Monday, February 13, 2012

Threatened By The State for Building a Boat?

Here's something a little different that I thought I would pass on after reading about it on numerous boating blogs and forums I frequent.  It makes you wonder what's going to be taxed out of existence next when a state department of revenue goes after a man who simply wanted to build a boat to take his son fishing.

One thing that all preppers and people with an interest in survival have in common is the desire to be self-sufficient.  The ability to do-it-yourself and make things from scratch can go a long way towards freeing you from dependance upon expensive manufactured versions of the same things, which in many cases are  inferior to what you could make yourself.

As long-time readers here probably know, I'm a big fan of travel by boat, whether on remote wilderness rivers, through southern swamps, or along the coast or open ocean.  As a result of my interest in a variety of small craft, as well as a life-long interest in woodworking, I began building my own boats some 18 years ago, and have since built more than a dozen vessels, ranging from sea kayaks and canoes to fishing boats and offshore sailboats.  Most of my wilderness and sea journeys by boat would not have been possible if I had to buy the factory versions of these boats I built myself - mainly because I could have never afforded them.  But aside from the cost, there is an indescribable satisfaction to be had from turning a pile of wood and some epoxy and fiberglass into a beautiful and functional watercraft and then paddling or sailing it to some wild place.

While you can save a lot of money doing it yourself, building a boat is still far from free, especially if you care enough about how it looks and how long it will last to use quality materials.  And there's also no getting around the fact that it's a lot of hard work.  The same can be said about anything worth building or doing right.  You need some basic tools, as well as the ability to use them, and unless you have a talent for design, a set of plans drawn by someone who does.  Thousands of boats are built this way in garages and backyards every year all over America, and one would think that the right to do so would be unquestioned and unchallenged.  That's exactly what a Murpheesboro, Tennessee man named Jonathan King thought when he purchased plans and built a simple, low-cost 14-foot wooden boat so he could take his seven-year-old son fishing.

Tennessee, like most states, requires boats that are fitted with engines or sails for propulsion to be registered with the state in which it is operated.  This involves a small annual or semi-annual fee that is not unreasonable, but if you build your own boat from scratch, you first have to get it inspected so that a HIN (hull identification number) can be issued.  This number is required in order to apply for the registration number.  Like the registration, getting this number is not that big of a deal in my experience here in Mississippi, and having it does help prove ownership if the boat is stolen, so while it's a minor aggravation, most home boatbuilders don't complain.

But apparently that's no longer enough in Tennessee.  Given the current economy, many states are looking for additional revenue anywhere they can find it, and Tennessee has hired outside consultants to make sure they don't miss any opportunity to tax citizens for things they may have overlooked.  This is where Jonathan King ran into trouble.  After applying for the HIN for his homebuilt boat, which he never intended to sell and built solely for his own use, he was threatened with court action if he did not pay a $539.00 "use tax" on the boat, as he was now considered by the state to be a "boat dealer."  Never mind that he had already paid sales taxes on the plans that he purchased, as well as on all the plywood and materials used in the construction.  This "use tax" he was now being hit with probably amounted to nearly as much as all the materials required to build a boat of this size.  Thinking this was a mistake, he called the auditor and was told that no, they knew he built if for his own use, but the tax was still due and the state could get liens on the craft or pursue misdemeanor charges against him if he didn't pay.  Here's the original story:

This has prompted lots of discussion among do-it-yourself boatbuilders, such as these threads on the Wooden Boat Forum:

Here's one that starts with a letter from the designer of the boat to the governor of Tennessee:

As he points out, this story is going viral on the Internet, as well it should.  Those of you who are not into boats may not think it matters, but it's just one example of increasing loss of freedoms and restriction on what you can and can't do on your own property.  As some have pointed out, if a "use tax" can be levied against a home boatbuilder, what's to stop them from taxing those who build their own picnic table or doghouse, make their own clothing or bake their own cookies?  Isn't the economy already hurting ordinary people bad enough without punishing them for trying to save some money by making things themselves?

