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July 25th 2016. By Rupert Holmes.

Boat transport: international shipping, towing and deliveries

The transport of your boat, yacht, or even superyacht can be achieved aboard a commercial vessel, via roads and highways, or on your boat's own bottom under its own power.

There are many good reasons not to restrict the search for a new yacht to merely your local area (see my previous feature: How to buy a yacht in the Mediterranean), even though this means finding out more about boat transport. For instance, wider search will open up a larger variety of yachts, while fluctuations in foreign currency exchange rates may make prices in some countries more favourable than those for vessels in local waters. Equally, you may want to move a boat you already own to a different area, either to explore new cruising areas, race in Caribbean regattas (see: Great images from the Rolex Swan Cup Caribbean 2015), or as the result of a house or job relocation.

Boat transport is a thriving industry across three main modes – transport on a ship, towing a yacht by road and yacht delivery under her own steam. In many cases the departure and end points of the route will point towards a particular solution. For instance, moving a boat from Croatia to an English Channel port would involve a 2,800 voyage by sea – the same distance as an Atlantic crossing – or 1,200 miles by road.

In some cases it’s also viable to combine different methods for one delivery. For instance, a boat in the Ionian Sea, on the western coast of Greece, could be sailed the 800 miles to the South of France, then trucked less than 400 miles to La Rochelle on France’s Atlantic coast, before finishing the journey at sea. In this instance, if schedules allow, and the yacht is well equipped and in good shape, an appropriately experienced owner could complete the sea passages during holiday time, leaving only the relatively short road delivery to be paid for.


Boat transport by sea

Boat transport: professional skippers will check boats out thoroughly

Delivery skippers need to be sure the yacht is in a sea worthy condition before the voyage starts – expect them to spend a significant amount of time checking the boat out.


Sailing the yacht on her own keel is perhaps the most commonly considered option for boat transport. To some extent, the larger the boat the more likely the direct costs will favour this solution, as the delivery will be quicker and the boat more able to withstand inclement weather. On the other hand, smaller and older yachts can be more difficult to deliver by sea, as they may be significantly slower – and less reliable – than a larger and newer boat.

It’s also a very viable option for transporting a boat shorter distances, where the costs of loading onto a truck, or a ship, might be a significant portion of the overall costs. Drawbacks of this method include wear and tear on the vessel – a long trip carried out to a deadline can find the weaknesses of even the most well found and well maintained vessels, especially if it takes place out of season. This can be a particular problem for those buying secondhand vessels whose systems may not have been thoroughly tested, although it has to be said that new vessels are not immune from problems.

Diligent skippers therefore allocate time for checking the yacht over and getting any problems sorted. Indeed, reputable companies have comprehensive checklists covering everything from the rig, sails and engine to upholstery, interior joinery, electrics and ground tackle.

A good yacht delivery skipper will also do their utmost to minimise wear and tear. At the same time, experienced yacht delivery skippers are expert at foreseeing and fixing problems that would leave many others others stumped. The engine will often be used for much of the distance, so it’s worth considering the possibility that the engine won’t be turned off, other than for routine checks, and any implications that has for engine hours and servicing. It’s also important to ensure that the safety kit is both appropriate for the size of the crew and the length of the voyage, but also that no items will exceed their expiry dates during the delivery.

This method of yacht delivery is the one in which it can be hardest to predict timescales. Granted, in benign summer weather it might be relatively quick, but there’s plenty of scope for unseasonal weather to force a number of successive days in port. Prices can vary widely, with much depending on the experience of the delivery skipper. Payment tends to be on a per mile basis, although in some cases a per day basis will be quoted.

Read more about yacht delivery by sea here.


Yacht shipping

Yacht transportation by sea freight

Boat transport on a ship is not often considered, but it can be a quick and cost effective method that also takes the possibility of wear and tear out of the equation. Photo courtesy of Sevenstar Yacht Transport.


This is a growing part of the yacht delivery scene and can particularly make sense for larger vessels, although the advantages are arguably not yet universally recognised or understood. Even so, this part of the industry has a global reach and is continuing to expand, both in terms of the number of ports served and the largest yachts and superyachts that can be accommodated.

“Transporting your yacht by ship opens up new horizons,” says Sander Schuurman of Dutch yacht delivery specialist Sevenstar Yacht Transport. “It allows people to visit places with their own yacht that would be difficult to reach on the vessel’s own keel. A lot of the demand we see is for both motor and sailing yachts of more than 20 metres, enabling them to be Mediterranean based in summer and then spend the winter season in the Caribbean. Also it allows other owners to buy a boat at a good price elsewhere in the world and then move it to their chosen cruising grounds.”

There is almost no limit to the size of yachts that can be transported this way. Superyachts of up to 60 metres can be accommodated on many ships, and the semi-submersible vessels operated by Sevenstar’s subsidiary DYT can take even larger yachts – the biggest they have transported to date is the 77 metre hull of a superyacht that was being transported to a different yard for fit out.

