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Boat Legalities and Ducky has a Name

Posted by Tom Benedict on 06/04/2012

Work on the boat and trailer is still moving along – enough so that I started work on getting both boat and trailer registered. That’s when the fun really started.

This trailer was not bought. It was built by the previous owner from steel bar stock. His choice of materials is really quite nice. The wall thickness on all of the components is 1/4″ or thicker, making for a seriously solid trailer. It’s in dire need of rust treatment and painting (both of which are under way), but the trailer itself is solid. It has also never been registered, so a simple transfer of title like you’d do on a car won’t work. I did a little research and found that Hawaii DMV actually has a set of rules for registering a home-built trailer. Thank goodness! Here’s the procedure

  1. Take the bare trailer to a state-certified weigh station. West Hawaii Concrete is the one closest to my house. Weigh the trailer and get a weight slip.
  2. Next, take the trailer to a state vehicle inspection station. The Shell station in Waimea is the closest one to my house. Bring photo ID and the weight slip. Get a provisional safety inspection.
  3. Next, drive to the county tax office and present a photo ID, the weight slip, and the provisional safety inspection. Get a new license plate, registration sticker, and a VIN for the trailer.
  4. Go home, install the license plate and the registration sticker, and stamp the VIN into the metal of the trailer. I also plan to stamp my unladen trailer weight.
  5. Drive the trailer back to the state vehicle inspection station, present photo ID, weight slip, provisional inspection, and registration, and receive a final safety inspection and sticker.
  6. Enjoy being legal.

Up until step #6, this means towing a completely illegal trailer around. Nope, there’s no way to get around that. And yep, you have to tow it or put it up on a flatbed truck. So there’s no much of a way around it. But in the end, this turned out to be the easier of the two to register. The boat registration was a whole ‘nuther ball of wax.

In the state of Hawaii, boats are treated very much like cars in that owning a registered boat means that you have a state-issued certificate of title. It doesn’t matter if it’s a five million dollar yacht or a twelve foot dinghy. If it’s registered and you get HI numbers to put on the side of your prow, you get a certificate of title. Transferring ownership of a boat without that certificate of title is a real pain.

Unfortunately I think the rules may have changed over the years, so not every boat has a certificate of title associated with it. Some boats were never registered in the first place. I spoke to the harbormaster at Honokohau Harbor in Kailua-Kona several times about this. The upshot is that it’s preferable to find that certificate of title, but there is another way.

In the process of trying to find a certificate of title (which I haven’t found yet) I spoke with several of the previous owners of this boat. Like most history stories, the history of this boat is not some vague hand-wavy thing the way history is often presented in school. It is a very definite, very human story:

The boat was originally made by Newport Boats in California in the late 60’s or early 70’s. I still don’t have a fixed date when this hull rolled out of the shop. It was purchased by a guy who was buying several boats in order to ship them to Honolulu. I’m unclear if this guy was a boat broker, or if he wound up being co-owner, but shortly thereafter it was owned by another individual living in Honolulu, and was sailed regularly off the coast near Diamondhead. Some time later it was bought by a sailor who moved to the Big Island, with whom I spoke over the phone. He never registered the boat here, and after he sold it to the guy I bought it from, the new owner didn’t register it, either. I suspect it wasn’t registered in Honolulu, either. So there may simply not be a certificate of title.

The cool thing is there have ever been only five owners of this boat. I’m number five. For a boat this old, that’s actually pretty neat. Even better, when I called owner #3, he said, “Hey, you live on #### road!” I was a little taken aback. He knew exactly where I lived, and I’d cold-called him! It turns out a family member of his had seen the boat while driving home one day. It was apparently the day we had the mast up for the first time, and they recognized it. Not only is the list of owners of this boat small, it’s such a small community we live in, everyone knows everyone else.

Which leads me to the other way I can register a boat in the state of Hawaii: Without an actual certificate of title, I can file an affidavit of ownership with the Harbormaster. It stakes a claim as owner of the boat, but it means if any previous owner comes forward with a certificate of title, that right of ownership comes into question. The harbormaster said if that happens he would expect the two of us to settle it amongst ourselves, and that only one of us would come forward with the certificate to clear up the paperwork. If this was anywhere else in the world, I’d live in paranoia that some previous owner might come forward and stake a claim on my boat. But all the previous owners of this boat know each other! It’s such a tiny world here, I really don’t see that happening. So far everyone I’ve talked to has just been excited to hear how close the boat is to being in the water. They just want to see it sail again. So do I.

Which brings me to the last part of this post: The name.

I really do want to see this boat sail again. It’s an older boat that’s been out of production for several decades. There’s a good chance this hull is as old as, or is slightly older than I am. You can’t get castings or spars for it. You can’t get factory sails for it. As far as the boating world is concerned, it’s an extinct boat. An extinct catamaran. This gave me the idea for the name: Smilodon.

The saber toothed cat, or Smilodon, lived from about 2.5 million years ago until roughly 10,000 years ago, at which time it went extinct. My boat, or Pacific Catamaran, was manufactured from about 1960 until the late 1970’s, at which time it went extinct. There are obvious parallels.

When my wife and I shared this with our kids, they loved the idea. Finally, the boat has a name! So last night I drew up a graphic and got a price quote for cutting it out of 7″x36″ vinyl:

Smilodon Logo

The price I got was reasonable, so I’m having two made: one for each hull. I just hope my fellow sailors get the joke. Otherwise I’m going to spend more time explaining than sailing.

– Tom


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