years of boat ownership. An insurance survey is generally more limited in scope than a pre-purchase survey. At purchase time, a buyer wants to know as much as possible about the boat before committing to the purchase. An insurance company wants to know the boat isn’t going to sink, catch fire, or create a liability issue in operation. An existing owner is less concerned with cosmetic condition and fitness-for-purpose issues and more concerned with safety and seaworthiness issue.

Surveyors perform both pre-purchase and insurance survey inspections. Surveyors are independent small business people. While Homeowner’s liability and casualty insurance is not conditioned on the findings of the home inspection, liability and casualty insurance for pleasure craft is often conditioned on the findings of the boat survey. Home inspectors assess a residence or building against national, state and municipal building codes and workmanship standards. Surveyors assess boats for conformance to established and accepted marine safety standards and workmanship practices in an effort to identify real or potential seaworthiness and safety issues, and to assign a monetary “value” to the boat. For boats, the principle safety and seaworthiness standards used in the U. S. to assess the boat are USCG requirements for Pleasure Craft and the collected works of the American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC). To assess market value, multiple marketing sources are normally consulted. Establishing market value can be very subjective, particularly in unstable markets or with custom or unusual boats. The “judgement and experience” of the individual surveyor will be significant contributors to risk and market value assessments.

In selecting and qualifying a surveyor, boat buyers and owners should be aware of surveyor’s professional competence. Experienced surveyors have a broad range of experience in all areas of boat mechanical systems, boat construction and maintenance.  An individual practitioner’s skills as a surveyor can be certified (endorsed) after review, verification of experience and training by one of several national certifying organizations of marine surveyors. These organizations include the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors® (SAMS), the National Association of Marine Surveyors (NAMSGlobal), and The Association of Certified Marine Surveyors (ACMS). Some independent surveyors are not certified by any of these nationwide professional organizations. Surveyor certification is not required by law. Insurance underwriters can and do refuse to accept boat evaluation reports from individual surveyors. The most harsh and cynical way to state that is: “black-ball.”

I do not in any way advocate incomplete or misleading reporting of true, factual safety or seaworthiness issues about any boat. However, I do believe that boat owners who commission survey reports are entering into a business transaction with a surveyor that should always be professional and fair to all interested parties. Obtaining boat insurance should be based on correct and true representations by all parties. It has been my experience that there is sometimes the appearance that a surveyor might place their ongoing relationship with insurance underwriters above their one-time relationship with individual boat buyers/owners. I offer the following thoughts in the hope that any appearance of undue allegiance between the surveyor and the insurance industry can be neutralized and overcome in an honest and mutually satisfactory way with careful and considerate up-front dialog, prior to the start of the survey.

The work-product created by a surveyor is a written report (survey report) consisting at a minimum of the following:

  1. list of findings of non-conformance with established safety standards,
  2. professional assessment of the importance/severity of any identified non-conformities, and
  3. an assessment of the “market value” of the boat as it exists in its current condition.

The boat owner will eventually submit the survey report to their insurance underwriter. The underwriter will review the survey findings, and the surveyor’s assessments. The result will be:

  1. the underwriter may ask the boat owner to correct items that do not conform to the accepted guideline authority (ABYC Standards) that the surveyor assessed as important/serious,
  2. future claims may be limited or excluded if items flagged as “required for correction” have not been corrected by the boat owner,
  3. the cost of all repairs and upgrade will be born by the boat owner, and
  4. the underwriter will base the insured value of the boat on the surveyors assessment of market value.