At the same time, this can be also be a viable method for moving smaller boats around the globe. This is perhaps best understood at the higher ends of the yacht racing community, where racing yachts of as little as 32-36ft (and sometimes less) are routinely transported across oceans by this method.

“The most important thing to understand is that this type of transport is not cheap,” Schuurman adds. It’s a complex and intricate process with small margins for us – the fuel cost for a one-way Atlantic crossing is around US$500,000. If you have an older yacht then the cost might be a large proportion of its market value.”

Nevertheless there are many advantages to shipping a vessel by sea. Owners and captains can be confident that their yacht will be handled with care if they book with a company that provides its own personnel to load and secure every yacht. In addition, unlike a delivery on a boat’s own keel, there will be no wear and tear. That factor enables new boats to be delivered anywhere in the world with zero mileage and for raceboats and charter yachts to arrive at their destination in a ready to sail condition. Of course, it’s not impossible for problems to arise, so many companies include a tailor made All Risk insurance in all quotations.

What happens if there’s not a direct route to where you want to take your yacht? “Sevenstar is part of the Spleithoff Group, which has more than 100 ships,” says Schuuman. “so if necessary we can transfer a yacht onto a different ship for the final part of the journey.”

In this respect Sevenstar is able to provide a Liner operation in which it owns all the vessels used for shipping. The alternative model is that of Freight Forwarders who operate on more of an agency basis – they don’t own ships (or trucks) but have freedom to select what they consider to be the best method, or combination of methods, for delivery, with the work then contracted out to appropriate third party specialists.


Yacht transportation by road

yacht delivery: transportation by road

Yacht transport by road is often a viable method and is applicable to boats of a significant size.


In some cases yacht delivery by road can be the most efficient method of all and is applicable to yachts of up to a very surprisingly large size. Anyone who doubts this only needs to look at the choice of location for one of Europe’s largest boat builders, Bavaria Yachtbau. The factory, which builds craft of up to 56ft, is in Southern Germany, more than 350 miles from the nearest sea. Yet the location works for them, as it’s broadly as easy to deliver a yacht to a customer in the Mediterranean as it is to Northern Europe or the UK.

Similarly 70ft racing yachts have been delivered through the narrow Victorian streets of central London to be exhibited at their sponsors’ promotional events. The exact maximum sizes, in terms of length, beam height and weight that can be transported may vary between different jurisdictions. It’s therefore worth checking feasibility of a particular route with an operator at an early stage in the planning process. The trailers used are extra low-slung, to allow the keel of a sailing yacht to sit lower than the trailer bed, thus minimising the clearance needed for bridges. On larger yachts, it’s also possible to remove the keel to allow for road transport.

Companies specialising in this kind of yacht delivery often subcontract local pilot vehicles, which already have the permits necessary for wide or long loads. My own experience of shipping long distances by road is that operators aim to build in sufficient slack into the schedule that they have an excellent chance of meeting the quoted delivery date. But don’t be surprised if the overall time needed is longer than you expect. Depending on the size of the yacht it may not be allowed on motorways at any time of day and in some instances any movement may be restricted to daylight hours outside of rush hour, which can be a significant restriction in winter.


Towing a boat yourself by road

yacht transportation: DIY towing by road

Towing a boat by road behind your own (or a hired) vehicle is a viable proposition for smaller lightweight craft.


An option that can make sense for smaller and lighter vessels is to tow it yourself. With a large 4×4 vehicle, or panel van, in the UK the maximum towing weight limit is around 3.5 tonnes. A trailer for this weight of boat may weigh close to 1,000kg, so the maximum displacement for which this is option feasible is around 2.5 tonnes. Even that may be optimistic, particularly for older boats, as most boat builders exceeded the intended design weight. To make matters worse, much additional equipment may have been added by subsequent owners. Therefore, the only way to be certain of the all-up weight of a boat/trailer combination is to put it on a weighbridge.

Nevertheless, there are a number of lightweight dayboats, weekenders and RIBs of up to 32ft that are sufficiently light in weight and narrow to go on a conventional road trailer. This is recognised in many insurance policies, which may automatically include cover for boats of up to 30ft in transit, but if your boat is longer than this the policy may need to be amended.

For more practical guides to buying and owning a yacht, see: How to buy a used charter boat and Five negotiating tactics for yacht and boat buyers.


Rupert Holmes has more than 70,000 miles of offshore cruising and racing experience, in waters ranging from the North Sea to the Southern Ocean and Cape Horn. He writes about all aspects of boat ownership and marine travel, including destinations, seamanship and maintenance, as well as undertaking regular new boat and gear tests. He currently sails around 5,000 miles per year and in the past couple of seasons has cruised from the UK to the Azores, as well as winning his class in the 2014 two-handed Round Britain and Ireland Race. He also owns two yachts, one based in the Mediterranean and the other in the UK.