Being a boat owner typically involves a preference for traveling by water instead of land, but it’s not always feasible to get where we need to go by boat. Sometimes we need to send the boat by land or sea, further than we can realistically tow or drive it. For example, suppose you are moving and want to relocate your beloved boat as well, or you plan to spend the winter in a warmer climate. In either case, moving your boat a long distance may be necessary.
Size and distance matter
The size of the boat makes a big difference in both the difficulty and cost of shipping. Transporting a fifteen-foot ski boat is more straightforward than shipping a fifty-foot (or larger) yacht. You may be accustomed to towing your boat to your nearby lake for day trips or navigating launch ramps.
It’s a different exercise to manage a long-distance trip with a boat in tow. The type of vessel, the weather, distance, and terrain all add to the journey’s complexity. Of course, if you usually keep your boat in a marina or floating at a dock, you may not want to buy a trailer just for one trip, which makes transporting it on your own even less feasible.
Whether you are buying a new (or new-to-you) boat, moving to a new location permanently, or planning an extended visit to a dream destination, getting your cherished vessel there is a critical task. It’s a wise decision to leave the job to experts that specialize in moving watercraft. The complexity and the price depend in part on the type of vessel. Think about the differences between these:
- large yacht
- motorboats like ski boats and jet boats
- personal watercraft (jet skis and wave runners)
- charter ships
- fishing boats
- pontoon boats
- sport fishing boats
How big is my boat?
Boat measurements are often referred to in length, height, and width, with length the most common. Measure the length from the front of the bow to the middle of the stern and the width at the widest part of the boat, including railings or any attachments.
Height can be critical when planning transport and is measured from the bottom of the keel to the top of the vessel. Boat size and type will affect your options for transit, particularly international shipments, and the cost.
Research and planning are essential
Unlike boxes or furniture, boats require special attention and preparation for a successful shipment. It’s a good idea to carefully research your options before choosing a vendor to transport your boat. Depending on the boat type and size, there are some things you need to do before shipping:
- Drain the fuel tank.
- Disconnect all electronics (don’t forget the alarm).
- Secure all doors, windows, hatches, and storage compartments. Lock these if possible.
- Remove any valuables and perishables.
- Remove any hazardous materials.
- Disengage any batteries.
- Securely stow loose items, including antennas, propellers, anchors, flag masts, and electronics not removed.
- Take pictures of the interior and exterior of the vessel and document the condition of the boat before transport.
- If your shipment is during the winter, prepare the boat by winterizing
Choose among service options
Depending on how far you are shipping your boat, how much time you have, and how much you want to spend, you have some options regarding transportation. For example, if you are moving your boat within North America (United States, Canada, and Mexico), it can go by the highway.
Even if you don’t have a trailer, the shipper you choose can handle that. In fact, the boat hauler can collect your boat from its dock, trailer it, and send it on its way. For example, you can ship a standard ten-foot powerboat from Houston to New York in about a week for less than $5,000 (that’s a ballpark figure, of course, but the A-1 Auto Transport boat shipping calculator will quickly provide you with a quote for your specific situation.)
If your boat is on a trailer, you may want to consider Ro/Ro shipping, which is the short way to say roll-on/roll-off. That means the shipper rolls the trailer holding your boat onto a transport carrier, drives the carrier to the new location, and rolls the trailer off. They can shrink wrap your boat (which looks a lot like winterizing) to protect it from moisture and wind damage before transporting it to any overland destination.
Shipping a boat to another country is less common, but it’s not unusual for a yacht buyer to need to bring the new purchase back to the U.S. Often, the buyer prefers to have the new vessel arrive by freight rather than have it make the trip on its own.
In that case, the new owner will need a freight forwarder who understands the Federal Maritime Commission rules. Getting your boat shipped to or from a foreign country will cost more, take longer, and be more complicated than sending it between states.
Ro/Ro shipping is one of the most common ways to send your boat via freighter. Like the overland service with the same name, the boat stays on a trailer (either yours or the shippers) and gets rolled onto and off the carrier.
Enclosed container shipping is possible if your boat is small enough to fit inside a standard freighter container (40” long, 7’10” high, 7’8″ wide), including any trailer. Remember, a trailer can add several feet to the height of your boat.
Flat rack shipping is the best option for oversized boats which won’t fit in a container or trailer. Instead, the boat is transported in a custom cradle, secured to a flat rack attached to the ship.
For an international move, be sure to investigate any regulations the destination country has governing boats and imports before starting the process. Don’t assume the freight forwarder will know—they may not, and it’s safer to check with the consulate.
Of course, shipping your boat abroad will take longer and cost more than transporting it to another state. If you are going between the U.S. and Canada or Mexico, keep in mind that while you can go by land, you still need to comply with applicable import requirements. However, it’s all worth the effort when you reach your destination and enjoy the satisfaction of putting your boat into the water.
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