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Quentin Bargate on the Unique Practice of Yacht Law

Quentin Bargate on the Unique Practice of Yacht Law
Quentin Bargate on the Unique Practice of Yacht Law

Beginning his career as a maritime lawyer in 1983, Quentin Bargate has watched yacht law grow from infancy into its very own practice. Today, as the founder of a firm synonymous with superyacht law - Bargate Murray - he is a leader in the industry, working on new build projects, drawing up vital contracts and dealing directly with yacht Owners themselves. We sit down to discuss the world of superyacht law; a specialism that requires “more than one hat…”

Could you give a little bit of history into Bargate Murray’s entrance into the area of superyacht law?
I began my career as a maritime lawyer in 1983, as an associate with Lovell, White & King (now Hogan Lovells). After joining Simmons & Simmons in 1987, I became a partner and Head of Marine Law and Transport in 1990. Yacht work really started to take off around 2000, and I founded Bargate Murray in 2004, specifically to focus on superyacht work. Simply put, we followed our clients developing interest in this niche, but growing area.

We are now regarded as leaders in the superyacht field, and one of the highest ranked law firms for superyacht work in the world. We enjoy long established relationships with a number of UHNW individuals, yards, brokers, banks and yacht managers.  Our work with superyachts has been recognised by winning numerous awards and by Chambers and Partners HNW Guides in which the Firm and I are ranked highly.

Do you think that today superyacht law is now a specialism and specific practice of law in its own right?
Yes, I do. It requires knowledge of maritime law and high end private client work. You have to be a people person when dealing with family offices, but an excellent business lawyer and advisor when dealing with private banks and yacht brokers. This mix of skills is unusual if not unique, so be prepared to wear more than one hat at a time!

What are the primary areas that clients require assistance with and in which you can offer expertise?
At the core of the skills we offer are black and white advisory work in new build agreements, tax, and structural advice.  We work with overseas colleagues and have to keep on top of developments in (for example) the approach of the EU Commission to tax efficient structures such as the French Commercial Exemption, or the Cayman Islands YETs scheme.

We also need to know the detailed ins and outs of yacht construction new build contracts, MYBA S&P contacts, yacht management agreements etc. It’s easy for the novice to make basic mistakes in advising on a new build contract, and our job is to ensure that our clients don’t end up trapped in a less than ideal contract.

Another area we are often asked to advise upon are Seafarer Employment Contracts (SEAs).  We have developed an excellent rapport with the Cayman flag and are able to assist in the drafting of these critical agreements in a way that is fair and balanced to the seafarer and the crew employer.

Can you describe any recent movements in the litigation of superyacht law?
We are intimately involved in dispute resolution involving superyachts, including litigation. I undertake superyacht and commercial arbitration work as an arbitrator under LMAA terms. Most cases are confidential, but we were involved in at least one superyacht case that ended up before the commercial court on a S.45 Arbitration Act application.

Are there any current global / economic factors influencing the demands from your clients?
The order book is perhaps not as healthy as it might appear, as many yachts are built with no buyer in mind. A relatively minor shock to the system, such as an issue with the US presidency or Brexit problems, might have a cascade effect that could threaten the currently rosy picture, so be warned.

How do yacht lawyers help with the build-process?
In my view, a good yacht lawyer is essential to any successful superyacht project, and plays a key role from the time when a letter of intent in signed, through the drafting and negotiation of the new build contract and specification, to the appointment of a project manager, build captain, designer, outfitter and suppliers, through to include contract variations, tax clauses and much more. In other words, if the yacht lawyer does his or her job correctly, it is very much the role of the trusted advisor drawing all these threads together and making sure they work seamlessly.

Are there any projects you’ll be working on in 2019 that you can tell us about?
We are working on a few, which include a very large Feadship project (the largest to date) and several others. We cannot comment on the specifics, due to client confidentiality, but the rules change in early 2020 such that large new builds will be built under the REG YC code designed for large yachts with more that 12 passengers. This can only be helpful.

With clear expertise in the field, Quentin and the team at Bargate Murray are not only available to assist with your superyacht requirements but also practice in areas such as aviation, property and commercial and business law. Keep up to date with the latest from the firm across the year on our news pages.

You have to be a people person when dealing with family offices, but an excellent business lawyer and advisor when dealing with private banks and yacht brokers. This mix of skills is unusual if not unique, so be prepared to wear more than one hat at a time!
Quentin Bargate