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2018 AOTY/DOTY Entry

Topic: Vessel Serial Numbers - This is not legal advice  (Read 1203 times)

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Ho Chi Min Oh

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Can you lawfully possess a kayak where the serial numbers have been removed?  Yes (Scenario 1 below).  Equally true, though, is that you may be subject to arrest for possession of a kayak with missing serial numbers (Scenario 2 below). 

Cal. Penal Code § 537e sets forth (in relevant part): 

   (a) Any person who knowingly buys, sells, receives, disposes of, conceals, or has in his or her possession any personal property from which the manufacturer's serial number, identification number, electronic serial number, or any other distinguishing number or identification mark has been removed, defaced, covered, altered, or destroyed, is guilty of a public offense ...

 For purposes of this subdivision, "personal property" includes, but is not limited to, the following:
   (9) Any vehicle or vessel, or any component part thereof....

(c) This section does not apply to those cases or instances where any of the changes or alterations enumerated in subdivision (a) have been customarily made or done as an established practice in the ordinary and regular conduct of business, by the original manufacturer, or by his or her duly appointed direct representative, or under specific authorization from the original manufacturer.

I suspect in the field of SOT kayaks, removal of serial numbers is a customary practice for warranty returns.  The process likely goes as follows:   

1.  Consumer ("C") calls manufacturer, advises boat has issues below h20 line (i.e., faulty knit lines in scupper).
2.  Manufacturer ("MF") routes consumer to authorized retailer ("AR") (who has knowledge of foreseeable defects or is trained to assess boat and hull damage)
3.  AR inspects/ tests boat.  If boat deemed "defective" for purposes of warranty, AR advises MF that boat should be replaced.
4.  If MF accepts/affirms AR's assessment, MF directs AR to cut out boat's serial number and return serial number cutout to MF.
5.  MF receives serial number cutout, then mails/ delivers new boat to AR.
6.  C takes home both old hull w/ cutout, and new boat.

The reason MF's prefer return of only serial cutout is simply to minimize cost of freight, insurance, and disposal. 

Scenario 1.  Clearly, not every one in possession of a boat w/o serial is in violation of PC § 537e.  If the boat was a warranty return, the serial was likely removed by the AR or by C at MF's direction, either action falling under the 537e(c) safe harbor [good pun :smt003].  The boat's likely to have a serious defect, along with its missing serial.  C would be in lawful possession of boat with missing serial. 

Scenario 2.  As to the issue of getting arrested for possessing a boat with a serial removed...
An arrest is justified if based on probable cause (a reasonable ground for belief of guilt which is particularized with respect to the person arrested).  So if DFG/PD sees C (who is not an AR) in possession of a boat w/o serial number, DFG/PD may form belief (whether rsnble?) that PC § 537e has been violated.  That reasonable belief is all that's needed to justify arrest.

Of course, The arrest is nullified where C can invoke and show application of 537e(c) safe harbor provision.  But c'mon, unrealistic to think anyone is going to lug around any warranty paperwork, either otw or back in the rig.  Hard enough to remember every piece of tackle and gear, let alone the "get out of jail" paperwork for your mutilated boat.


When considering buying a boat with a serial number cutout, can't automatically assume boat is hot.  But be VERY wary for several rxns.  W/o serial, C has questionable (if any) consumer recourse with MF or AR.  In addition, C is subject to possible arrest.  Lastly, if it is a warranty boat, AR/ MF deemed it appropriate to take it out of circulation by removing the serial - boat's got a non-negligible problem.  And finally, of course, the boat might actually be hot.
« Last Edit: October 23, 2007, 01:10:16 AM by yakuza »


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I would not recommend purchasing anything that had the serial number removed. Please remember that 496 PC also applies. That is possession of stolen property, which is a felony wobbler. And Cal cop can arrest for a felony, even if the felony was not committed in his presence, or whether or not a felony, in fact, has been committed.

So, if it's got the serial number removed, or it's such a good deal that you or a reasonable person would believe that it was stolen, RUN AWAY!

Just my two cents.


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Most Manufactures when replacing an item under warranty ask the vendor to destroy or donate the item. Is it then legal to sell, or does it become an ethical decision? If I made boats and a dealer was selling defective boats that I had replaced they wouldn't be selling my boats any longer.

I just looked at the ad isn't Brent AKA Pondsurf a member of NCKA? maybe he can tell us.
« Last Edit: October 23, 2007, 07:59:57 AM by mickfish »
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I've never seen a serial number on my kayaks, where would it be on an OK drifter?

I kinda thought that since they don't need registration, kayaks didn't come with serial numbers...
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I've never seen a serial number on my kayaks, where would it be on an OK drifter?

I kinda thought that since they don't need registration, kayaks didn't come with serial numbers...

Not 100% sure about the drifter, but check on the left side seam (where top meets bottom) at the very rear of the yak.  And if it's not on the left check the right.  And if it's not at the back check the front.  Heck, it's there somewhere.   :smt009

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I've never seen a serial number on my kayaks, where would it be on an OK drifter?

I kinda thought that since they don't need registration, kayaks didn't come with serial numbers...

They are really hard to see. Typically the number is scratched into the plastic toward the stern end.
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