Understanding the Maritime Lien

A maritime lien is much like a lien on any other property. It’s a legal proceeding that allows a boat to be seized if the debt for the vessel isn’t paid. That means that someone who buys a boat but stops making payments may have that boat taken by the authorities. If the boat wasn’t purchased using a preferred ship mortgage, the lien can be granted without consent. It’s done automatically. If you plan to buy a specific boat, it makes sense to check that there are no liens outstanding because you may become responsible for them. Here’s everything you need to know. 

What Property Can Hold a Maritime Lien?

A maritime lien can be placed on any watercraft that is in navigation. Any boat that has been withdrawn from navigation or that is still being constructed cannot be subject to such a lien. A temporary removal from navigation for repair or upgrades can still be placed under a maritime lien. A lien usually attaches itself to the entire boat, which includes anything on board. That might be equipment, fishing gear, electronics, and many other kinds of cargo. 

Types of Maritime Liens

The only kind of maritime lien that must be recorded is one that goes against a boat with a preferred ship mortgage. Documents must be filed with the National Vessel Documentation Center for the lien to be valid and enforceable. All other maritime liens come as a result of contracts or torts. These can include wages for the boat’s crew, unpaid freight charges, damage caused by the boat (i.e. pollution or collisions), personal injury, and breach of charter, among other circumstances. 

Notice of a Lien

Any potential lien holder has the right and ability to file a claim of a lien on a given vessel. The first step is to send a notice to the owner of the boat alerting them to the intention to file the lien. This notice should also be sent to any co-owners of the boat, as well as to any other person or entity with a lien against the vessel. If payment is not received, the next step is to file the claim of lien with the Vessel Registrar Center. 

This filing document should also be sent to others with a lien and co-owners of the boat. It will then appear on the boat’s abstract of title, which makes it easier for you to see if there is a lien on a boat you are considering purchasing. Refusal from the owner to pay the lien can result in the seizure of the vessel. 

Maritime Lien

Enforcing a Lien

This involves taking action in federal court, which places the boat under a maritime lien. The vessel can then be subject to an arrest warrant that allows a United States marshal to seize the watercraft. This is typically only done with high-value vessels but can happen with any kind of boat, depending on the court’s decision. 

If you want to buy a boat and need help figuring out if it’s subject to a maritime lien, it makes sense to get the experts on your side. Contact Vessel Documentation Online  today and we can answer your questions and help you facilitate the process of finding out if there’s a lien filed.