Importing a boat from the US to Australia (the DIY approach…)

My Stratos 201 ProXL imported from the US. Once it arrives, you soon forget all of the dramas of getting it here!

The strength of the Australian Dollar (1.07 USD as we speak) over the last 12 months, and the sheer amount of choice available in the US boating market, has seen a surge of Aussies buying and importing boats from the US, either through local dealers or privately through a broker.

It’s an experience that for me personally was both frustrating and ultimately rewarding. Below are some snippets of my experience – by no means a comprehensive checklist, but certainly some things to consider.

This time 12 months ago, my baby arrived in Port Kembla, awaiting customs and quarantine clearance, and for me to collect her.

Here’s a short video of the first run on Sydney Harbour.

Fast forward 3 months, and the journey began with an offer and the ultimate sale of my then Attack boat.  I hadn’t really put myself in the market for a new boat, so in a sense my hand was forced… so to speak…

I really had no idea what I wanted.  The only real criteria was that I wanted bigger (read more comfort) and faster (no I don’t always drive like a Grandpa).  My initial thoughts were to buy “retro”.  There were a couple of older Ranger’s around the traps that I thought would be fun to restore, and could ultimately give a unique slant on the Bass Boat thing here in Australia.

This started a vigil of scouring the internet for information about these Ranger’s, but eventually I had A realisation that there was so much more choice available in the US. Not just in terms of the brands available, but in the sheer number of boats for sale at a price that I could actually afford!

There are a number of options available to you, through brokers, and through dealers who will actually find you a boat to your spec, but my story is a recount of the DIY approach – somehow, that just seems to be the way we Seeto Brother’s roll.

Do your research:

There are a stack of websites that list new and used boats over there, and a number of fishing forums as well.  Bass Boat Central is a great place to start. There are listings for just about every brand and model available, and you soon get a good feeling for the prices.

It was "love at first sight" from the moment I laid eyes on her...

When you’ve found a boat you’re interested in, my advice is to ring the vendor (private or dealer).  They’ll take you more seriously if you’ve bothered to call.  I emailed a few vendors in instances where I was just “kicking tyres” and probably got a response from only 50%.

Initially I thought I would buy new, or close to, from a dealer.  There are great deals to be had, I can tell you.  2-3 year old BRAND NEW boats that have been sitting in yards, under covers, with zero hours on them, at great prices.  The limiting factor you ask?  Choice of colours, and location…  A big factor in your calculations and one to be considered carefully.  How far is the boat from the nearest shipping Port? Land freight in the US is expensive.  One quote I got was for almost USD2000 to transport a boat 1000 miles to the required port.  almost 30% of what the sea freight cost me from the US to Australia.

The other factor was motor warranty.  Essentially, Warranty on the motor will not transfer to Australia.  So bearing this in mind, my thoughts were, that I’d take the same chances buying a second hand boat with no warranty from the US, as what I would, buying the same boat at home here in Australia.

In the end I purchased privately.  Through the classifieds on BBC, and from a guy that unfortunately had to sell his pride and joy.  Not brand new, but a close as you could get for a 5 year old boat, with all of the bells and whistles.  In hindsight, you might say I took a pretty big risk, buying a boat sight unseen from a guy I had only spoken to a couple of times.  But it’s a small world, and through an Aussie contact, of a contact, on the forum, he did a reference check on me through the ABT office in QLD, and so I did one right back on him.

On top of that, when you ask a guy what condition the gelcoat is in, and he can tell you exactly where the 3 scratches are on it… I had a gut feeling.  To top it off, he lived 20 Miles from the Port and offered to hand deliver it himself for me!

Nevertheless, I did do my due diligence.

I had the boat checked by a surveyor in the US. I had the diagnostic report from the motor downloaded and emailed to me, which I then had checked by my Marine Mechanic.

I got as many photos as I could sent over – of the boat, of the trailer, build plates, trailer springs, trailer lights etc. I had the trailer measured, once, twice. maybe even three times to see whether it would comply with Australian Regulations. I pretty much tried to plan and preempt any problems that I could foresee, especially with respect to the trailer and the modifications I thought I might have to do.

Get as much information as you can. Down to measurements of the trailer.

My budget allowed for a worst case scenario of 1. Having to cut the trailer guards and purchase new wheels and tyres to bring the overall trailer width into spec. 2. Having to change the Towball coupling to meet Australian Spec. 3. Having to rewire the lights.

Find a good Import Broker:

There a quite a number out there now.  If you know someone who’s imported a boat who had a good experience, get the details of their broker (…and better not to ask me for the details of mine).  The Broker will do as much or as little as you want/require.  Many of them can/will find a boat to your specs, organise surveys, broker a deal, payment and transport for you, as well as provide and lodge all of the relevant import permits and forms.

In the end I settled for a Roll-on-Roll-off service, where your boat is shrink wrapped, rolled onto the boat and stowed under deck, but not in a container.

So, I’d found the boat, negotiated a deal, and handed over a deposit.  All the while, I was communicating with my broker to ensure that the timing was going to be right, and that all of the relevant paperwork was completed and the boat would be booked onto the first available ship back to Australia.

