Locating Yachts

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Locating Yachts

So, you are looking for a Yacht? For the uninitiated it can be a very difficult process, but much can be done to hunt down a Yacht, knowing its history and its possible whereabouts.

Hull Number -­‐ All vessels have a hull number. Usually this number is a number given in sequence for a given line of vessels that are manufactured. Bob’s Yachts may manufacture a line of 23-­‐meter sport hulls and the model is called a Mediterranean Flyer. The first in the series will carry the designation as, Mediterranean Flyer, Hull 001, Built by Bob’s Yachts. The HIN (Hull Identification Number) in the US comes in three sections Manufacturer Code | Hull Serial Number | Date of Certification, this can be usually found on the starboard side of the transom.

International hull identification serial numbers appear in the international ISO format with fourteen characters. The prefix is the country code followed by the MIC (Manufacturers code) – composed of three letters. This is followed by the builders model name and serial number followed by the month and year of production or model year.

This is set out in the following example: ES –BBB7B0001L013

ES (country code) Spain – BBB (Manufacturers Code, name), 7B (Model)0001 (serial no.) L (month of build -­‐ July), 013 (year of manufacture). This hull identification number will appear on the transom permanently built on or etched into the hull and occasionally on a permanently affixed plate on the starboard side of the transom. One may find a second or third place in the Yacht where the number may be stamped or etched and hidden to deal with yacht thieves.

AIS-­‐ The Automatic Identification System is an automatic tracking system used on ships and by vessel traffic services (VTS) for identifying and locating vessels by electronically exchanging data with other nearby ships, AIS base stations, and satellites.

AIS Type is a number that corresponds to the type of vessel. For example, 60 might be a passenger ship or 40 a cigarette boat. When searching for a yacht it is best to have a few guesses as to the type of AIS number it may be using.

IMO (International Maritime Organization) Number is a ship number consisting of the three letters “IMO” followed by a unique seven-­‐digit number assigned to sea-­‐ going merchant ships under the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS).

The IMO adopted this scheme of numbering to “enhance maritime safety, and pollution prevention and to facilitate the prevention of maritime fraud”. It does this by assigning and IMO number as a permanent identification number that will not change if the vessel’s name, ownership or flag are changed. It applies to cargo vessels that are at least 300 gross tons (gt) and passenger vessels of at least 100 gt.

It does not apply to vessels that are:

  • Vessels solely engaged in fishing
  • Ships without mechanical means of propulsion
  • Pleasure yachts
  • Ships engaged on special service
  • Hopper barges
  • Hydrofoils, air cushion vehicles
  • Floating docks and structures classified in a similar manner
  • Ships of war or troopships
  • Wooden shipsMMSI -­‐ Number A Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) is a series of nine digits which are sent in digital format over a radio frequency channel in order to uniquely identify ship stations, ship earth stations, coast stations, coast earth stations and group calls. Any vessel with Inmarsat communication or traveling internationally will be assigned a MMSI number. Also when traveling to foreign ports, one is required to have a Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit holder aboard.Call Sign -­‐ Maritime radio users are required to be licensed and hold a call sign for their vessel. Merchant and naval vessels are assigned call signs by their national licensing authorities. Typically, these are 2 letters to identify the vessel country fouled by a series of letters and numbers. Call signs for larger vessels consist of the national prefix number plus three letters

With any or all of these unique identification numbers one can be guided using the following:



For fun see what you can find for the following vessels:

     M/Y GALACTICA Pleasure craft, IMO 9426673

     LADY CHRISTINA Pleasure craft, IMO 1008530


While this is all very technical and relatively automated, sometimes we have to get back to basics. For example, if all of the electronic gear on the vessel is turned off and the vessel may have been towed or in dry dock, one may have to visit the harbor master of the last known location to get some information. Talk to the people in the brokerage business, yacht and boat chandlery folks, fuel suppliers, and other assorted wharf rats to get what you need to know. Also, I’d advise that you call the manufacturer and see if you can get any information on where they may have shipped repair parts, or the vessel outfitter to see if they have had recent communication with the owners and/or captain.

I also like approaching people who gather at or near a crew staffing business and/or vessel charter operations. These expensive boats rarely sit idle when their owner is not with them. The vessels are crewed up and chartered out to help defray the cost of ownership. Chatting up several of the yacht personnel and offering a “finder’s fee” has proved often to be very productive.

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