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The Smart Buyer: Hiring a Captain to Move Your Boat

There may come a time when you must hire someone to move your boat. There is no law that requires you to use a Coast Guard-licensed captain to do this, although your insurance company may.

Ken Appleton is president of the Chesapeake Area Captains Association (CAPCA) and a retired Coast Guard captain who spent 26 years on active duty.

Asking a friend to deliver your boat could put the friendship at risk if there is an accident that results in serious damage, so owners often hire a captain with the appropriate Coast Guard Merchant Mariner’s Credential.

Finding a professional captain is not particularly difficult. There are generally more people with an MMC than there are jobs. However, finding a captain who will fit your needs and with whom you are comfortable takes some time and effort. Owners of luxury yachts often have management firms that do this work for them. The following is offered for those of us who aren’t that fortunate.

For what types of situations do people hire captains?

Often people are just too busy to move their boats themselves, particularly if there is a hurricane in the forecast. In some cases they’ve bought a boat that’s a step up in size and aren’t comfortable operating it. People also hire captains to perform sea trials.

How do I find a Coast Guard-licensed captain?

Asking a friend for a referral is perhaps the surest way to find someone reliable. Failing that, you can search the Web. There are a number of sites that list captains and allow you to inquire as to their availability and request full resumes. The Chesapeake Area Professional Captains Association website allows you to list your requirements at no cost and have captains contact you. Note that none of these services will warrant, guarantee or otherwise vouch for the competence of any of the captains.

• Chesapeake Area Professional Captains Association ( Click the “Find a captain” button to place a free ad.

• BoatUS ( Fill in “find your pro captain” to review a list of captains.

• Call a Captain ( Click the “Find a captain or crew” tab and review a listing of captains.

• BoatCaptainsOnline ( Click on “Captains for hire” and review a listing of captains.

How can I determine if the captain is qualified for my needs?

Obtaining a Merchant Mariner’s Credential only requires passing a written test and attesting to a certain number of days on the water, dependent upon the level of the credentials. It could be as little as 360 sea days since the age of 14, with 90 of those sea days being spent on the water over the last three years.

You may want to ask how many days on the water does he or she have, aboard what kind of boats, where and doing what for whom. You will generally see captains with 50- or 100-ton limits delivering boats and yachts.

Check if the MMC is rated Inland, Near Coastal or Oceans. This is important, depending on where the boat is going. It also might make a difference if the captain is taking your boat to Maine but his primary operating area is in Florida.

What can I expect to pay for the services of a professional captain?

You will find major variations in cost estimates, but if someone quotes you $25 an hour, run away. Some captains charge a daily or an hourly rate, depending on the job. Some costs are included in that rate, and others you may have to cover separately. Be sure you understand the captain’s payment schedule and cancellation policy.

Drawing up contracts often involves the services of a lawyer. Is that the case with hiring a captain?

Yes. However, there are significant differences between civil and admiralty law, so the contract you and the captain agree to needs to be drawn up by an attorney with maritime credentials. No two contracts are exactly alike. For your sake and the captain’s, don’t sign something that looks as if it’s boilerplate.

Who pays for expenses incurred during a delivery?

The owner should supply the captain a credit or debit card with a limited power of attorney for “necessaries.” The owner also should have the captain sign for a suitable amount of cash to be accounted for at the end of the trip. There are two reasons for this. First, if there is a mortgage on your boat the bank will not allow you to “pledge credit on the vessel.” As a practical matter, this means they will not allow you to owe the captain anything other than wages. The second reason is that mechanical failures happen at the most inconvenient times and places. Salvage laws are written to protect those giving assistance. Some boatyards in out-of-the-way areas only accept cash, and it’s not unheard of for a yard to chain a boat to the dock until payment is received.

July 2013 issue