If you have ever had something stolen, it can really stink- especially if the item or items that were taken cost you a great deal of money. What if that item happened to be your $30,000 boat? Believe it or not, boats get stolen every day- more than you think. In states where boating is really popular, such as Florida, there are approximately 5,000 boats that are reported stolen each year. However, there are close to one million registered boats in that state alone, which mean that people aren't even reporting their boats as being stolen!
There are plenty of crafty people out there. What I mean by this, is that there are people out there who purchase boats, knowing that they cannot afford the insurance for it. The person will usually end up keeping the boat until they get caught with no insurance or something else catches up to them. More often than not, boat owners who have insurance but who find themselves in some sort of financial trouble will often sell their boat for whatever price they can get for it. They will then turn right around and report the boat as being stolen so that they can collect the insurance money.
If you are thinking of purchasing a boat from a private seller, make sure you do your own research as a responsible boat owner. Most people who end up purchasing stolen boats don't even realize that they've done so. This is bad news for the person who is trying to buy the boat. You see, what happens is that the state's title agency will send representatives out to look for the stolen boat (which you have in your possession. It won't matter whether or not you had any prior knowledge of the boat being stolen. The boat will automatically be seized, and you will be out however much money you originally put down to purchase the boat. If anything, you may actually find yourself defending or trying to fend off criminal charges as a result of the scandal.
In the meantime, the real criminal in this case (the person who sold you the boat), gets off scott free! All boats come with Hull Identification Numbers (HIN). These numbers are similar to the Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN) that you see on a vehicle. However, the HIN is molded onto the plastic of the hull, which makes it extremely easy to alter. Most thieves can alter this number in less than an hour.
If you are purchasing a boat from a private owner, make sure you examine the HIN. These numbers can be altered by grinding out the old numbers and molding a new number in place with a new gel coat. There should be no ripples or waviness around the numbers. Also, be suspicious if the molding isn't smooth and/or the numbers aren't very clear. Also, be wary if the seller has only had the boat for less than a year, if there are any freshly painted areas of the boat, if the owner cannot provide records such as repair invoices. Make sure you contact the state titling agency to verify the hull and registration number against the seller's name and address.