There are 800+ Boats, PWC's and Yachts (watercraft) valued over $11million stolen each year in Australia, with only 25% recovered!  The most common stolen being trailer boats and personal watercraft (PWC's - Jet Skis).  It is known that criminal enterprises re-birth and transfer stolen watercraft between states in their effort to avoid the watercraft from being identified.  

No doubt the vast majority of watercraft for sale are legitimate and belong to honest sellers, although with the low recovery rates and increasing amounts of stolen watercraft each year, the trick is being able to identify the honest sellers with the legitimate watercraft and not get caught buying a stolen vessel.


There is no foolproof way to avoid buy stolen property, although you can substantially reduce that occuring by conducting thorough due diligence and being cognizant of common warning signs.  A good plan to follow when purchasing a second-hand watercraft is:

Assess the Advertisement 

  • Check comparable advertised watercraft to see if the price is reasonable;
  • Conduct a Google image search of the photographs in the advertisement, to make sure they haven’t been copied from another advert or website;
  • Check the sellers' history, where available;

Search MarineVAULT and Others

  • Prior to contacting the seller search the watercraft make and model on MarineVAULT to see we don’t have a matching stolen item.
  • Also, run a Google and Facebook search in case the watercraft is listed as stolen elsewhere.
  • Check the Australian Government Personal Property Securities Register (PPSR) to see if there is any incumbent on the watercraft. 

Conduct a Registration Check

Be aware that the marine industry unlike vehicles, registration of boats in Australia differs from state to state and there is no national linked database.  In some states a Hull Identification Number (HIN) isn't compulsory; some states only register the trailer, some the boat and some use a Boat Code identification system and others do not.  Below are links to relevant state and territory registration authorities websites:

Contacting the Seller 

  • Ask questions about the watercraft, how long they have owned it, and where or who they purchased it from. Honest sellers should be willing to answer your questions.
  • Be wary of sellers who do not supply a contact phone number and who only communicate via email or social media.
  • Ask for the HIN (Hull Identification Number), and/or engine number of the watercraft and run a search on MarineVAULT and an online registration check to see if there is a match. Note: Due to cloning of HIN details by criminals, some sellers are justifiably wary of providing these details over the phone or electronically and may insist on personal contact with the prospective purchaser prior to providing this information.

Inspecting the Watercraft

  • Take someone with you when you inspect the watercraft. If you are unfamiliar with the watercraft you are looking to purchase, bring someone with you who has knowledge and expertise and/or consider inspecting a similar watercraft prior.
  • Check the stamped in HIN and engine number,  Ensure they are intact and have not been tampered with/altered or changed and confirm they are the same as what you were previously supplied.  Note: An internationally recognized HIN consists of 12 digits (no more/no less) and does not include the letters ‘I’, ‘O’, or ‘Q’. These digits are always the number ‘0’ or ‘1’. Note: The 12 digit HIN was introduced in 1999, and boats produced prior to that date may have a HIN of varying length. 
  • The HIN identification is stamped onto a plate and fixed to the vessel usually in two separate places.

Safety Inspection

  • Engage with the seller of the vessel to have a ‘seaworthiness’ inspection completed.  Many vessels have been dropped onto a boat ramp and will have hidden hull and structural damage. Vessels could also have extensive corrosion throughout electrical systems and the engine.
  • Protect your potential investment by ensuring it has been maintained as the seller has advised and get the vessel checked and certified by a reputable marine service agent.

Trailer inspection

  • Your new purchase will need to be transported on a trailer that is registered with Vic Roads. Trailers are required to have a legitimate VIN that is stamped onto a manufacturers VIN plate affixed to the draw bar. Check the registration and VIN on the Vic Roads database for legitimacy.
  • Should the trailer be recorded with Vic Roads as ‘homemade’ be wary especially if it presents as commercially manufactured.  A homemade trailer has dubious welding and after frequent saltwater submersion will quickly corrode and become faulty.
  • Check the trailer registration and VIN at TrailerVAULT.   

Purchasing the Boat 

  • Request to sight ownership and TSV registration records for proof of identification.
  • Ask for a copy of the seller’s receipt from when they purchased the watercraft.
  • Obtain a comprehensive receipt from the seller. 


The following are some common ‘red flags’ that may indicate the watercraft you are looking to buy is stolen:

  • Poorly worded or deceptive advertisement title and description. The watercraft title may be vague and/or spelled incorrectly, and the description may not match the photographs.
  • The advertisement photographs are stock images, or there are no images. The seller may use a stock image as the main photograph displayed, hiding the real images to avoid detection.  It is common practice for criminals to skim and use photographs from legitimate adverts.  TIP:  Conducting a Google Image search may reveal if a skimmed photograph has been used. 
  • The advertisement photographs are blurred or poorly taken so it is hard to fully identify the motorbike.
  • The seller is reluctant to provide a phone number when you are arranging to inspect the motorbike. 
  • The seller wants to meet at a public place. Criminals selling stolen items don’t want you knowing where they live. TIP: It is always best to check the address exists via a Google search. A common trick is to make up a street number, which in some cases may be next to a laneway or at the end of the road. Be mindful of this when you meet with the seller and ensure they actually live at the nominated address.  Some legitimate sellers may also be reluctant to identify their correct address for privacy reasons.  If the seller is weary, ask to meet them at the local police station.
  • The price is too cheap, the seller seems excessively willing to do a quick deal, lowers the price dramatically, or wants to swap for another item.  
  • The seller has little knowledge of the watercraft they are selling.
  • The seller is unwilling to provide a comprehensive receipt or other identification documents.
  • The seller doesn’t have their purchase receipt, or the receipt appears manufactured.  Manufacturing a receipt is easy, so it is best to check the information is correct. Consider contacting the seller they purchased from. 
  • The watercraft has cosmetic changes. It is common for thieves and stolen property traders to try and disguise a stolen watercraft by altering the original appearance.
  • The seller has no prior selling history or has a history of selling many other watercraft and or parts. 
  • The HIN, engine number or any identification plates/labels have been removed or tampered with. 


The MarineVAULT Registration Sale Report is a free tool designed to highlight genuine sellers with nothing to hide, providing key watercraft and provenance information to aid buyers in conducting thorough due diligence. The Sale Report benefits persons with existing and newly registered watercraft added in the VAULT at the time of sale.

  • When a member registers their watercraft in the VAULT, the property information, photographs and ownership history is recorded and date stamped in the log book, as well as any future changes undertaken during its ownership. When the member decides to sell their property, they ‘Mark’ it for sale completing the sale declaration questions and optional links to websites where they intend to advertise.
  • Once submitted and approved, the watercraft is searchable on PropertyVAULT and the Sale Report URL link can be shared on buy and sell platforms, providing a simple way for purchasers to reference the report.
  • For the Sale Report to provide the greatest value from the provenance recording and date stamping process, it is recommended that the watercraft is comprehensively registered in the VAULT from new. 
  • Once the watercraft is sold, the registration can be transferred to the new owner, ensuring the watercrafts provenance remains intact.

IMPORTANT:  PropertyVAULT does not guarantee the authenticity of any information or photographs in the Sale Report, including the bona fides and identity of the seller nor the current and any prior registered owner. The information in the Sale Report should only be used as an aid when conducting due diligence.


If you find a watercraft for sale that matches a stolen watercraft on PropertyVAULT, report your findings via the 'MAKE A REPORT' tab on the stolen watercraft post. If we don’t have a match and you still consider it may be stolen, contact Police on 131444 or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.