How to Buy a Boat Online: Safety Tips

23rd March 2017

A step by step guide to avoiding common scams and staying safe

It’s probably one of the most recurring questions that gets asked when using FAFB to buy a boat or to sell a boat; how to stay secure online when buying or selling a high-ticket item like a boat. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that our advertisers follow best practice, we cannot offer any guarantees over the authenticity of the adverts on our site nor of those who respond to them.

So we thought we’d provide some specific tips on how to avoid some common scams, keep your personal information secure and stay safe when using online boat advertising.

Maintain perspective but exercise caution

Whilst the internet age has brought a huge number of benefits to 21st century living it has also opened up a whole new method of exploitation by criminals intent on scamming individuals or companies for their own personal gain. It’s worth pointing out that this kind of activity is not prevalent nor unique to online advertising and the same caution is recommended for traditional advertising as for the internet. What is different is some of the methods used by these unscrupulous people online.

The facts are that the vast majority of buyers and sellers online are genuine but, without getting alarmist, there are individuals who may try to exploit the system. Our advice is to treat every enquiry with the same level of caution.

Basic Safety

Bank Details It is relatively safe to provide your sort code and account number to enable a purchaser to make a bank transfer to pay for a boat and is a common way to pay for high-ticket items. However, you should never provide any further information such as your date of birth, PIN codes, online banking passwords or other personal information.

Phishing Not to be confused with, but similar to, fishing, the act of sending an email with links that purport to be for an Escrow or bank service but that actually capture your personal information is known as ‘Phishing’.

If you are buying a boat, then make a transfer of payment via a method that you initiate. Do not click links in an email, either sent by a dealer or an individual. No authentic seller should send you an email asking for any financial information in this way.

Get some proof of ownership and identity Unlike buying a second-hand car, meeting an owner at the registered home address of the car, boats moored or in dry dock are harder to prove ownership of. When meeting a seller at a harbour, dock or port then ask them to bring along as much paperwork as they have including any previous sale dockets but also proof of their identity including address.

Trust your instincts This is perhaps the hardest advice to give because it’s not something you can readily define but the easiest advice to follow. Always meet your buyer or seller in person and get a feel for whether they are genuinely interested in the boat, know what they should know and act authentically. If your ‘spidey senses’ start tingling, then it’s always best to follow your gut feel. If you are in any doubt about a person’s identity, then there are additional ways you can check including a quick search online. The internet is a useful place with forum users sharing experience of certain individuals to alert others. Lastly, if you aren’t sure about the authenticity of a potential deal then pull out.

Just remember that fraudsters won't be apparent from the way they look but more often than not give themselves away by how they act. Trust your instincts.

Alarm Bells

Though it might seem like you’ve hit the jackpot, anyone who offers to purchase your boat without first seeing it should be viewed with caution. Likewise, if you are offered more than your asking price or what you know the boat to be worth, then you should be suspicious.

Buyers (or sellers) that use a middle man should be treated with caution. Whilst there are genuine individuals who use the services of an agent for trading services (most notably are international buyers), it is unusual yet a common way that scams can be orchestrated. There have been plausible tales of agents ‘working’ on behalf of interested third parties based outside of Europe. The scam goes that the agent has been paid to find and deliver a suitable boat to his client. A little glamour is usually spun into the story and individuals find themselves inveigled into more complex payment methods for their boat; usually a form of Escrow.

Remember the basics, don’t let the boat leave your possession until you have received and can validate full payment into your bank account.

Escrow is a common way to pay for items with a high vale and involves a third party holding a sum of money until a transaction has been completed. If your buyer insists on using one, then use a service that you have researched diligently and not because your buyer has recommended it.

Checking a boats history

You can check the Stolen Boats website to find out if a boat you are interested in has ever been reported as stolen by the police or a UK marine insurance company. The information held in their database can be accessed for free and provides a search tool to find a boat based on any keyword such as ‘longliner’, ‘pilothouse’ or HIN/serial number. Details of a theft will include a link to providing further information on the crime.

Do your homework Before viewing a boat you can do some checks in advance on the license and registration information using the data available through the MMO. Checking license number against vessel name, home port and vessel information (length, tonnage, engine power, year of build etc.) can all help to avoid any attempted fraud.

Scams and fraud

Though relatively rare, frauds and scams usually come in waves and can become quite widespread before being shut down by the authorities. A common scam which can be found frequently on classified sites is that of the 'Wanted' ad or those ads where personal contact details are made public.

Unusually for an online classifieds directory, all of the boat adverts on FAFB are manually checked with safety checks in place for email communication sent through the site. Though we cannot offer a 100% guarantee of the authenticity of any submission and communication we do log all IP addresses and messages to help combat fraud.

If you have been the victim of fraud or attempted fraud including online then you should report it in the first instance to Action Fraud, the National Fraud and Cyber Crime Reporting Centre. If your interaction was as a result of any adverts or response to an advert through Find a Fishing Boat then we would ask that you contact us directly so we can investigate internally.

Bill of Sale

Lastly, when you commit to buying a boat, make sure that you complete the legal transfer of ownership using a Bill of Sale. Issued by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the transfer of ownership is not complete until it has been recorded with the Registry of Shipping and Seamen and a new certificate issued.

FAFB: Buying Guides

Over the coming weeks, we will be producing a series of guides to help buyers and sellers with what to look for when buying a second-hand boat as well as how to prepare your boat for sale. We hope that these will help our advertisers and customers to get the best experience in selling and buying a second-hand boat.

As ever, the advice provided in these guides is informal and offered in good faith. Information should not be regarded as professional or legal advice. will not be liable for the consequences of following this advice. Best practice would be to employ the services of a surveyor and/or a solicitor when purchasing a large-value item such as a boat.

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