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Owner Background Search

Why you should consider a boat owner background check.


An owner background check is one of the more crucial and yet often ignored elements of any boat sales transaction. Failure to grasp the consequence of what happens in the event of hidden liens, title deficiencies, non-disclosures, and fraudulent actions can prove costly. This is because boat title insurance is not currently an option within the marine industry. Any recourse must accordingly fall within the scope of those warranties and guarantees made on behalf of the owner. These are, of course, meaningless if such party can not be found, is unwilling to cooperate, or lacks the wherewithal to make good on any subsequent claims.

Owner Identification - A background check necessarily begins with a boat title search to determine the most recent owner of record. If the information does not coincide with whom you are dealing, then things become a bit more complicated. Although this could indicate something nefarious, it is more likely that you have encountered an interim or non-recorded owner. Such parties may include subsequent purchasers, boat dealers, insurance companies, claimants, heirs, and possessory lien-holders. Caution is advised in these situations as their legitimate rights of title have yet to be proven or perfected with respect to matters of recordability.

Owner Agents - In transactions involving an owner's representative or agent, there may be cause for some additional investigation. You will need to confirm the agent's authority and verify any respective credentials. Owner agents may include boat brokers, auctioneers, foreclosing lenders, trustees, corporate representatives, and attorneys in fact. As a note of concern, there are times when an agent may be unaware of the title's disposition and other factors affecting it's marketability. Also keep in mind that an agent while acting in good faith is not typically responsible for a principal's transgressions.

Owner Disclosures - There is no requirement in the marine industry for a written disclosure such as you would find in real-estate transactions. However, a responsible owner should be open and forthcoming about not only the boat's condition, but the veracity of its title. This includes specific details about how the boat was last registered and titled, whereabouts those respective certificates, and the existence of any outstanding liens, mortgages, or claims. The owner should also divulge any known historical information such as how the boat was acquired, its prior owners, areas where operated, and types of usage. Any hesitancy in this regard should be viewed with a great deal of trepidation.

Title Warranties - Boat purchase agreements and transfer documents will usually contain language which assures or warrants the marketability of a free and clear title. These should reflect not only full legal names and current physical addresses, but any pseudo or nicknames as stated on the respective title and registration certificates. Such items are best prepared or reviewed by an attorney to ensure their enforceability in a court of law. Again, this is a matter of high priority given the absence of title insurance.

Risk Factors - The risk involved in not exercising due diligence when it comes to "knowing the owner" can be enormous. Your investment could be in serious jeopardy should you end up with a boat that was stolen, used for running contraband, or other illegal activities. These, along with fraudulent ownership representations and intentional non-disclosures, can make it extremely difficult when it comes to recovery. Recourse against a party that has engaged in criminal activity may prove less than attainable.

Owner Evaluation - The amount of time and effort in securing all possible safeguards may depend on your level of confidence in the owner. If you are familiar with such party and satisfied with their reputation, then perhaps some issues may be taken for granted. In the end, however, it comes down to a matter of personal judgment and the amount of money you are willing to wager.

Professional Services - Given the complex nature of maritime transactions, it may well be worth an investment in professional assistance to make sure all of these aspects are fully addressed. Retaining the counsel of a qualified attorney is probably your best bet, especially if there are large dollar amounts involved. The assistance of a boat titling or vessel documentation agent can also prove invaluable when it comes to both research and recording issues. The pitfalls are substantial and should taken seriously. Once an owner has pocketed your funds, it may be too late to rectify any uninformed choices.

Thank you for visiting these guidelines and we hope the information was helpful. Our publication is maintained as an open wiki forum where readers are encouraged to participate. Please share any thoughts you may have about this particular subject.

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