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photojoe 01-23-2007 06:04 AM

Prepping a boat for cruising abroad.
Does anyone have tips for buying a boat in the Caribbean?
How to get your gear on board and electronics?
How hard is it to get electronics and other things items through customs, which island is the best to receive said items through the mail (fedex/dhl) with the least amount of hassle and gouging with import tariffs or fees?



Zanshin 01-23-2007 06:28 AM

Hello Joe,

The Caribbean is a big place, it might help if you narrowed down your geographic area a bit. But here's my story - I opted to purchase a used boat and found that used ex-charter boats are a good deal (n.b. that this is a heavily contested point in this forum and many here avoid ex-charter boats like the plague). After checking out the market on the internet using sites such as Yachtworld I found that the BVI had the largest selection of well-priced boats and flew out there in August during the hurricane season, i.e. when the prices were still low. I looked at many boats [about 40] and ended up getting a 3-year old 43" Jeanneau from Sunsail's Platinum fleet.

The boat is sufficiently equipped as an ex-charter boat for normal travel without having to add or repair anything, since my nasty-tempered Surveyor ensured a good final condition. The BVI is rather expensive when it comes to labour, chandlers and electronics, but St. Maartin is only 90nm upwind and offers a lot of services and supplies - all duty free! You can check out the prices and availability online at two of the biggest Caribbean chandleries Budget Marine and Island Water World. My purchases at Budget Marine probably helped put the owner's kids through college - but they were very friendly and helpful and I would recommend them unconditionally (on a side note my freshly purchased dinghy and outboard was stolen the night of my purchase there - but that wasn't their fault and they gave me a discount when I went back the next day to get another!).

Regarding getting electronics through customs I'm sure that others will explain how they managed the "yacht in transit" part - I only have a vague idea of how that is done as I haven't had to do it (yet).

sailingdog 01-23-2007 06:57 AM

Best to buy a fairly well equipped boat in the Caribbean. They are usually fairly widely available, from people who have crossed to the Caribbean and decided that they weren't up to sailing anymore. The US Virgin Islands might be a good choice, since they're nominally part of the USA. Here is some info in their customs fees.


Articles imported into the U.S. Virgin Islands for use or resale in a trade or business are subject to an excise tax. Because the USVI is outside the U.S. customs zone, foreign (non-U.S.) made goods are also subject to a customs duty which is separate from the U.S. customs duty. The rate of excise tax on most goods is 4%, while the rate on certain products, such as cigarettes, is higher. Alcoholic beverages are subject to a flat rate based on volume. Certain other goods are subject to a lower rate of excise tax, and most tourist items, such as jewelry, watches, crystal, artwork, electronic goods, and leather goods, are exempt entirely. Tourist items are also exempt from the 6% U.S. Virgin Islands customs duty.

photojoe 01-23-2007 09:19 AM

Whoops, I knew I forgot something. The boat is in Trinidad.


sailingdog 01-23-2007 09:41 AM


Originally Posted by photojoe
Whoops, I knew I forgot something. The boat is in Trinidad.


LOL... that makes a bit of a difference. You can ignore my USVI suggestion in this case. ;)

camaraderie 01-23-2007 09:54 AM

Photo: In Trinidad...
A 15% Value Added Tax (VAT) is charged on
most goods, ser vices, and consumable items.
This includes items purchased in grocery stores,
hardware stores, chandleries, fabric shops, etc.
A yachtsman is exempt from paying VAT in the
following circumstances:
1. When a business supplies materials and uses
these materials to make repairs; both the
labour charge and the product supplied can
be VAT-free. Conversely, if a party other than
the one conducting the repairs supplies the
product then the VAT must be charged for
the product.
2. The goods are imported directly to the vessel
and consigned as Yacht-in-Transit (see Chapter
2). The Captain/Owner of the yacht must
usually be present to clear the goods through
3. When a cruiser buys a case of Rum (for
example), the vendor prepares an export
document known as a shipping bill, which
must be presented to customs at the time of
departure from the country. Once cleared
out, the goods are physically brought on board
under the supervision and approval of the
customs officer at which time the documents
are stamped signifying that the vessel has left
the country with the goods in question.
4. It is important to note that there are no
provisions to get blanket VAT exemptions for
foreign flag recreational vessels. need to work with a yard or chandlery there closely to get the best results. The site: and the weekly newspaper "the Boca" which is linked there are invaluable sources of information for Trinidad and particularly Chaguramas where virtually all boat work is done. Make contact with some of the yards and get your ducks in a row well in advance or else it will cost a lot of $$ to clear customs with stuff!! I second the notion of St. Martin being a better place to get stuff in and out of so would suggest you minimally equip in Trini and sail north to get the rest of the work/equipment done.
Further I would warn you strongly that a lot of hurricane IVAN boats have been fixed up in Trini and are now on the market as regular used boats. Buyer beware!!!! If I was buying a boat there I would FLY in a surveyor.

photojoe 02-07-2007 03:05 PM


You wouldn't know any details about transfer of owner ship from a Foreign Flag to the US flag, any possible bumps?

Thanks for the 411 on the possible salvage boats being turned around.


hellosailor 02-07-2007 03:53 PM


The USCG can directly answer any questions about documentation and they're pretty good about it.

Be aware that if you have any problems with your transaction or're going to be limited to recourse under Trinidadian laws. You might want to contact a broker or attorney down there to find out what complications that may bring.

IIRC it is or recently was still legal to use TBT bottom paint in Trinidad, and it is illegal to bring that into the US--even if it is on your hull. Little things that can get you.

camaraderie 02-08-2007 01:52 AM

Joe...HS gves good advice on this. For such a big purchase I would definitely hire a Trini legal guy to insure you have clear title .

HS...I know TBT is illegal here but I've never heard that it was illegal to enter the states with a TBT bottom...after all...the big ships do it all the time. Can you point me to that reg?

sailingdog 02-08-2007 10:02 AM

Actually, I believe that TBT is allowed for certain exceptions... and I don't believe that it is illegal to bring it into the US if the boat is painted with it..

From a Maryland PDF:

Tributyltin Anti-Fouling Paint

Federal and State laws have placed severe restrictions on the use of anti-fouling paints that contain tributyltin (TBT) as an active biocide. Except under specific conditions paints containing TBT no longer may be applied to recreational vessels. TBT is an ingredient that has been found to be extremely toxic to fish and oyster larvae. Anyone wishing to apply paints containing TBT must first obtain a permit from the Maryland Department of Agriculture (410) 841-5710. Permits are not required to apply approved paints from spray cans of 16 oz. or less (commonly referred to as lower unit paint).
That would indicate to me, that is is legal for certain uses, but the uses are highly restricted, and use on recreational vessels is mostly prohibited. However, I doubt this applies to vessels from outside the US, provided the paint was applied prior to arriving in US waters. I believe it can still be used on aluminum hulled vessels, which can damaged by copper-based anti-fouling paints.

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