I believe surveyors are fundamentally honest, skilled and qualified professionals who try to be thorough and fair. Nevertheless, there can be an appearance of divided loyalty associated with a surveyor’s professional responsibilities. Knowing that the survey will eventually become the basis of both insured hull value, as well as for unexpected, unplanned, potentially significant corrective action costs, I offer the following suggestions for managing the survey:

    1. Whenever possible, qualify and hire the surveyor yourself. This means you are the surveyor’s client. It also means the work product (survey report) becomes your personal property, to share or keep confidential, as you determine is in your best interest.
    2. In qualifying a surveyor, select a surveyor with professional certification from one or more of the certifying organizations.
    3. Get references and referrals from trusted personal sources, if possible.
    4. In advance of contracting with a surveyor, agree on the scope of the survey. A pre-purchase survey is intended to provide you with all kinds of qualitative information and judgements. An insurance survey is about safety and seaworthiness. These purposes are not the same, nor are they intended for the same use. If you are buying a pre-purchase survey, agree that the surveyor will produce a separate report limited to safety and seaworthiness findings to be used in obtaining insurance. Judgements and opinions on non-safety and seaworthiness items are important to you, but unnecessary for other (marine insurance underwriter) audiences.
    5. In advance of the survey, agree with the surveyor that you will have the right to negotiate the language of the final survey report. This is not for the purpose of omitting or misstating findings, but for the purpose of presenting context. For example, the mere presence of a non-conformity does not make it a safety or seaworthiness risk. If an electrical item is reported as non-conforming, but the item is found to be of good workmanship, is well maintained, in good condition, working properly, has no evidence of contamination, then the surveyor’s report should contain that qualitative assessment together with the non-conformance itself. Without context, the underwriter will assume the non-conformity is a potentially serious risk, and will ask you to correct it. With the context, the risk assessment is no worse than a conforming installation.
    6. In advance of the survey, agree that documented non-conformities will specify the reason for the non-conformity. For example, the reason could be:
      • absent/missing
      • inadequate
      • worn
      • poor condition
      • poor workmanship
      • incorrect/inappropriate materials,
      • etc., etc.,

      but in any case, the boat owner is entitled to know what type of corrective action is needed for the condition that the surveyor has cited.

    7. In advance of an insurance survey, agree that routine maintenance items and routine cosmetic items will be out-of-scope of the survey report. I had a finding once that the boat did not have a compass deviation card. The finding was correct. And meaningless. In the same survey, I had a finding that the air filter on the engine was dirty and needed replacement. The finding was correct. And meaningless. I had a finding that the hot water heater’s heating element was not working. The finding was incorrect. And meaningless to an insurance survey report. Your survey needs to focus on the real safety and seaworthiness non-conformances and not on the meaningless. We’re not paying the surveyor by volume of findings or pages of report.
    8. In advance of the survey, agree the forms in which the report will be delivered. I prefer delivery in electronic form, in both Adobe .pdf and either Microsoft .doc or .xls format. I use the spread sheet .xls format to track to-dos that I have to resolve for the insurer.

Selecting A Boat for the Great Loop

The Great Loop is a very significant cruise, and one for which people usually plan and prepare for some months – or years – in advance.  Some people buy a boat specifically for the purpose of doing the loop cruise.  Others make their purchase decision without having the Great Loop goal in mind.  In anticipation of cruising the Great Loop, there was a recent request for advice from a self-described “newbie looking for the right boat.”  “What is the best boat,” is a seasonal frequently asked question on the AGLCA discussion forum.

Cruising the loop really consists of three very different kinds of life activity.  First is that all of the activities that comprise our daily life do not end because we went cruising.  We all must handle meal planning, provisioning, banking, bill paying, medical appointments, keeping in touch, computer crashes and sick pets aboard, except on the boat, these things all occur outside of our familiar comfort zone.  Second is the attention and focus the boat demands: navigation, piloting, maintenance, repair and weather.  Third, and equally important, “doing the loop” is a highly rewarding, fast-paced, marathon social experience.

