Maritime Law Center

Our firm works with individuals, corporations, shipping companies and universities in selling and acquiring, transferring and evaluating vessels in all parts of the world.

    Mike Vaughn
    Vaughn Law Offices
    17011 Beach Blvd., Suite 900
    Huntington Beach, CA 92647
    Phone:  562-592-9350


Choosing the Right Boat
By Mike Vaughn

Like many people, I love old boats. Show me a classic old derelict sitting at the dock at the right price, and immediately I have visions of restoring it to its former glory and sailing off into the sunset.

Fortunately for me, when this happens, my wife immediately hits me between the eyes with a brick and brings me back to my senses.

Buying a boat, whether a commercial ship or pleasure vessel, out of love or infatuation is a recipe for disaster.

It is important to understand that a ship or boat is merely a platform for doing something. It is essential that you choose the right platform for the purpose intended. Consequently, ships are generally described by the work that they perform.

A passenger ship carries passengers, a cargo ship carries cargo. The difficulty arises when you get away from these general categories and start realizing that there are a multitude of purposes for ships.

Ships are generally designed for a specific reason. Cargo ships are designed to carry specific cargo. Container ships carry containers which are either FEU's or TEU's. These are "Forty Foot Equivalent Units (Containers) or Twenty Foot Equivalent Units (Containers).

The following is a brief description of some of the types of cargo ships:

Cargo ships are usually described as "geared" meaning that they are capable of unloading and loading their own cargo or "ungeared".

Bulk Carriers carry bulk cargo such as cement, scrap metal, grain, flour, rice, or any cargo that travels in bulk. For particular types of cargo the bulk carrier must have specialized equipment to off load the bulk cargo or depend upon shore-based loading facilities.

Container Ships carry cargo that has been placed into either twenty foot long or forty foot long containers prior to arriving at the ship. The ship may have cranes on board to load and unload the cargo. Some container ships have no deck, but place containers directly into the hull.

Ro/Ro Ships are ships that have specially designed ramps to allow cargo to be driven on board. A car carrier is a good example, but roll on / roll off also relates to trucks, ferry type ships and other ships providing landing ramps for the cargo.

Tankers are ships that carry any type of liquid cargo from molasses to petroleum products. Tanks are specially designed to allow the cargo to be pumped off through an onboard pumping system. The most common are the oil tankers which are the largest ships in the world and are the life blood of modern industrial society. The ships now are in excess of 400,000 tons and more than 1,000 feet in length.

Passenger ships are vessels that carry passengers either on an overnight cruise or day only cruise. Passenger ships range from small sightseeing vessels to the new luxurious 80,000 ton passenger ships that cruise the most charming parts of the world and allow you never to get wet or miss a meal. Passenger ships must meet certain International Safety Rules known as SOLAS to be allowed, under most flags, to carry passengers. Small passenger ships are not required to meet the more demanding regulations. In the United States, passengers vessels are regulated by the U.S. Coast Guard and must carry a Certificate of Inspection.

Tug Boats are ships that assist larger ships and barges in their operations. Tug Boats may themselves be more than 250 feet in length and have more than 25,000 horsepower. Tug Boats also move barges, assist ships in docking, assist in marine construction and provide a variety of services to the marine industry. Tug Boats are generally described by their horsepower or bollard pull. Bollard pull represents the pulling capacity of the vessel. Modern tugs have a variety of propulsion systems which allow them to operate at full capacity in almost any direction. The costs of a state-of-the-art modern tug boat with substantial horsepower, may exceed $30,000,000 USD.

Offshore Supply Boats or Oil Field Supply Boats are boats designed to work in the offshore oil market. They provide equipment, crew, transport fuel and drilling mud, and a multitude of services required in operating an oil rig. Modern OSV ships are up to 250 feet in length, have dynamically position thrusters, and are indispensable to the oil industry until the price of oil drops below a certain level. An OSV is most aptly described as the "flat bed truck" of the sea.

Fishing Boats range from 15' to 400'. Fishing boats are truly platforms that can be configured to carry the gear necessary for different types of fishing. Consistently, they will have one or more fish holds to carry the catch and some type of freezing or chilling system to keep the cargo from spoiling on the return voyage. The cost of the equipment such as nets, reels, winches and lines may exceed the cost of the vessel. It is very important that a buyer understand the type of equipment in use when he inspects a fishing vessel. Some fishing vessels catch fish, some vessels only freeze or preserve the catch and some catch, preserve and process the catch before returning to port.

Research Ships are ships designed to examine different aspects of the ocean and return with substantial data concerning ocean bottoms, fishing resources, water temperatures or potential salvage sites. Research ships vary as to the type of work that they will do. Most research ships provide a platform for laboratories and large work decks to carry different types of research and scientific equipment. Research ships are operated by the governments of various companies, universities and private corporations.

Hotel Ships are generally cruise ships that have outlived their useful lives. They are not mobile, which means that they are permanently moored and only the living facilities of the ship are used. The cost of operating a hotel ship are generally consistent with operating a land-based hotel, except the time to put it in operation is greatly reduced and there is little real estate acquired. One other advantage is that the ship can be moved if the market does not prove to be profitable.

These are general categories. Each category will have a multitude of variations. When considering converting a ship, remember that each ship had a specific purpose in mind when it was built. Converting to similar categories may work, but converting a ship to something that it was never intended or designed to do, may be an adventure in bankruptcy.

I tell all of my clients when going into major conversion work: Double your best estimate of costs and double the length of time you think will be required to accomplish it.