Is shared boat ownership the way of the future, or a trending fad?


Partnerships and syndicates can offer a great, cost and time-effective solution to owning a boat. Joint ownership offers all the benefits of single boat ownership, without the major impact on time and finances that the latter can sometimes entail.


Given that many vessels spend significant periods of time unused on their mooring, it’s perhaps not surprising that boat sharing has grown in popularity over the years, as recreational boaters turn to joint or co-ownership arrangements to get them afloat.  


A written agreement is crucial, even for boats shared within families, and will help to ensure that all parties consider the various aspects of how the boat will be operated and maintained. As well as setting out each owner’s legal interest, the contract should clearly define the responsibilities towards the vessel and the share of expenses. It should also cover each partner’s rights to usage.


On request, the RYA can provide its 112,000 members with a free, template agreement for shared ownership – just one of the many benefits that membership affords.


An important consequence of joint ownership is the right of survivorship. This means that if one of the joint owners dies, their legal title in the boat passes automatically to the surviving joint owner(s). This may be desirable in the case of a husband and wife team, but is unlikely to be what a group of friends owning a boat together would want.


Where a group of friends (or strangers for that matter) wish to buy a boat together it is usually more appropriate for them to become co-owners. Each then owns a distinct legal share in the boat.


RYA Legal Manager, Mandy Peters, explains: “Boat sharing is a great model for those who'd like a boat, but know they don't realistically have enough time to make the most of full, outright ownership. It also works for those who want to take part in a number of different types of boating for different occasions – perhaps sailing dinghies at local club level, competitive sportsboat racing, and a more cruising-oriented yacht for family sailing.


“There are many common myths about boat sharing, which usually involve unsuccessful syndicates with poorly maintained boats and friendship or family feuds. While there are undoubtedly some syndicates that go wrong, most are successful, with well-maintained boats whose owners get more time afloat than many who own their boat outright.


“A good starting point is to establish exactly what each prospective partner wants from the boat sharing arrangement. For some, sharing a boat is an easy way to have crew on tap, whilst others want sole use of the vessel on a time-share basis. It’s also important to consider the group's attitude to maintenance and their preferences to carry out work themselves, or pay for the work to be carried out professionally. The handling of unexpected bills and the decision as to where the boat is to be kept are also important factors to consider.”


In addition to partnerships and syndicates, fractional ownership clubs and organisations also offer an alternative to buying privately. Mandy adds: “There’s nothing new about sharing the ownership of a boat – that’s been happening for many generations among friends, family and club members.  But recently we’ve seen more and more companies making it easier for individuals who don’t know each other to buy a boat get together. 

“It’s easy to see the advantages of fractional ownership, especially for those who have limited time available for boating. As well as saving a significant amount of money compared to owning and looking after a boat yourself, your time on the water is maximised and any unexpected problems are someone else’s responsibility. Other benefits may include training and familiarisation, as well as organised social events.”


Although the law is not prescriptive as to the documentation to accompany the sale and purchase of a vessel, documentation is required to comply with certain legal requirements such as the Recreational Craft Directive, compliance with national and EU-wide VAT rules and any national registration requirements.


Written in an accessible fashion, the RYA Boat Buyers’ Handbook is a vital purchase for anyone looking to get on the water – whether in their own boat or as joint owners. For more information, pick up a copy of the handbook, available in both print and e-Book formats, at


The RYA has also produced a Sale and Purchase Pack, exclusively available to RYA members, containing all the essential information on buying and selling your boat, which can be downloaded from the RYA website or by contacting the Legal Team on 023 8060 4223 or