The social aspects of “looping” often don’t get explicit consideration, but they are important to boat selection.  While on the loop, cruisers will meet many other “voyageurs” along the way.  it typical to meet, part ways, and re-meet other cruisers while progressively traveling through interesting and historical places all along the route. Even for cruisers who may have traveled many of the geographic locales before, it’s likely that travel has not been by boat.  Thus, the perspective and experience cruisers get from the water will be new and refreshing.  Loopers will want to go ashore to take advantage of sightseeing and the many social opportunities that will arise along the way.

Aboard Sanctuary, we like the quiet and privacy of anchoring.  When we planned for our Great Loop cruise, we imagined we would anchor out a lot.  But very early on, we found we met many wonderful people who became dear friends.  To enjoy time with new friends, see new things and enjoy new places, we found we used marinas more often than we had anticipated.

People who plan to buy a boat just to “do the loop” already know the cruise will not be an inexpensive adventure.  Even if the plan is to sell the boat at the conclusion of the cruise, “breaking even” on owning the boat is unlikely.  There are fixed water depth and air height restrictions along the loop that constrain the physical dimensions of the boat.  However, even within the physical limits, larger boats will face constraints that smaller boats will not have.  Navigation in some areas is more difficult for large boats.  Availability of slips for large or beamy boats can be difficult.  Shore power availability is sometimes limited.  Larger boats cost more to insure, operate, dock, maintain and repair.

A major and important consideration is whether or not guests or family members will be aboard.  Will guests be traveling with you?  Will you have grandchildren traveling with you?  How often and for how long will guests be aboard?  We have had grandchildren with us, together and separately, for several weeks at a time.  We have found that to be an amazing, rewarding and uplifting experience…   occasionally frustrating…   but never dull!  If frequent visitors are expected, what privacy considerations are important to the boat’s owners?  What privacy considerations will be important to guests?  Can male and female siblings co-exist in the same universe, let alone sharing the same head?  How about younger cousins?  Can young visitors amuse themselves, or to they require “entertaining?”  What needs will “mature” guests have?  And if you plan to have minor children aboard when you cross an international boundary, be sure you have a notarized statement from the custodial parents or legal guardians that grants you custody.  We had a most interesting session with a Canadian Boarder Official on that topic.

All of the forgoing suggests many personal preference considerations in the matter of “which is the best boat for the Great Loop.”

So, against that background, what about the question?  Just what is the “best boat” to do the loop?  Quite simply, personal preferences are so important in the question that there simply is no one right answer.  My ideal boat may be a poor choice for others, and vice versa.  If the daily destination is very important to the boat owner, perhaps a faster boat is more important.  On the other hand, if the journey is what the owner enjoys, speed may be unimportant.

Personal preferences will express themselves in at least three areas:
1.  The design, configuration and styling of the boat,
2.  The owner’s tolerance for comfort, convenience and risk, and
3.  The owner’s desire for, and ability with, self-reliance and independence.

There are several oft-debated personal preference topics that arise in relation to boat design, configuration and styling: slow vs. fast, deep keel vs. shallow draft, cruiser vs. trawler, monohull vs. multihull, pilot house vs. flybridge, one engine vs. two, anchor vs. marina, walk-around deck vs. inside living space, electric vs. LP gas cooktop?

Personal preference in comfort, convenience and risk-acceptance will be reflected in equipment choices: the anchoring system, windlass, bow/stern thrusters, dinghy and outboard motor, battery bank(s), Radar, AIS, autopilot, computer, tablet, TV, DVD, inverter, XM Weather, EPIRB/PLB, washer/dryer, shaft line cutter, wi-fi amplifier, watermaker, towing insurance.  Mechanical and electrical skill set, together with temperament, personal preference, self-reliance and independence will be reflected in tools and spare parts inventories: propeller(s) spares, engine fresh and raw water pumps, fuel lift pump, heat pump raw water circulator pump, head (toilet, not engine) re-build kit, extent of hand and power tools and test equipment?

