As the boating season here in the Okanagan comes to a close, the inevitable task of winterizing and storage of the craft soon follows.
Many boat owners simply hand their keys over to the storage provider and bid adieu till the following spring without an afterthought. Most fail to consider what their legal rights are as a boat owner while their craft is in storage. You may have heard horror stories from boats owners who leave their craft over the winter only to return the following year to find their prop missing or instrumentation removed, with no recourse from their storage provider who deftly point to a finely printed clause stating that they not liable for any loss or damage to the boat or its contents.
Frustrated boat owners leave feeling duped for having agreed to a contract that essentially exempts the storage facility from any liability or responsibility.
End of story right? Not necessarily.
Boat owners may still have recourse for their loss, despite what the signed contract says.
The boat storage situation involves an area of contract law known as bailment.
What is a bailment?
In its simplest form, it is a contractual arrangement between a boat owner (the bailor) who transfers temporary possession of their boat, to a storage facility (the bailee), for safekeeping on the agreement that certain conditions be met; most commonly payment for the rental of the storage space. At law, the boat is held in trust for the benefit of the bailor and upon full payment, the owner generally has the right to the immediate return of their boat in the same manner in which it was left.
Bailments are not strictly confined to boats. In fact, we enter into bailment agreements regularly: dry cleaners, valet parking, jewelry taken in for repair, even airline luggage can all be forms of bailments.
Courts have consistently ruled that, despite what a contract may say, bailees of goods may still have a legal duty to exercise due diligence and due care when providing storage services.
However, bailees sometimes fail to recognize their legal rights and options.
Things to consider
In a practical sense, a diligent boat owner should explore the following before handing over the keys:
- Thoroughly examine the contract. Ask questions and clarify any issues before signing.
- Speak to the manager. Find out what policies and procedures are in place to protect your items throughout the winter.
- Talk to other boaters. Find out which storage facilities are reputable.
- Inquire about their record of safety and security: Have they had issues of loss or theft in the past?
- Check with your insurance provider. Inquire about the scope of coverage provided while in storage. Does it cover loss of personal items left on the boat?
Unquestionably, the growth of storage facilities speaks to the high level of service generally provided to boat owners, including the one-stop-shopping of mechanically prepping the boat for winter and the offering of heated or climate controlled storage. In many ways, owning a boat has never been easier.
To be sure, both boat owners and storage providers often overlook what their respective duties and rights are under contract for bailment. For obvious reasons it is in the interests of all parties to understand the breadth and scope of any agreements entered into.
I am reminded of an old sailor’s proverb that is indeed applicable to both boat owners and storage providers who aim to provide first class service:
“Mackeral skies and mares tails, soon will be time to shorten sails”
A nod to the coming of autumn and its wintery gales… those best served should indeed seek protection.
The information provided above is for educational purposes only. This information is not intended to replace the advice of a lawyer or address specific situations. Your personal situation should be discussed with a lawyer. If you have any questions or concerns, contact a legal professional.