This article is based on a true story which occurred at John Crawford Marine (JCM). I thought it would be a good idea to share with you the highs, lows, expectations and disappointment that an owner who purchased a boat privately in Sydney experienced when trying to sell his boat at JCM.
As you may be well aware JCM has been buying and selling used boats since 1964 and with over 55 years of trading and staff that have been here a long time, experience always allows us to help our customers avoid a “problem” boat. Over this time, many boat “safety” campaigns have been initiated by Government or Boating Industry Associations (BIA) to come into effect to help reduce the chances of a purchaser either buying a stolen or an encumbered boat. Today’s article will reflect a true ‘system’ failure for a very unlucky boat owner, who followed the recognized procedure for buying a boat privately. For those who are unaware an encumbrance is placed on a boat, motor or trailer when it is financed by a second or third party i.e. GE Money, Esanda Finance. Meaning the finance company has a financial interest in the boat.
When a financial institution takes title of a boat, motor or trailer it lodges this interest onto the Personal Property Securities Register (PPSR) system. The PPSR is endorsed under the Australian Government and it holds the VIN (vehicle identification number), HIN (hull identification number), serial number of the outboard and the registration numbers if lodged whereby finance and ownership can lodged.
As a Licensed Dealer, JCM complies with certain procedures and documents of all transactions regarding the movement of second hand property. A core part of our business is consigning and buying late model trailer boats to on sell. Consignment offers a seller of a boat a means of using our well located boat yard and utilizing our experience and reputation in selling their boat quickly. Avoiding the hassle and security risks associated with a private sale.
My story begins…. I receive a call from “Mr Owner” asking if JCM would help him sell his 18’ bowrider. I ask the usual questions regarding age, service history, condition. “Mr Owner” informs me that he and his son purchased it second hand, from a private sale in Sydney and that the boat presents in excellent condition and is only a few years old. With this information and a few more minutes on the phone, I inform “Mr Owner” that it is the right time of the year to sell a bowrider such as his. Later in the week the fiberglass bowrider arrives, it is in very good condition and appears visually to be very well maintained. “Mr Owner” and JCM agree on pricing and a marketing approach.
The industry body, Marine Queensland ( now part of the Boating Industry of Australia) has developed and printed an industry standard Consignment Form. This document conforms to the Secondhand Dealer License. It also acknowledges as a receipt of the goods at JCM, in that it requires the owners full details including address, contact details, the rig, accessories and a signature.
There is also an area which requires the consigner to acknowledge whether there is any encumbrance on the rig. Digressing for just a moment, most trailerable boats comprise of three components – Boat, Motor and Trailer. As advertising in most boating magazines and journals shows, you can finance a single item e.g. Yamaha Finance can finance a new Yamaha motor for your older hull. In days gone by you could only do a "REVS" state by state search on a vehicle (in the system a boat trailer is recognized as a vehicle). Now the updated PPSR National system allows the dealer to complete a search on all 3 components. Which helps reduce the chance of getting a knock on the door at 8.00pm at night from the recovery agency looking for a motor which is on the back your pride and joy!
The consignment form has a section requiring a Yes or No to the question regarding encumbrance, “Mr Owner” writes No. “Mr. Owner” shows me his PPSR search documents that he and his son completed when they purchased it. The documents said the boat wasn’t stolen or encumbered. “Mr Owner” did exactly what the “system” says to do when buying privately to ensure you are not buying an encumbered or stolen rig. “Mr. Owner” also told me he has called NSW water police with the HIN/VIN and engine number to ensure the rig hadn’t been registered, stolen prior to handing “Mr Thief” (the original seller) $33,000 of his hard earned money. Mr Thief receipted the sale transaction with the sale price and newly allocated serial numbers.
From here “Mr Owner” signs the consignment form and leaves the boat with us. I then go out to the boat with the consignment form to fill in the required HIN, VIN and serial number of the motor. Upon my initial inspection of the HIN number I notice that it is a NSW Waterways code number. This number is not the manufacturers HIN number, I know from experience. This is the first of the “this is weird” thoughts that went through my mind.