The request for advice raised by the recent poster stated an initial preference for “staterooms and heads both fore and aft.”  Two early responses to the poster suggested the American Tug 34 and the Krogen Manatee, neither of which offer staterooms with heads both fore and aft.  They are both wonderful boats with relatively large salons for lounging, entertaining and dining, but more limited if cruising with visitors aboard.  The Manatee is a slow boat, the AT is a fast semi-displacement boat that can move along more briskly.  They both offer good living space, but trade off deck space, sleeping space and privacy to do it.  Pilot House boats generally reflect the owners personal preference to pilot the boat from inside.

We personally prefer to pilot from our “classic” trawler’s Flybridge, which we do virtually exclusively aboard Sanctuary.  Most Pilot House boats (AT34, Nordic Tug, others) tend to have limited visibility aft, which can be problematic if “crabbing” against sideways set and drift in narrow, confined, shallow channels.  There are many places along the loop route where visibility aft is important to staying in a channel.  This is a common issue in Florida (both coasts and Lake Okeechobee), and in the coastal shallows of US East Coast states. The “classic” trawlers with forward and aft staterooms (Monk, Albin, Grand Banks, Marine Trader and others) are generally flybridge, dual helm station boats, which offer very good 360º visibility. These “classic” trawlers favor sleeping space over lounging, entertaining and dining space.

Both Pilot House and Flybridge trawlers can be single-handed rather easily in locking situations, usually from the inside helm station.  That said, many owners have strong personal preferences in this area, and self-confidence and comfort with maneuvering and locking is important on the Great Loop Cruise.  The Krogan Manatee offers both a large salon and a flybridge, but can only be piloted from the flybridge.  It trades off a walk-around deck for interior space, so single-handing in locks requires practice and forethought.  This can all be worked out, of course, depending on the preferences of the owner.  These are just a small sampling of the pros and cons to individual boats that only your personal taste and personal preferences can settle for you.  If you’re not (never) going to be single-handing, this issue is moot; if you are going to be single-handing, even occasionally, it can be extremely important or no big deal, depending on your preferences and comfort level.

Nothing is more closely associated to personal comfort and preference than personal physical health and condition and that of others aboard (spouse, visitors) and any pets you may have aboard.  Imagine and carefully consider your physical access to the boat when faced with various boarding and docking situations.  Along the Great Loop, you will encounter widely variable tidal ranges and periods of vigorous winds and currents.  You will encounter these environmental conditions at floating docks, fixed docks, high concrete walls, along-side ties, slips with short or very short finger piers, slips with no finger pier (Mediterranean, or “Med,” moor), shrimp boats, barges and occasionally, a mooring ball.  One particularly exciting activity is tying to a mooring ball in a crowded mooring field in 20kt gusting winds and drizzle.  These activities require physical agility and some stamina.  They also require boat handling skill (seamanship) and patience with one’s deck hands.  If your deck crew has any physical disability or limitations, this will – or should – affect your choice of boat.

Likewise, with the question of engines, there are pros and cons that often boil down to personal comfort and preference.  Some people feel that dual engines provide a margin of safety, reasoning that it’s improbable both would fail at the same time.  Some people feel that a fast trawler or cruiser allows one to run fast over open expanses of water or away from approaching bad weather.  Yes, sudden and complete engine failures can occur.  I don’t know the statistics from Tow BoatUS or SeaTow, but most of the anecdotal lost engine stories I’ve heard over our several years of living aboard and cruising involve fuel issues that affected both engines.  The good news on fuel is that, on the loop cruise, you’ll turn your fuel stores over 6 ~ 8 times, so the fuel aboard will generally be pretty fresh and clean once the cruise is begun.  With two engines, maintenance tasks and maintenance costs are doubled; and, physical access to the engine for maintenance tasks is often limited and problematic.  And of course, even with two engines, if one does fail and require emergency service, it will certainly bring a temporary stop to your travel itinerary while the issue is being resolved.