Unfortunately things didn’t go all that well for me once I had the boat booked in with my Broker.  There were a number of issues, but it really boils down to a lack of communication.  He was intent on telling me what I wanted to hear, as opposed to the times and dates that were reality.  As a result my boat either missed or was bumped off 2 Australia bound ships.

As I’ve already mentioned, I purchased the boat privately, and I now realise that I was really very lucky that the gent I purchased from LOVED his boat.  He insisted on hand delivering it to the port to ensure it arrived safely.  Following all of the delays with departure, he sourced the contact details of the freight forwarder in the US for me, so I could have direct contact with them myself.  This was extremely helpful, and gave me piece of mind, which was absent dealing through my broker.

At this point I should say, I received a whole stack of valuable information from guys here in Australia who’d been through the experience of importing a boat themselves.  Things to look out for, what to expect when the boat arrived here, problems they’d had with trailer mods etc.  All really valuable information at the time.

One vital consideration, if you’re looking to import a second hand boat. Have the someone in the US clean the bilge area, kill tanks, livewells etc with bleach – paying particular attention to remove any slime, mould and organic material.  Have them clean the inside of the boat just before it gets shrink wrapped to remove any leaves and debris that may have been blown in. If the quarantine guys in Australia see leaves etc in the boat they will hold it back for cleaning. Doing all of this, I was lucky and had no problems with Quarantine – the boat arrived at Port Kembla on Sunday night and I had the boat by 11am Monday.

Once the boat arrived, I had to have it towed on a truck from Port Kembla, because my trailer didn’t comply with NSW regulations (ie lights) and therefore I couldn’t get a permit.

Factor in a tow from the port to your final destination.

I then spent 3 days modifying the trailer to get it registered.  I’d budgeted for a new set of wheels and tyres which I needed, but the guards were just fine, as was the towball coupling which was passed.

The other unforseen expense was a new EMM in the motor after about 10 hours on the water.  But as I said previously, there’s nothing to say I wouldn’t have had the same issue had I have purchased a second hand boat here in Australia.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. The frustration and headaches soon disappeared once I got the boat on the water, I saved myself at least 50% on buying the same boat brand new here – even taking into account the modifications and the motor issues.

15 responses to “Importing a boat from the US to Australia (the DIY approach…)

  1. Great to see it all came together for you. That’s a very informative article for anyone contemplating importing a boat from the US. Great work on reminding Aussies about the width restrictions here which don’t seem to be in effect over there. Some people have imported boats only to find they are restricted to daylight only towing with a wide load sign displayed.


    • Hi Dale. It all worked out in the end, and as I said I’d do it again, though maybe a tad differently.

      The trailer is the great unknown. I had fully expected to have to change the tow ball coupling but that passed. Others I know have not been so lucky…

      Thanks for the link back on BBC as well.

      Cheers, Greg

  2. Hi Greg, Looking at purchasing a boat this year. Just wondering about the price of the sea freight on your boat. I Live up at Coffs Harbour, thinking maybe i could get a boat shipped to brisbane. Have you got any ideas.

    • Hi Heath – I was quoted between USD5000 – USD 7500 depending on the length of the boat. That was for Roll-On-Roll-Off, ex Savannah in the US to Sydney.

      I think Brisbane would be your best bet. From memory the liners that mine cam out on went Melb – Syd – Bris.

      Remember to factor GST & customs clearance as well. There is no duty if the boat was manufactured in the US.

    • Dale – 2″. Doesn’t rattle too much. I like the coupling on the stratos trailer. I think they are more secure than some of the dodgy couplings I’ve seen here

  3. Great Read
    I have one that was imported and the blokes that brought mine in say around $5K to $6K plus GST on the purchase price. They said quite easy for them to get in.
    I had issues with traller but all sorted. Watch out for that part of it. The press steal coupling are suppose to be illegal in OZ but mine regoed with it and personnally I think a better unit anyway.
    If anyone wants to know the blokes that brought mine in let me know.

    • Agreed Andrew – I think the coupling on my trailer is better than a lot that are available here.

  4. Hi Greg, How much was the customs clearance, do i ring brisbane port to get a price on that. Sorry for all the question but is all new to me.

  5. I towed mine from Taree back to Brisbane with the Stratos coupling and then tried to take it off the car….hmmm, I looked at that stupid thing for 20 minutes before swallowing the embarassment and phoning Steve Morgan. He answered and knew I was ringing about the coupling.

  6. Hi Greg ,just wondering how you went about finding out if the boat still had money owing on it ? there are a lot of people in the US struggling financially and my concern in bringing one in would be trying to buy one that is still under finance

    thanks in advance

    Dave Harrington

  7. Does any body know where i can buy good price fishing boats from USA? Or where i can buy a new jet ski from? I have heard a lot of talk here in Australia that you can save big bucks importing from usa but i cant seem to find too many jet ski companies to buy one from!

    Cheers Deano

  8. I have perfect answer for you Dean Marsland:
    We specializes in shipping yachts, boats and & cargo and logistics from the USA east or west coasts, the Gulf States to Australia & New Zealand & Europe. While boat imports are our specialty we have been able to apply our many years of experience to successfully transport a wide variety of cargo. From trailer boat to luxury motor yacht, sports cruiser, RV'S or ski & wake-boarding boats,fishing Boats we have the knowledge to get it home for you.
    So can visit our site and buy or import any type of fishing as well as other boats.

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