Why there are no winners in grey-imported boats

A grey cloud looms over the boating industry
BIA Victoria
Buyers are getting more than they bargain for when grey importing boats, while dealers and builders are also hurting.

Confucious say 'ignorance is the night of the mind, but a night without moon and star' . . . and as shiploads of sportscruisers from the US continue to be dumped in Australia they are dark days indeed for legitimate boat dealers and builders.

On the surface they may appear to be a bargain but grey importing has grave risks and is hugely damaging for the wider industry and existing boat owners.

The problem is so severe that Boating Industry Association of Australia (BIAA) General Manager Nik Parker is bringing all the State BIAs together at Melbourne Boat Show tomorrow to discuss the issue.

There are few things that the various groups agree on but Parker says they are unified in pushing for a solution.
‘The experience of the scale varies but there is general agreement,’ he said. ‘In some areas a handful of boats are turning up, in others like Queensland and NSW it’s a handful of ships loaded with boats.

‘We are looking at what we can do but it’s not easy to solve this quickly. Unfortunately the long-term future for authorised dealers is fairly bleak if people just use them as a gallery then buy elsewhere.’

The BIAA launched a leaflet recently warning of the dangers but internet-savvy buyers continue to plunder the ailing US and European markets.

It beggars belief that someone would send many thousands of dollars overseas without touching and feeling the actual boat, but a number of self-importers have been caught out by misrepresented photos, transport damage and lost components.

Many of the US boats have a dubious maintenance history as they've sat for an age without the former owners having the money, or financiers having the wherewithal, to look after them.

Undeclared issues like osmosis or engine faults will quickly consume any apparent savings. And in the event of a problem, rarely will the new owner receive dealer or factory support, which is fair enough in this circumstance.
There's a huge element of ‘buyer beware’ that's often glossed over by photographs and flash-talking American boat salesmen who know they'll never see the customer again.

The biggest factor is the electrical system. Because American boats are wired for 110 volts you can't plug them into our 240-volt shorepower and run the internal air-con units, TVs, fridges and so on.

A transformer can be installed but there's no quick fix as Australian-spec boats are generally built on a separate production line. A genuine conversion costs at least $A50,000, which includes new appliances. Add another 20K if the genset can't be converted to 240 volts.

Being non-compliant with Australian standards, insurers may not touch them with a barge pole.

The industry associations will be focussing their attention on the Australian Builders Plate, which locally built and dealer-imported vessels must display in order to be registered.

‘Who is the party taking responsibility – the buyer, the importer or the US selling agent? That’s the question we’ll be discussing,’ Parker said.

Two Sea Ray 480 cruisers (in background) that were brought into Newcastle Harbour.
BIA Victoria