Single engine trawlers are generally fit with full keels and well-protected under-water running gear (prop shaft, struts, propeller, rudder, skeg). That is often not the case with dual engine boats.  There are lots of areas on the loop where the water is shallow and the bottom unforgiving.  Every looper knows of cases of encounters between props and rocks.  So, for lots of reasons, I personally prefer a single engine configuration, but others will have different equally valid opinions and preferences. Personal preferences and values will settle the choice for each buyer.

There are many choices of dinghy, and many alternatives for storing a dinghy aboard.  Towing a dinghy that is tethered to the “mother ship” is practical in limited cases, but is not wise in open bodies of water or in lock systems or narrow canals.  The tether is always a hazard to fouling the mother ship’s propeller(s) and rudder(s).  In some lock systems, towing a dinghy is not permitted.  In others, it may be permitted, but additional fees will be collected.  In all cases, it is selfish and discourteous to others locking through with you.  So, spend some time considering how you will store your dinghy aboard, and how you will deploy and stow it.  And particularly, think about how quickly it could be deployed or stowed in an emergency.

Dinghies suspended from aft davit systems are relatively easy to deploy and stow, but can fill with rainwater and become very heavy.  Aft davits also add to the overall length of the vessel, and thus to locking and docking costs.  Dinghies stowed on upper decks can be very cumbersome – even dangerous – to deploy and stow.  Filled with rainwater, dinghies on upper decks can affect the roll-stability of the mother ship.  Dinghies are heavy, and can present dangerous weight and leverage issues to the unsuspecting or unprepared owner.  Carefully think through how you will be able to manage these factors when considering your purchase decision.

If thunderstorms or other severe weather is likely and probable, expecting to outrun it is very risky.  These cells develop in air masses that are geographically very large.  An air mass can go from “stable” to “unstable” in a matter of minutes.  The passage of the outflow boundary of a thunderstorm cell can produce hurricane force gusts and very high sea states.  There are only two things that really, really scare me about boating: fire aboard and lightening!  No small plastic yacht is made to take a lightening hit without serious consequence and damage, and there is plenty of open water on the loop.  To me, it’s much better to have good forecasting tools, anticipate thunderstorm weather, and stay in port while it passes.  My personal preference is, it’s better to hide, and live to run another – better, more comfortable – day.

There are, of course, a few boats that overcome many of the above generalities.  Great Harbor and Florida Bay Coaster designs are shallow draft, multi-engine, protected keel boats with great living space.  They do so with very unique and non-traditional styling that some feel compromises stability, comfort and sea-keeping ability in moderate to high sea states.  Powered Catamarans also offer great living space in a boat that can achieve high speed at great economy.  However, steering ability with only one operational engine is often degraded, and the beam of these boats limits availability for dockage in many areas.  So once again, we are faced with many pros and cons having to do with personal preferences.

I would ass/u/me no one would consider buying a gasoline-fueled boat.  Gasoline flashes explosively at standard atmospheric temperature and pressure (STP), so the boat is a large, floating bomb.  On a gasoline fueled boat, ALL electrical and plumbing equipment must be of UL-Marine certified spark-suppressive design.  Diesel fuel is far safer.  That said, though, every boat owner must give some thought to fire suppression; both fire suppression equipment and emergency response to an actual fire scenario.

The question of tankage for fuel, potable water and black water waste stores will vary from boat-to-boat and power configuration-to-power configuration.  Most displacement and deep-vee, semi-displacement hulled plastic (FRP) trawlers in the 40′ range will carry around 300 gallons of fuel.  If you get 2.5 – 3 StM/Gal, then you’ll have a range of 600 – 700 miles.  With that range, you can plan fuel purchases for optimal commodity pricing.  Heavy genset use can affect that range slightly.  Most knowledgeable boaters say an 8kW genset will use 0.5 – 0.75 gallons/hr.  So, 300 gallons of diesel is plenty of onboard capacity to do the loop or visit the Bahamas.  The longest distance between fuel stops on the great loop route is on the Mississippi/Ohio River, from just below St. Louis to Kentucky Lake.  That’s around 240 StM.

