Berth holders at some Aquavista coastal marinas are angry over boat selling rule changes introduced by management
‘Berth holders are revolting.’ That could be an observer’s view following a clash between the senior management of the Aquavista waterside marina group and its berth holders over the right of berth holders to sell their boats themselves or via independent brokers at coastal marinas in Chichester, Portsmouth and Hull.
Aquavista operates 29 marinas across England, most on inland waterways. Its marinas at Birdham Pool, Royal Clarence Waterside and Hull are recent acquisitions.
Last year Neill Walker, head of new business development at Aquavista, wrote to these berth holders announcing ‘the development and expansion of our current brokerage services’.
For those wishing to sell or upgrade their boats ‘our team will be on hand to ensure you obtain the best price for your vessel, manage all enquiries, carry out viewings, arranging surveys, river trials and ensure all legal documents are processed correctly and be there to support you…’
So far so good – but then came the sting in the tail.
The letter added: ‘we are restricting outside third party brokers from our marinas and only allowing authorised brokers to operate within our sites. We informed third party brokers of this change on 1 January 2023. The authorised brokerage within your marina will be Boat Sales by Aquavista.’
Boat owners wishing to sell privately were faced with removing their vessel from the marina prior to advertising it – without a refund on unspent annual fees – or paying an 8.5% levy to Aquavista on the sale value.
Steve De Polo, Aquavista CEO, also wrote to independent brokers, advising them of: ‘termination of access rights to our marinas for purpose of offering brokerage and/or agency services’ on the private land where the marinas were owned. Anyone seen offering such services would be asked to leave or be escorted out.
The independent Birdham Pool Berth Holders Association (BPBHA) took up members’ complaints with the local management team, to no avail.
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The association then contacted the RYA legal team, the Association of Brokers and Yacht Agents, The Yacht Harbour Association and British Marine.
All agreed with the RYA legal team’s guidance that such a monopoly would likely constitute an illegal restriction of trade.
The issue came to a head in March, days before the BPBHA annual general meeting.
Steve de Polo met with berth holder representatives and suggested it was all a misunderstanding.
He withdrew Aquavista’s exclusive brokerage, and agreed to look at other inland waterway-inspired restrictions, including the demand that all vessels in their coastal marinas have a pump out toilet – not a simple conversion aboard the many classic yachts moored in Birdham Pool.
So, Aquavista has given back the right for berth holders to use an independent broker, but to become an approved broker independent brokerages must agree to pay 0.5% of a sale plus VAT to Aquavista which they will undoubtedly pass on to the owner on top of the usual 6% commission fee.
By the end of March, no independent brokers were approved on the Aquavista website.
The boat owner must also pay a ‘sale on berth fee’ to Aquavista, which along with the independent brokers’ commission, amounts to the 8.5% levy initially planned.
Conversely, the Sales by Aquavista in-house brokerage service charges 4.5% commission on sales and waives the separate ‘sale on berth’ fee.
However, the operation is run online from Aquavista’s Nottingham headquarters with its nearest inland waterways broker used to show boats to prospective buyers.
The nearest Aquavista broker to the two south coast marinas is in Limehouse, London, and specialises in inland waterways craft.
During a visit to Royal Clarence Waterside Marina, Gosport, some berth holders met with the Limehouse representative and were concerned to find that he had no knowledge of sailing yachts or their value.
An Aquavista spokesman said it had “recently taken the decision to allow only approved third-party brokers to operate at our marinas. Aquavista offers an in-house brokerage service which offers our customers the benefit of lower commission fees and no additional sale on berth fee. Customers can still use the services of third-party brokers with prior permission from Aquavista.”
What is a restrictive practice?
A PBO reader, who wished to remain anonymous, sought help regarding restrictions for non-tenant contractors at his independently-owned coastal marina.
He said: “Our marina employs engineers and shipwrights. If we need work done, they won’t allow anyone else on site. I asked for a quote, which they gave as ‘£1,000 plus VAT’. I had the work well done by an independent shipwright for half that, but I had to take the boat to another marina where he could do it. Is my marina operating a restrictive practice?”
The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) legal department responded: “If the marina is unilaterally imposing a restriction on its berth holders prohibiting any external service providers to work on their boat in the marina, this could be viewed as contrary to consumer law.
“Under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (CRA 2015) unfair commercial practices are prohibited. This includes aggressive commercial practice such as imposing restrictions on consumer choice.
“If the agreement is silent, it is still likely to be found that any such implied term which limits a berth holder to only using the onsite service providers on location would likely be considered contrary to consumer rights law.
“This gives rise to the ability to seek redress through the Competition and Markets Authority, Trading Standards or the courts if unresolvable through direct negotiations.”
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