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Boat Transport: International Shipping, Towing, and Deliveries

DATE POSTED:May 20, 2020

There are many good reasons not to restrict the search for a new yacht to merely your local area, even though this requires learning how to transport a boat. For instance, a wider search will open up a larger variety of yachts, while fluctuations in foreign currency exchange rates may make prices in some countries more favorable than those for vessels in local waters. Equally, you may want to move a boat you already own to a different area, either to explore new cruising grounds, race in Caribbean regattas, or as the result of a home or job relocation.

Boat transport occurs three main ways:

  1. Transport on a ship by sea
  2. Towing a vessel by road
  3. Yacht delivery under its own steam

In many cases the departure and end points of the route will point towards a particular solution. For instance, moving a boat from Croatia to an English Channel port would involve a 2,800-mile voyage by sea – the same distance as an Atlantic crossing – or 1,200 miles by road.

In some cases it’s also viable to combine different methods for one delivery. For instance, a boat in the Ionian Sea, on the western coast of Greece, could be sailed the 800 miles to the South of France, then trucked less than 400 miles to La Rochelle on France’s Atlantic coast, before finishing the journey at sea. In this instance, if schedules allow, and the yacht is well-equipped and in good shape, an experienced owner could complete the sea passages during vacation time, leaving only the relatively short road delivery to be paid for.

Boat Transport by Sea Delivery skippers need to be sure the yacht is in a seaworthy condition before the voyage starts – expect them to spend a significant amount of time checking the boat out.Delivery skippers need to be sure the yacht is in a seaworthy condition before the voyage starts – expect them to spend a significant amount of time checking the boat out.

Sailing the yacht on her own keel is perhaps the most commonly considered option for boat transport. To some extent, the larger the boat the more likely the direct costs will favor this solution, as the delivery will be quicker and the boat more able to withstand inclement weather. On the other hand, smaller and older yachts can be more difficult to deliver by sea, as they may be significantly slower – and less reliable – than a larger and newer boat.

It’s also a very viable option for transporting a boat shorter distances, where the costs of loading onto a truck, or a ship, might be a significant portion of the overall costs. Drawbacks of this method include wear and tear on the vessel – a long trip carried out to a deadline can find the weaknesses of even the most well-found and well-maintained vessels, especially if it takes place out of season. This can be a particular problem for those buying second-hand vessels whose systems may not have been thoroughly tested, although it has to be said that new vessels are not immune from problems.

Diligent skippers therefore allocate time for checking the yacht over and getting any problems sorted out. Indeed, reputable companies have comprehensive checklists covering everything from the rig, sails, and engine to upholstery, interior joinery, electrics, and ground tackle.

Good yacht delivery skippers will also do their utmost to minimize wear and tear, and are expert at foreseeing and fixing problems that would leave many others stumped. The engine will often be used for much of the distance, so it’s worth considering the possibility that the engine won’t be turned off, other than for routine checks, and any implications that have for engine hours and servicing. It’s also important to ensure that the safety kit is both appropriate for the size of the crew and the length of the voyage, and also that no items will exceed their expiration dates during the delivery.

This method of yacht delivery is the one in which it can be hardest to predict timescales. Granted, in benign summer weather it might be relatively quick, but there’s plenty of scope for unseasonal weather to force a number of successive days in port. Prices can vary widely, with much depending on the experience of the delivery skipper. Payment tends to be on a per-mile basis, although in some cases a per-day basis will be quoted.
Read more about Yacht Delivery by Sea.

Boat Transport by Ship Boat transport on a ship can be a quick and cost-effective method that also takes the possibility of wear and tear out of the equation. Photo courtesy of Sevenstar Boat transport on a ship can be a quick and cost-effective method that also takes the possibility of wear and tear out of the equation. Photo courtesy of Sevenstar Yacht Transport.

This is a growing part of the yacht delivery scene and can particularly make sense for larger vessels, although the advantages are arguably not yet universally recognized or understood. Even so, this part of the industry has a global reach and is continuing to expand, both in terms of the number of ports served and the largest yachts and superyachts that can be accommodated.

“Transporting your yacht by ship opens up new horizons,” says Sander Schuurman of Dutch yacht delivery specialist Sevenstar Yacht Transport. “It allows people to visit places with their own yacht that would be difficult to reach on the vessel’s own keel. A lot of the demand we see is for both motor and sailing yachts of more than 20 meters, enabling them to be Mediterranean-based in summer and then spend the winter season in the Caribbean. Also, it allows other owners to buy a boat at a good price elsewhere in the world and then move it to their chosen cruising grounds.”