Sanctuary carries 140 gallons of potable water, which I think is on the high side for trawlers in our size class.  That lasts 2 adults about 6 to 10 days for drinking and cooking; the largest driver of water use is dish washing, personal hygiene and showers.  Learn to take GI showers.  As a personal preference decision, we do not have a washer/dryer aboard.   Some folks consider them essential.  If you do – of if your spouse does – you will consume aHr of electric capacity and gallons of water to feed it.  We do US Coastal, near-Coastal and Inland River cruising, so we do not see a need for the expense or maintenance overhead of a watermaker.  Even for the Bahamas, positive ROI for a watermaker is measured in years, not months.

We have a 40 gallon black water waste holding tank.  For us, we find that capacity lasts two adults for 6 – 8 days.  So going back to the earlier discussion, the social aspects of doing the great loop brought us into marinas – on the average – around 4 nights out of 7, average.  Fuel, water and pumpout are all easily available within those parameters.  Even if one chooses not to use marinas, “drive-up” facilities are widely available all along the main route.  Not so much on the Lower Mississippi River, below the Ohio River, but that is not the main route for the Great Loop cruise.  And, not at all in the Bahamas.

Sanctuary is fit with a single battery bank that powers all house loads and also starts our 4-cyl Cummins diesel engine.  A single battery bank vs. separate house and start banks is a personal preference choice.  We are very comfortable with our configuration, while others could be very uncomfortable.  Our genset has it’s own, separate start battery. We feel the most efficient way to charge Sanctuary’s battery bank is by utilizing the main engine when the boat is otherwise under way for the day’s travel.

In the summer months, we consume about 100 aHr of DC power during the overnight period for refrigeration, space and nav lighting, computer and TV/DVR use.  We consume between 150 to 200 aHr of DC power overnight in months with longer hours-of-darkness.  We are not especially conservative about our DC electric power consumption, and can use less if conditions warrant.  We have 6 x 230 aHr, 6V flooded wet cells that make up a 690 aHr, 12V house bank. We methodically adhere to the “50% discharge rule” for lead acid (flooded, Gel, AGM, Odyssey AGM) batteries.  We power our AC electric loads with a Magnum MS2012 2KW inverter/charger. We also use a Magnum battery monitor to keep track of our battery bank’s state-of-charge (SOC).  I consider the battery monitor to be an absolutely essential piece of safety equipment.  (Does that sound like a personal preference?)

We think crock pots are great for cooking, especially in cooler weather!  With the inverter, we can run a crock pot all day at a net zero consumption of DC aHr capacity, and upon arrival, we’ll have a hot stew for dinner.  Likewise, low wattage electric blankets, electric mattress pads, and electric throws are great for fall and spring cool mornings and nights.  Because of Peukert’s Law and the impact of inverter efficiency (inefficiency), high battery discharge loads like microwaves, electric cook-top elements, hair dryers and ceramic space heaters drop the 20-hour capacity of a battery bank by as much as 20~25%. High discharge rates also accelerate natural battery deterioration, contributing to sulfation and plate surface etching/erosion.   It’s a good practice to avoid even transient high discharge loads; or at least, allow them for the shortest possible duration.  Run the genset if you need significant AC power for cooking and/or space heating.  It’s much easier on the batteries.

I do not recommend the use of portable generators on, near, or for the purpose of, powering AC electrical equipment on boats.  Gensets used on boats should be UL-Marine certified, and “built in” to the electrical system.  Gensets must be designed and installed to fully comply with all ABYC electrical safety recommendations.  Portable, gasoline powered generators are generally not designed to be compatible with residential or vessel electrical systems, and often do not meet even the basic electrical safety and compatibility codes.   When portable generators are placed ashore and long extension cords are run to the boat, life-threatening electrical hazards are potentially created.  Differences in the internal design of portable generators make a big difference in safe use in any application, but can be very difficult for lay buyers and users to assess and accommodate.  Carrying and handling gasoline to fuel portable gensets is hazardous.  The exhaust of engines powered with gasoline has much higher concentrations of Carbon Monoxide (CO) than diesel exhaust.  I recommend against the use of portable generators on boats.

