Buying a US boat in Europe

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This section is targeted equally at buyers and sellers of imported boats.  As either, you will want evidence of CE marking and VAT payment in order to proceed with a sale.  These and proof of title.

A large number of US boats were imported from the 1990's onwards, particularly in recent years as the Dollar weakened against the Pound and Euro. 

In most cases (except perhaps with craft shipped in containers), VAT will have been paid through the receiving shipping agent before the imported boat was released from the delivery port.  A receipt will have been issued and hopefully this is being provided by the vendor.  Please note that in our experience (with HMRC in the UK), records of VAT payment are not easily checked or confirmed at a later date.  In fact it would be true to say that the authorities record keeping does not support such enquires.   In spite of this failing, many VAT authorities equate no documentation to no payment and demand repayment whether actually justified or not.  This is especially true if the imported boat is being sold to another country within the EU/EEA.

The enforcement of CE Marking has and continues to, vary considerably amongst the countries in the EEA.  The UK is often seen as the most lax, with Norway seen as the most strict (which incidentally, is why we do so much business with Norwegian clients).  As with VAT, many countries require CE compliance to be addressed prior to the imported boat being released from the delivery port; though not so in the UK (currently).

The impact of this is as follows.  In countries where enforcement is lax or not checked at dockside (e.g. UK), a surprisingly large number of craft will not have been CE marked, or will be presented with papers which are at best incomplete and at worst fraudulent.   This is a common occurance in the UK, so beware.   Even in other EU countries, CE marking documents may still be incomplete, particularly if the original assessments were done in the US where knowledge of the RCD can be poor.  From 1/1/06 CE marking required a new type of RCD assessment applied irrespective of craft type and size.  This new Post Construction Assesment (PCA) required the involvement of a Notified Body and for the first time covered engine emissions.

The issues for you are these:

  • If a seller (vendor):  It is illegal for you to sell a recreational craft originating from the US without it having a CE mark (plate) and supporting CE marking documentation.  It is your responsibility (as boat importer) and even if you manage to 'sell' the craft without, the buyer could come back to you later and make a claim against you.   Even if you 'believe' the craft to be compliant, or to have been CE marked, you and not the assessor, bear this responsibility (which is a good reason to use an assessor you can trust - ie us).  Ignorance of the RCD or the scope of Post Construction Assessment  is not a defence.
  • If a buyer: Beware.  Remember that even where a broker is used, their responsibility is limited, since they act as an agent in the sale, not the seller.  Even though operating as a business, the broker acts for the private seller, NOT the buyer.   When you buy you should have three things; proof of title, proof of VAT payment and proof of CE marking / RCD compliance.   Proof of CE marking means more than a CE plate and photocopied (perhaps falsified) Declaration of Conformity.  Precisely what depends on the type of imported boat and the date of assessment (but we of course can advise).  Remember that even if you buy without checking, you will probably be checked when you sell.

So how can we help:

  • Pre-Purchase CE Assessment:  A pre-purchase assessment for craft which have not been CE marked.  This looks at the key non-compliance issues and is designed to give the buyer confidence to proceed.  It's worth noting that a large number of older craft imported before 2006 will now have engines which would fail the emissions requirements of the current Post Construction Assessment (PCA).  Such engines would have to be replaced to comply.  Contact us directly for more information on this..
  • CE Marking Service:  The full Post Construction Assessment (PCA) for imported boats.  Please see our  CE Marking Project pages for more details.
  • Inspection and Survey:  If required, we can visit craft and/or arrange for an independent survey and testing of the craft and mechanical components.   Please call for more details.

For more information about all our CE related services take a look at our Boat CE Marking Service pages.

For background to the RCD please go to the RCD Explained page.

Written By: Rowland Smith

Rowland Smith is a Naval Architect and founder of Gablemarine.  His industry experience includes Lloyds Register, British Shipbuilders Hydrodynamics Ltd, Cammell Lairds, BP Shipping Ltd & Conoco.  He has a degree in Naval Architecture, a Diploma in Marketing (CIM) and an MBA (Cranfield School of Management).  He has also held Director level positions in a number of technology and engineering companies, including CEproof, which provides RCD compliance software to builders. 

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