Another thing many Americans may not realize, especially if they are not boaters, is that most European countries have incredibly strict laws regulating building and using boats.  For example, in the U.K., a person building a boat at home for their own use is not permitted to sell that vessel until five years after it is completed.  That means if you spend hundreds or thousands of dollars building your dream boat, and then either discover it was not your cup or tea or perhaps need the money because you lost your job - tough luck, you're stuck with it.  Other European laws strictly regulate the type and size of vessel that is permitted to go offshore, and require you to buy and equip your boat with all sorts of expensive safety equipment that does not necessarily apply to the type of craft you own.  For example, in some countries sea kayaks are not permitted to travel more than 1-mile from the shore, despite the fact that they are among the most seaworthy of vessels.  There are many people who would like to see such laws passed here as well, and if this "use tax" issue is not resolved in Tennessee, it looks like we're already headed that way.


  1. This is an incredible story. I am not really surprised that states are starting to tax everything. They need their coffers full so that they can spend that money on other crap that is to their benefit and of no use the the general public.

  2. How else is the state going to pay for Obamacare if they can't tax anything and everything?

  3. Wow, this is incredible. It will be interesting to see what stance the Department of Revenus takes on this one now that they've been aggressively challenged. And no doubt, this has the potential to set a pretty big precedent.

    This type of stuff makes my blood boil.

    It angers me more to read the departments explanation ( explaning that basically he is paying use tax in lieu of sales tax, as if the only reason people could possibly be pissed off is because they don't understand something as complicated as use tax. Get real. Everybody knows what sales tax and use tax are. Offering an explanation doesn't make everyone magically happier. This doesn't address the real outrage. Use tax is for when you purchase something outside of your taxable jurisdiction, NOT when you make something on your own.

    I'll be interested to hear what happens with this. Thanks for shedding some light on this.

  4. Back in 2008, Gerald Celente predicted food riots and tax rebellions by 2012.

    This aggressive tax edict by the state of Tennessee shows that if there isn't an uprising soon, government will soon give itself the authority to place such a heavy tax burden on it's citizens that we will all face the threat of have everything we own taken from us by the state and sold at auction.

    This is a case of a man building a boat to take his son fishing because he couldn't afford to buy a boat. What happened to all the governments claims that they just wanted to tax the rich? Has anyone even heard of anything like this happening to a millionaire or billionaire? When are people going to realize that the rich now own the government and they are using it against the rest of us? If this is allowed to continue we will all end up as impoverished slaves forced to do whatever we are told or face starvation.

  5. Krraaayyyzeeeee! The logic of beaureacrats just boggles the minds.

  6. Isn't this the reason that our fore fathers left England? Back then they were taxed into submission and finally decided to leave rather than fight the system. I can see in the future that allot of our population will start to migrate to other countries or start a civil war to fight this type of oppression.

  7. Yeah, its becoming apparent why people are refusing to start up new businesses - government minions are throwing up barriers left and right! Permits, safety requirements / inspections - pretty soon going to need a permit for just breathing air . . .

  8. He needs to renounce his corporate personhood. They send him a bill address to JOHN DOE, when his name is John Doe. Accepted for value, and send it off and his federal reserve account pays for it.

  9. Here in Georgia, Code Enforcement officers will try and see if you are "making money" by doing for yourself, and will try to ticket you for "running your own business" on the premise that if you are not paying someone money, then you are doing business to make money by saving money because "any work for any gains" done on ANY residential property is considered "running a business."

    *ahem,* gardens are now seen as businesses because you are not spending money into someone else's pockets. It is illegal to do your own ANYTHING here. Such as washing your own car. Or repairing your own car. If you give a neighbor a ride, you *could* be called a "Taxi" service. And speaking of Taxi services - I heard that taxi companies ask for your name and address so they can pull a Warrant / NCIC check and the data goest to the local cop shop and they can pull records straight from the taxi compnys... So be smart. Have alt ID ready. The beast is coming.

  10. Wow... I thought it was only a matter of time before they figured out how to tax stuff you make for yourself. They've crossed the line as far as I'm concerned. I'm glad to be forewarned that Georgia and Tennessee are doing that, I'd love to be informed if any other states are. Pennsylvania is stepping up enforcement of its use tax, but so far as I've read, it only applies to stuff bought out of state and used in state.

  11. Just saw the March / April 2014 issue of SURVIVALIST magazine, it is dedicated to BO boat / seascaping life and topics - worth checking out.


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