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What you should know about boat history reports.

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Boat history reports may reveal certain elements of a boat's background which could adversely affect its title status or market value. These include details as to whether the boat was stolen, salvaged, seized, damaged, repossessed, recalled, or involved in any incidents that may have resulted in liability. Boat history reports are indeed a valuable resource for potential buyers and marine lenders. However, there are some limitations you should know before relying too heavily on this kind of information. This overview explores the various aspects of a boat history report, how its data elements are gathered, and the manner in which search results are typically portrayed. You will also learn about going beyond the report in order to protect your investment when considering the purchase of a pre-owned boat.

Background Checks

A pre-owned boat can offer up many surprises, some of which may not become realized until long after the closing of a sale. This applies not only to title and lien issues, but the boat's structural and mechanical condition as well. Even the seller may be unaware of certain incidents which could have occurred prior to becoming the current owner. This highlights the need for a background check to see if any pre-existing conditions may exist which could impact the boat's value and your equity position.

Boat History Report

Boat history reports are an organized way of presenting the results of various background checks on a particular boat. Their structure is typically categorized according to the type of research including hull number checks, stolen boat checks, boating accident checks, auctioned boat checks, environmental damage checks, and factory recall checks. These are primary areas of concern with regard to any pre-existing issues which may affect the boat's condition or its title and lien status.

Hull Number Checks

A comprehensive boat history report should include a hull identification number analysis. This shows a breakdown of the various hull number elements along with an explanation of their meaning. The detection of an inconsistent or fraudulent hull identification number will go a long way in helping to determine whether the boat was stolen or improperly branded. Some reports will also include a cross-check of the hull number against various databases to see if there is a corresponding official Coast Guard Documentation number or state registration number.

Stolen Boat Checks

Purchasing a stolen boat is the surest way to lose an investment and the buyer may even become a suspect in the case. In addition to a hull number check, boat history reports will usually include a background search to see if the boat was ever involved in a theft. This type of information is gathered from those enforcement agencies which are willing to share such data with the general public. Unfortunately, stolen boat reports are not provided by all jurisdictions so this kind of background check may be inconclusive.

Boating Accident Checks

Boating accidents can not only cause damages to the boat, but may incur liabilities which could persist through subsequent owners. Boat history reports will typically include this kind of information as part of a background check. Such data is obtained from the U.S. Coast Guard which gathers accident reports from all of the states. Local operators are required by law in these jurisdictions to declare incidents involving injuries, casualties, and substantial damages. Boating accident reports are not however completely reliable because data entry errors, omissions, and inconsistencies are not uncommon in some governmental systems.

Auctioned Boat Checks

Boats that have been destroyed, severely damaged, or submerged are typically sold at a public auction. The same applies to those which have been seized by the government or foreclosed upon by a lien-holder. A boat history report will include whatever data that can be gathered from various auctioneers. However, not all of them will divulge boat identification or registration numbers which are necessary for background checks. In addition, there is no nationwide system for title branding when it comes to salvaged boats.

Environmental Damage Checks

Liens for fines and restitution can arise against any boat that has caused damage to the environment. This includes oil discharges, waste discharges, and damages to natural habitats. Under maritime law, such claims can become a burden for subsequent buyers if not properly settled by the offending owner. The U.S Coast Guard maintains a database of these events which is available to the general public and a search of its records is typically included a boat history report. Such data may not however be fully conclusive as errors and omissions can occur in the reporting process.

Factory Recall Checks

Factory recalls could affect the condition and value of a boat, especially if they have not been properly addressed. It is therefore worthwhile to conduct a background check to see if any such actions have existed. The U.S. Coast Guard maintains a database of factory recalls which is available to the general public. This information may apply to a specific boat or to all boats of a particular model. As with any data system however, there may be errors and omissions in the reporting process.

Boat History Limitations

Boat history reports are an effective tool for checking into the background of any boat. They could reveal critical information which may help protect a buyer or lender from making a bad investment. However, there are limitations as to the accuracy and extent of such research. There are no conclusive resources which can be fully relied upon to address all of the scenarios described in this overview. Unlike automobiles, there is no established system of title branding for boats and virtually any data gathering process is subject to errors and omissions.

Boat History Vendors

Boat history searches can be procured online from certain internet vendors. Although much of the data is derived from similar resources, there are considerable differences in the way it is portrayed. Some vendors will lead you to believe that their research is all-inclusive and will offer complete protection. You should be wary of any such claims because in today's marketplace it is simply not possible to fully determine whether any boat has a "clean background" or "clear title". Such statements can be very misleading and should not be taken literally.


Boat history reports are an inexpensive way of implementing a measure of due diligence with regard to purchasing or financing a boat. However, they should never preclude the need for additional research, inspections, and other means of protecting your interests. There are many issues surrounding boat registration, titling, or maritime liens and these can become very complicated. You should consult with a boat titling professional and a qualified attorney if you any concerns whatsoever about your particular transaction.

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2/16/2022 - Page initiated by Team BoatWiki.



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