This hull, approximately a 2000 model built in Queensland by a well respected boat manufacturer, should have had a Manufacturers Plate on the hull. This metal plate has information pertaining to the hulls maximum engine Horse power rating, HIN number, number of persons recommended in smooth water etc. This plate was missing and covered by the NSW waterways code plate.
Time to find the serial number of the Yamaha motor. Yamaha motors serial numbers are very easy to find. The serial number is on the side of the transom mount frame of the outboard. Later model motors have a sticker approx 4cm by 2cm. You may be thinking that a sticker can easily come off – quite the contrary! Upon inspection this was also not to be seen. Sometimes for whatever reason we have found motors not the have a serial number in the obvious place. However, there is a small aluminum disc approx 2 cm in diameter found on the engine block called a Welsh Plug. It was evident that it had been removed by a flat blade screwdriver. Again, it’s easy as an experienced boatie to know about where and how to find such a thing. But to a first time boatie, it would be something you just would not know about.
I then went to the tandem trailer to look for the VIN number and the suspicion of the worst deepens. The trailer is a Dunbier Tandem Trailer. I know this by experience and also their trade mark – rolled mud guards, rolled A frame, wheel and tyre choice, square tube drawbar. The trailer VIN place indicates that it is “Homemade” and the VIN number does not reflect the VIN number that Dunbier uses on their trailers. Again, to a person not experienced in these areas, it is only a number that correlates to the trailer.
“Mr Owner” had completed the PPSR search as per the “new” numbers on the HIN plate and VIN plate. Surprise, surprise, the boat is unencumbered. Of course it is, the thief has stolen the rig, taken off the serial number of the hull, motor and trailer - presented the trailer, hull and motor to the NSW Transport Authority with dodgy numbers. The person who sits behind the transport department desk wouldn’t know this difference between a Haines Hunter serial number and a HIN of the P & O Fairstar! As long as the number is 14 digits long. Same for the motor, as long as Mr Thief hands over a series of letters and numbers the desk jockey can satisfy the data entry screen and move onto the next person in the queue!
“Mr Owner” comes to Queensland with his NSW registered hull and trailer. Goes to Queensland Department of Transport, to register the rig in Queensland. Our Queensland Transport desk jockey, again, punched in the data handed over the counter – satisfies our system’s data screen by feeding the correct amount of numbers and letters. “Mr Owner” is now as happy as a rat with a gold tooth! His new toy is paid for, unencumbered, registered in Queensland and ready for Moreton Island – sand, ski, picnics etc! Nothing like buying your first boat! Remember?
Now I was faced with a major decision – either call “Mr Owner” and say come and collect your rig as I don’t want to get involved with it, suspecting it had been stolen – then what if - “Mr Owner” sold it privately to a family who could ill afford to lose $30,000 or close to? Or do I go ahead and notify the authorities and put an end to the question – is it stolen? I decided to call the Brisbane Water Police and discuss the issue with them. The response was that they were really not interested especially that the PPSR search had been clear and they are under resourced and funded to investigate such small issues.
I wasn’t happy with the response from the Brisbane Water police and then contacted the NSW Water Police. Upon explaining my findings, the alarm bells were ringing! I was told that this boat is not to go anywhere. Later that day, Brisbane Water Police had a whole new sense of urgency when arriving at JCM to impound the vessel. The police notified “Mr Owner” that the vessel is impounded due to my findings. “Mr Owner” was initially distraught and very angry; understandably, his $33,000 dollar investment was being impounded by the Police, suspected stolen property.
Another disappointing twist to this story is this boat was on consignment in another Brisbane boat yard for 3 months prior to coming to JCM. It amazes me that this company did not pick up on the missing serial number on the engine, fact that the trailer has “homemade” as the manufacturer and the hull didn’t have a genuine HIN number!
The following week “Mr Owner” notified me by phone and we discussed all that had happened and he asked me “How could he have prevented this from happening?” I still to this day don’t know how to answer this. There are many ideas that my staff and I have thought of but do the authorities really care or be bothered to really tackle this loop hole in the system. “Mr Owner” has now lost the boat and all of his money. It is a situation that I hope no one has to go through – however – until the bureaucrats start to look at this issue more seriously, I’m sure I won’t be the last person to tell you this tale of woe…….
Careful purchasing, safe and enjoyable boating!