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Old 11-05-2017, 14:32   #1
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Distinction between commercial and personal vessel in the US?

Hey all,

So I'm in a ridiculous research hole (when my ADD kicks off and I end up spending 12 hours learning everything about mushroom growth cycles and so on); anyway, I'm working on a hypothetical "marine hydroponic farming barge" concept.

It turns out it would be pretty profitable, partly because it's farming without having to pay for land, partly because I live in Los Angeles, and these city hippies will pay double if I can grow kale without using pesticide (sealed hydroponics in the ocean wouldn't need it). True I need an industrial sea salt filter for the whole system, but that's actually not that expensive.

The issue is that I'm pretty sure the vessel and farm would be flagged as a "towboat" and "shipping barge" respectively, requiring things like radar and night watch crew; which is pretty asinine for what amounts to a 30ft sailboat with a backyard garden...

Questions:
Does anyone know where the line is between personal and commercial?
If I live on my boat and run a web business I'm not required to flag commercial, so why would growing a garden onboard and then selling it be different? (They're both "non-marine businesses, that just happen to be on a boat".)
I think the fact that the grow assembly is towed might be the dealbreaker; is there max size to vessels a personal yacht can tow without being flagged a barge/towboat? (There must be since nobody gets arrested for towing their own rowboats, Haha)
The legal definition of a barge is, "A non self-propelled vessel", so do you think I could strap an outboard to a small floating greenhouse (like 8x12x10 ft) and call it a dinghy?

And just for the record, no I am not planning on growing pot... I totally would (more profitable), but I don't want to give the CG an excuse to push the whole "federal vs state jurisdiction over water" thing.
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Old 11-05-2017, 14:48   #2
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Re: Distinction between commercial and personal vessel in the US?

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Originally Posted by filmbuff View Post
The legal definition of a barge is, "A non self-propelled vessel", so do you think I could strap an outboard to a small floating greenhouse (like 8x12x10 ft) and call it a dinghy?
IANAL, but if it has a working, steerable outboard attached, then surely it's a "self-propelled vessel".

Call it whatever you like. If it's a floating, self propelled greenhouse, I'd probably call it a houseboat.
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Old 11-05-2017, 15:30   #3
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Re: Distinction between commercial and personal vessel in the US?

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IANAL, but if it has a working, steerable outboard attached, then surely it's a "self-propelled vessel".

Call it whatever you like. If it's a floating, self propelled greenhouse, I'd probably call it a houseboat.
Lol, well the idea was to build something like a collapsing trimaran, so it be an 8' wide, 12' long and 8' tall brick of grow racks/towers, then when you're out on the water you'd unfold it to ~750 square feet of hydro. Which would grow about 3-4k/month worth of kale, basil, cilantro, etc. That 3-4k is income, not profit; but the 2 largest costs in hydroponic farming are lights and rent (a 1.50 head of kale only actually uses 4-8 cents of water/nutrients), so using a boat to grab all that free ocean sun and real estate seems like a good idea if I can get around the maritime regulations.

Don't want to put the money into building the boat if it's just gonna get impounded by a bunch of dicks though. My thought was that as long as it only operates within sight of the mother vessel I can claim that growing dinner is part of "tending" the yacht, haha.
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Old 16-05-2017, 13:00   #4
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Re: Distinction between commercial and personal vessel in the US?

If the boat makes income, at a profit or not, it's commercial. Your web business isn't really related to commercial boat use. Hauling people, catching fish and selling them is. A sailboat full of plants in a marina probably won't interest the Coast Guard, but maybe not be appreciated by the marina.
The big issue with large towed objects is danger to navigation if it get loose or sinks. A large floating object anchored in the bay would attract attention and probably needs a permit like a fish farm. Also you're probably in a no discharge zone. That would especially include any water containing fertilizer.
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Old 18-05-2017, 02:38   #5
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Re: Distinction between commercial and personal vessel in the US?

Me, I would sail a while, think , then sail a while longer and think again before spending $ doing upgrades, most new owners want to stamp their mark on a new boat in the first 3/6 months of ownership. Yup that used to pay my mortgage. Be wary of throwing cash at your new boat. It's probably great as it is and as time goes by it'll feel comfortable. Enjoy
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