What happens if the yard building your expensive yacht goes bust? Or the boat you’ve just bought turns out to have hidden defects or be different from the prototype. It may be time to call in an attorney who specialises in boats. We talked to Frits Hommersom, a colourful lawyer, mediator and columnist.
“Choosing a boat is like falling in love,” Hommersom says. “You suddenly lose your objectivity.” As an attorney specialised in watersports, he has been successfully helping clients in disputes related to sales and purchases since 2000.
When a boat is bought or built in the Netherlands, Dutch law applies and Dutch courts enforce it. This makes it essential to have a legal specialist in the Netherlands like Hommersom on your side. His practice provides legal assistance in disputes arising from the purchase or sale of pleasure craft (both new and used), and in all kinds of nautical matters, such as advice on insurance claims or the drafting of construction or sales agreements, as well as disputes that may arise with a yard regarding services such as refits, repairs and winter storage. Hommersom mainly represents the interests of boat owners.
Pre-purchase survey report
“There is no equivalent for boats of the roadworthiness test that cars must pass every year in most countries,” Hommersom says. “This is a paradox as they are very much exposed to the elements. Many defects are also difficult for the layman to establish. This is why it is important to always have a boat taken out of the water and checked by an indepent marine surveyor before purchase. Prevention is always better than cure!”
“It’s everyone’s nightmare scenario. You’ve been saving for your dream boat for years. You make a hefty deposit, the construction starts, and… the yard goes bankrupt. As a customer, you find yourself at the end of the creditors’ queue. You can forget about getting that boat.” To get around this problem, Hommersom advises his clients to have a constitutum possessorium for the boat provided as soon as the keel is laid. Thus making the boat and everything subsequently installed on it officially theirs – even in cases of bankruptcy. After that they can register ownership at the Netherlands Cadastre, Land Registry and Mapping Agency. Third parties will know about the ownership and e.g. a mortgage can be obtained.
Another possibility is disagreement with the yard during construction. A lawsuit rarely improves relations between owner and builder, so what is the best course of action? “Bring in a mediator,” Hommersom advises. “It’s fast and cheap and shows commitment to maintaining the relationship.
“Certain conflicts often conceal other, more emotional factors. Builders may feel their professionalism is being questioned. And once things get emotional, both sides stick to their guns. As a mediator, I try to find a solution that’s acceptable to both. It’s a good way to ensure that the boat is ultimately built and delivered without too much trouble.”
Hommersom has a clear motto: “You’re entitled to an attorney who will tell you the truth.” He describes his experiences in his columns for the Royal Dutch Touring Club’s boating magazine ANWB Waterkampioen and the trade magazine Jachtbouw Nederland. For more information, visit the website www.hommersomadvocatuur.nl/publicaties.