What to Look for in a Reputable Boat Delivery Service


Delivery captains can be lifesavers for boat owners who need assistance in moving their boat, whether to transport a new purchase, provide professional support on long routes, or when having an experienced captain on board makes sense because the owner is still learning their boat or new cruising destination.

But selecting a professional boat delivery service that is the right fit for you, your boat, your destination, and your personal expectations can take some up-front effort. It’s an agreement that will require trust from you that the service you choose will make the most experienced choices, treat you and your boat professionally, and respect your time.

Equipping yourself with an understanding of the boat delivery service industry, clarifying your expectations, and having the confidence to make smart choices, will help you select the most reliable boat delivery service for your situation.

Let’s break it all down…

Licenses & Recommendations

At a minimum, the boat delivery services or captain you consider should have the proper USCG Captains’ license.  This may be a “six-pack” license, which allows the captain to carry up to six total passengers and crew members aboard a recreational vessel up to 100 gross tons.  Or this could be a 25, 50, or 100-Ton Master License.  The Master license allows for more than 6 people onboard and covers both inspected boats (ferries, wildlife tours, water taxis) and uninspected boats (recreational vehicles, fishing guides, scuba diving boats).

Your captain should also come with current referrals or recommendations.  In fact, one of the best ways to find a reliable delivery captain is to ask around the marina or yacht club.  Yacht brokers often have close working relationships with yacht delivery services and can offer great incite.

Boats in a marina

Boat Type & Size

Whether you have a sailing catamaran or a twin-screw trawler, finding a delivery service experienced with operating your size and type of vessel is important.  If you have a sailboat, you may want to ask if the captain has a USCG sailing endorsement for his license.   Hiring a captain familiar with piloting a vessel like yours means they will be more skilled in operating it in tight quarters like docking or transiting locks.  They will also better understand how to maximize the performance of your boat.  For example, a monohull sailboat and a catamaran sailboat will have different points of sail that they are most comfortable at—which could become important in rougher conditions.

Knowledge of Delivery Area

Many boat delivery services operate nationwide or even worldwide.  While not a requirement, it is advantageous to hire a boat delivery service that works with a crew that is familiar with the delivery area you will be transiting.  The experience with local weather patterns like fog or powerful afternoon thunderstorms can help the captain make the safest decisions for your boat and the crew aboard.

Defining Responsibilities

The hired delivery captain will have the sole responsibility of ensuring the vessel’s and crew’s safety while under contract.  They will be responsible for determining the vessel’s seaworthiness before getting underway, making sure all safety gear is aboard, in working order, and accessible, and making navigational decisions based on weather conditions.  The captain may make decisions that may delay the arrival date because of mechanical failures or waiting-out weather. It’s best for boat owners and delivery captains to discuss ahead of time what those scenarios may look like and how they will be handled.

Owner of sailboat learning how to operate his boat with boat delivery captain onboard.

Owners Aboard

As the owner, you may, or may not, choose to be on board during the delivery.  Often new boat owners having their vessel transported to their homeport will join the delivery if schedule allows. 

It’s a valuable time to learn your new boat and have the guidance of an expert to walk you through all the new systems and the unique handling qualities of your boat.  Other boat owners hire boat delivery services when first taking their yachts to new cruising destinations.  For example, many owners hire delivery services to bring their boats across the Gulf Stream and navigate the shallow waters of the Bahamas for the first time.

If you are looking for a delivery service AND want to reap the benefit of one-on-one expert lessons, discuss this with your boat delivery service ahead. You’ll do best to find a captain that looks forward to mentoring boat owners. Unfortunately, some excellent and competent captains don’t enjoy this as much.

Route Planning & Backup Plans

The delivery service you hire will determine the best route considering your vessel speed and condition, season, and timeline.  If you join the delivery, the captain may also make accommodations for locations you would like to visit along the way or navigation experiences you’d like to get more comfortable with while having a professional board—like offshore or overnight legs.

All seasoned captains will have backup plans to account for weather, boat repairs, bridges under construction…and numerous other unexpected circumstances.

