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ANY partnership arrangement should IMO be formal, written and at least perceived to be legally binding by all parties. I adapted a partnership agreement from AOPA (www.aopa.org) that you may be able to seek a copy of and which I used when forming a partnership in aircraft ownership. It worked exceedingly well, and was later adapted from a plane to a sailboat by one of my partners, also with great success. (These partnerships have operated across multiple partners for 7 and 4 years now, respectively).
A good written agreement - essentially - does a few basic things, but it does them in clear, all-inclusive detail. Examples include:
1. It spells out all the groundrules around what is acceptable and unacceptable use
2. It clarifies the roles in the partnership and outlines how decisions will be made (who handles the money? how are repairs, maintenace & haul-outs, cap improvements to be decided on? who is liable if damage occurs? who skeds the boat, and how is the sked altered?)
3. It clarifies what happens when a partner does not meet his/her financial obligations.
4. It clarifies how selling a share is handled, who has first right of refusal, and what decisions the remaining partners are allowed
5. Lots more...
What an agreement can''t address is the chemistry between the parties. If you only know these folks superifically, you''re essentially taking a risk on your mutual long-term compatibility. (OTOH in the examples above, every prospective partner who was essentially a stranger upfront was "interviewed" - we made it a social occasion, not something stiff and obnoxious - and every choice ended up being a constructive one for the partnership - so don''t presume that a new relationship can not develop into a long-term positive partnership).
Perhaps a very good test for you and your prospective partners is to work - together - your way thru an agreement, see how you problem solve together, what your individual views are on topics like the ones I mentioned, and how it feels to you (and them) before anyone signs on the dotted line.
Don''t be frightened away about the notion of sharing a boat simply because so many problems can surface; see how you feel after working thru the process. Good luck!