Sanctuary is fit with a 20# LP gas cylinder (propane) for our stove and oven.  We have a Xintex (FireBoy) propane gas detector installed.  We get a full year from a single 20# cylinder.  When convenient, it’s better to re-fill a propane tank than buy an exchange tank, because the exchange tanks are only filled to 17#, not the full 20#.

As mentioned above, one final personal preference thought that will affect your planning and travel is whether or not you have pets aboard.  Cats are easier, but if you travel with a dog, particularly a larger dog, you’ll probably use marinas more frequently than we did, simply as a matter of convenience for toileting the dog.  There are a couple of places along the loop route where its inevitable that the dog will need to be transported ashore in your dinghy, but mostly, that can be avoided.  Vets are available in all communities along the loop.  Some animals do get sea sick, just as some people do.  Plan for pet meds just as you would for people meds.  Check with Canadian and Bahamian authorities for pet health clearance requirements.

Ship’s Radio License, Ristricted Radiotelephhone Operator’s Permit

It is key to understand that the requirement for a Ship’s Radio License and a Restricted Radiotelephone Operator’s Permit is imposed on US registry vessels by the US government (via the FCC via International Telecommunications Union treaty).  It is not a requirement of any particular foreign jurisdiction.  If you travel to Canada, Mexico or the Bahamas, you are “supposed” to have a ship’s radio license and a restricted radiotelephone operator’s permit.  That’s US “law.”  There is no compliance grace period that I’m aware of, because this is US law, not the law of the foreign government.  No foreign jurisdiction can waive a provision of US law.

Many people ignore these requirements, of course; as often as drivers speed on the Interstate. Rarely will not having a radio license cause you any grief.  No foreign jurisdiction wants to see it as part of your entry process.  If, however, you are fortunate enough to become entangled in any sort of legal distress in a foreign jurisdiction, even as a victim, that could become tricky.  By not having the licenses/permits, you’ve provided prima facie evidence that shows you’re a scofflaw.  Then, not having required licenses/permits can add to other factors and cause life to be very dicey.  Especially if that government wants to “make an example” of you “rich, selfish, ugly” Americans.

Here’s an excerpt from the FCC Rules, Part 80, on Ship’s Radio Service:

 “WHO NEEDS A RESTRICTED RADIOTELEPHONE OPERATOR PERMIT? At least one person holding a Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit is required aboard stations in the maritime and aviation services when: 1) Making international flights, voyages, or communications; 2) using frequencies under 30 MHz; 3) using a satellite ship earth station, or 4) operating a vessel subject to the Bridge to Bridge Act (including domestic operation).”

In all cases, recreational boats are covered by item 1, and in some cases, recreational boats are covered by item 4.

If you have a ham equipment, you must have a ham license to use it (except in an emergency).  If you have a marine SSB, the device is covered by your ship’s radio license, but you will also need a RROP to use it – even domestically – under 30Mhz (which is most, if not all, of what you will be doing).  You may not operate a ham SSB unit on marine frequencies, because ham units (“type approved” devices for use on ham frequencies) are not “type approved” for marine use.  (Another US “law” by rule-making of the FCC, that is  widely ignored within the ham community, but a technicality, none the less.)

When we got our licenses/permits in 2007, the ship’s radio license was $205 and the restricted radiotelephone operator’s permit was $55.  The documents are good for 10 years.  Cheap insurance, folks.  Why would anyone want to take the risk that this could ever become an issue with any government in the Caribbean or the Caribbean rim countries?