A traditional chore
Over the centuries good ship owners have kept detailed records of each
of their vessels and its trading mainly to keep the taxman and the law
at bay. But keeping a ship’s papers, log, maintenance and refurbishment
records accurately and in order were also important factors should she
ever come onto the market and dangerous ‘rot-buckets’ could
frequently be detected by looking through the records (or noting the lack
of significant records) before any inspection of the actual vessel was
Before MP Samuel Plimsoll pushed through The merchant Shipping Act (1876)
overloaded and rotting merchant ships were frequently put to sea so that
the owners could claim insurance on the vessel and its alleged cargo when
it sank, usually with all hands. Such vessels were known to seafarers
as ‘coffin ships’.
With the advent of the private yacht the good practice, forced by the
law onto all merchant shipping owners in the late nineteenth century,
was reflected by a different set of owners and many records survive in
the archives long after the vessel itself has ceased to exist. Today,
with thousands of privately owned yachts and cruisers on the water, keeping
the records can be as important as it ever was.
Pressure from the insurance man
Insurance companies have become increasingly aware of the risks that they
cover in providing for privately owned, leisure craft. As a result ‘best
practice’ codes have developed in an attempt to define what is,
or is not, acceptable to most insurers. LPG systems, standing rigging,
skin fittings, safety equipment and indeed any area which could produce
calamitous results should failure occur are all under scrutiny and keeping
the right records is fast becoming an essential element. If the records
don’t exist a surveyor can only report that he ‘has been informed
that...’ from which the underwriters must draw their own conclusions!
Making a sale
A wise buyer (or more likely his/her surveyor) will spend some time reviewing
a boat’s documentation before making the final commitment or agreeing
the actual price. For example accepting that the standing rigging on a
twelve year old sailing cruiser was replaced two or three years ago without
having the bills to back it up could well mean that the proud new owner’s
first move, before a sail comes out of its sailbag, will be to replace
the rigging. It’s tough but its true!
That shiny, stainless wire may be only three years old but, without the
bills to prove it, many insurers won’t want to know. And the material
itself will not necessarily show any outward signs that it is coming to
the end of its useful life.
So if you’re on the other side, having the right paperwork gives
confidence to your potential buyer and his/her surveyor, to your yacht
broker, if you’re using one, and your own surveyor when the inevitable
insurance survey is called for. Popping receipts for everything into the
‘boat file’ along with all the other ship‘s documents
(Bill of sale, VAT certification, VHF licence and so on...) could save
you a lot of time, a lot of hassle and, in the long run, a bob or two!