There is almost no limit to the size of yachts that can be transported this way. Superyachts of up to 60 meters can be accommodated on many ships, and the semi-submersible vessels operated by Sevenstar’s subsidiary DYT can take even larger yachts. The biggest they have transported to date is the 77-meter hull of a superyacht that was being transported to a different yard for fit-out.

At the same time, this can also be a viable method for moving smaller boats around the globe. This is perhaps best understood at the higher ends of the yacht racing community, where racing yachts of as little as 32′ to 36′ (and sometimes less) are routinely transported across oceans by this method.

“The most important thing to understand is that this type of transport is not cheap,” Schuurman adds. It’s a complex and intricate process with small margins for us – the fuel cost for a one-way Atlantic crossing is around $500,000. If you have an older yacht, then the cost might be a large proportion of its market value.”

Nevertheless, there are many advantages to shipping a vessel by sea. Owners and captains can be confident that their yacht will be handled with care if they book with a company that provides its own personnel to load and secure every yacht. In addition, unlike a delivery on a boat’s own keel, there will be no wear and tear. That factor enables new boats to be delivered anywhere in the world with zero mileage and for raceboats and charter yachts to arrive at their destination in a ready-to-sail condition. Of course, it’s not impossible for problems to arise, so many companies include a tailor-made All Risk insurance in all quotations.

What happens if there’s not a direct route to where you want to take your yacht? “Sevenstar is part of the Spleithoff Group, which has more than 100 ships,” says Schuuman. “so if necessary we can transfer a yacht onto a different ship for the final part of the journey.”

In this respect, Sevenstar is able to provide a Liner operation in which it owns all the vessels used for shipping. The alternative model is that of Freight Forwarders who operate on more of an agency basis – they don’t own ships (or trucks) but have freedom to select what they consider to be the best method, or combination of methods, for delivery, with the work then contracted out to appropriate third-party specialists.

Boat Transport by Road Yacht transport by road is often a viable method and is applicable to boats of a significant size.Yacht transport by road is often a viable method and is applicable to boats of a significant size.

In some cases, yacht delivery by road can be the most efficient method of all, and is applicable to yachts of up to a surprisingly large size. Anyone who doubts this only needs to look at the choice of location for one of Europe’s largest boat builders, Bavaria Yachtbau. The factory, which builds craft of up to 56′, is in Southern Germany, more than 350 miles from the nearest sea. Yet the location works for them, as it’s as easy to deliver a yacht to a customer in the Mediterranean as it is to Northern Europe or the UK.

Similarly, 70′ racing yachts have been delivered through the narrow Victorian streets of central London to be exhibited at their sponsors’ promotional events. The exact maximum sizes, in terms of length, beam, height, and weight that can be transported may vary between different jurisdictions. It’s therefore worth checking feasibility of a particular route with an operator at an early stage in the planning process. The trailers used are extra low-slung, to allow the keel of a sailing yacht to sit lower than the trailer bed, thus minimizing the clearance needed for bridges. On larger yachts, it’s also possible to remove the keel to allow for road transport.

Companies specializing in this kind of yacht delivery often subcontract local pilot vehicles, which already have the permits necessary for wide or long loads. My own experience of shipping long distances by road is that operators aim to build in sufficient slack into the schedule that they have an excellent chance of meeting the quoted delivery date. But don’t be surprised if the overall time needed is longer than you expect. Depending on the size of the yacht it may not be allowed on certain motorways at any time of day, and in some instances any movement may be restricted to daylight hours outside of rush hour, which can be a significant restriction in winter.

Towing a boat yourself by road Towing a boat by road behind your own (or a hired) vehicle is a viable proposition for smaller lightweight craft.Towing a boat by road behind your own (or a hired) vehicle is a viable proposition for smaller lightweight craft.

An option that can make sense for smaller and lighter vessels is to tow it yourself. Those boat dimensions of length, beam, weight, and height will guide your research into what type of trailer and tow vehicle you’ll need. In the US, trailer laws vary by state, so you will also need to plot your routes accordingly.

Nevertheless, there are a number of lightweight dayboats, weekenders and RIBs of up to 32′ that are sufficiently light in weight and narrow to go on a conventional road trailer. This is recognized in many insurance policies, which may automatically include cover for boats of up to 30′ in transit, but if your boat is longer than this the policy may need to be amended.

For more practical guides to buying and owning a yacht, see: How to buy a used charter boat and Five negotiating tactics for yacht and boat buyers.

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