Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Boat owners abandoning ship?

There is an old saying about when America sneezes the UK catches a cold.

It seems that the financial crisis is biting into the coastal boating community in the USA. In an article in The New York Times, Brett Flashnick writes "They often sandpaper over the names and file off the registry numbers, doing their best to render the boats, and themselves, untraceable. Then they casually ditch the vessels in the middle of busy harbours, beach them at low tide on the banks of creeks or occasionally scuttle them outright. The bad economy is creating a flotilla of forsaken boats."

Some of those disposing of their boats are in the same bind as overstretched homeowners. They face steep payments on an asset that is diminishing in value and then decide not to continue. They either default on the debt or take bolder measures. The boats are expensive-to-maintain toys that have lost their appeal. The owners cannot sell them, because the secondhand market is overwhelmed. They cannot afford to spend hundreds of dollars a month mooring and maintaining them. And they do not have the thousands of dollars required to properly dispose of them. Maj. Paul R. Ouellette of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said. “Our waters have become dumping grounds, it’s got to the point where something has to be done.”

Todd Schwede, an insurance investigator said "In many cases, the boater is following this logic. I am over insured on this boat. If I make it go away so no one will find it, the insurance company will give me enough to cover the debt and I’ll make something on the deal as well.” When Brian A. Lewis of Seattle tried to sell his boat, Jubilee, no one would pay his asking price of $28,500. Mr. Lewis told the police that maintaining the boat caused “extreme anxiety,” which led him to him drill a two-inch hole in Jubilee’s hull last March. The boat sank and Mr. Lewis told his insurance company it was an accident. His scheme came undone when the state, seeking to prevent environmental damage, raised Jubilee. Mr. Lewis pleaded guilty last week to insurance fraud.

Could it happen over here?

The numbers of new builds is quite low. Many builders have ceased trading and this seems to have carried over to the businesses specialising in fit-outs. Boat prices on brokerage are also showing some of the signs. There are many boats listed on eBay and on brokerage as "reduced for quick sale". None more so than wide beams which seem to have taken the biggest hit on value. One boat we know of belonging to a hard pressed owner was sold for £45,000 below the price they purchased at, less than two years ago. If you're looking to buy a boat, then now could be a good time to purchase as people start to draw in their purse strings.

Will we see abandoned boats on the UK canals?

In a way this has always been one of the more esoteric issues. It seems to be almost a tradition that the old wooden boats were sometimes abandoned and left to rot away. Some people see this as being a natural return to nature and even adding to the picturesque quality of the canals and rivers. We have all seen the remains of old boats dotted round in various places. However, the odd abandoned plastic boat don't seem to carry the same sort of cachet that the old wooden ones do.

A Boater with balls. Or how to get a boat with an 80 ft mast through the 65 ft bridge hole using two tons of water.


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