Vessel Tracking

You, as the owner, can expect to be kept updated on any changes in the route plans, even if you are not aboard. In fact, many boat delivery services also provide boat tracking through services like Garmin’s inReach Satellite technology. Or, if your boat has an AIS transponder,  you can watch its progress on websites like VesselFinder.

Weather Monitoring

Weather is often the most significant variable in keeping to a schedule for boat delivery services.  Whether just being slowed down due to a strong headwind and chop, needing to cut short an offshore leg, or just hunker down and wait for a safe weather window, weather is always present in every decision your delivery captain makes.  Your captain will likely use multiple sources to gain weather information depending on the delivery location.

Captains often depend on NOAA, SSB radio received weather faxes, GRIB files accessed online or by satellite phone, or subscription routing services like Chris Parker.

Boat & Gear Preparations

A reputable boat delivery service will ensure that the captain will have sufficient time to inspect the vessel, all operating systems, and safety gear well before departure.  Often minor repairs are needed, even on newer, well-maintained vessels.  The captain will inspect things like: electronics have the most recent updates, the autopilot is calibrated, and windlasses operate freely.  Safety gear like flares, first-aid kits, flotation devices, and EPIRBs will also be inspected.

It’s not unusual for captains to bring a backup set of essential gear such as GPS, VHF, Satellite phone, or an iPad with downloaded charts.  Some boat delivery services leave the newly purchased backup equipment onboard after the delivery and include it in the fee. Others will take their personal equipment with them.  (Look to see that these details are clearly laid out in your contract.)

Insurance & Paperwork

You will need to provide insurance for your vessel.  The delivery captain may carry their own liability insurance, but it will not cover a vessel they do not own. Therefore, you will be adding the captain to your insurance carrier.  Your insurance carrier will likely require your delivery crew to submit their licenses and a CV of their experiences.  Every carrier and policy is different, so make the phone call to your insurance—don’t assume your crew will be automatically covered! You will also leave a copy of the insurance on the boat while it is being delivered.  You will also want to make sure any documentation, ships radio licenses, and inspection papers are also onboard before departure in case of an inspection or to clear into foreign ports.

Making Sense of Rates & Contracts

Rates for boat delivery services can be hard to compare because there are many variables—the type of vessel, size of the vessel, the distance of delivery, cruising area, expected route, timelines, even season.  Most proposals will usually break down the following:

  • Captain’s wages
  • Crew’s wages
  • Provisioning costs
  • Travel costs for crew
  • Anticipated fuel and dockage costs
  • Fee’s and permits

All reputable boat delivery services will work under a written contract.  Read and ask questions.  Ask for written clarifications when needed. You’ll want to see everything that is included in the price.  For example, the pre-departure inspection, post-delivery cleaning.  If charts or cruising guides (hardcopy or digital) are purchased, will they remain on your boat after the delivery? You’ll want to see what the policy is for an extended trip due to weather vs. mechanical failures. 

Industry Standard Payment Terms

The industry standard for vessel delivery services is 50% upfront and 50% upon delivery—usually paid while the crew is still on the vessel.  Funds for fuel and docking are traditionally paid upfront, or a convenient option is a dedicated credit card used for the delivery.  Any unexpected repairs or charges should require approval by the owner. 

Upon completion of the delivery, tipping, while discretionary, is standard.  If the boat owner joined the trip or is at the arrival destination, a celebratory/debriefing dinner ashore is a common and appreciated gesture. 

Finally, just like you depended on reading genuine recommendations or testimonials from your captain and crew’s previous deliveries, you can pay it forward by taking the time to write one for your experience.  Your delivery crew—and the future boat owners looking at hiring them—will most certainly welcome your efforts.

Start Your Boat Delivery Search Today

Hopefully, this helped you feel more confident in your search for a boat delivery service—whether you get a recommendation from your dock neighbor or found a promising lead online.  If you’d like to get started on a quote from a trusted boat delivery service immediately, I suggest you reach out to the helpful professionals at Sail Onyx.