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When owners fail on their debts, I take possession of luxury boats valued at $20 million. When I hunt them down, this is what happens

  • Cage’s crew has seized 2,000 yachts since 2005, some of which are valued at up to $20 million.
  • He describes his profession to Jenny Powers, a freelance journalist.

Growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs, I first met my friend Bob Weeks when I was ten years old. We’re still in business together over five decades later, repossessing yachts and private planes from all across the nation.

It’s our responsibility to recover valuable assets from those who have defaulted on bank debts. We’re a bank’s final resort at the end of the day. When a bank contacts me and issues a repo contract, it implies they’ve exhausted all of their internal efforts — automated reminders, follow-up phone calls, past due letters, and administrative attempts to get paid back have been mainly disregarded by the borrower.

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I usually arrive 60 to 65 days after the ‘past-due’ marking has passed.

It’s time to turn things up a level once my repo team gets involved. My goal is to get the collateral back to the bank in whatever manner I can, service it, sell it to a third party, and recuperate the money. My firm merely charges between $400 and $1,000 for the actual retrieval; our real profit comes from the asset’s sale. The average yacht broker commission is 10%, although it reduces as the value of the boat increases, and we negotiate with our customers on a case-by-case basis.

We’ve repossessed 2,000 boats and sold more than half of them since Bob and I purchased an existing repo firm in Florida in 2005, ranging from a $1,000 1975 Trojan 32′ to a $20 million Benetti 160’+.

When the bank sends us a repo contract, they usually give us very little information.

We typically get the debtor’s name and last known address, as well as the boat’s year, make, and model, as well as the Hull ID or VIN. It’s up to us to do the rest.

Banks might also offer the repo contract to numerous repo businesses simultaneously, making our task much more complicated since it becomes a competition to see who can locate and repo the asset first.

When my partner, Danny Thompson, and I were on the Discovery Channel program Airplane Repo in 2014, this occurred to us. When another repo team arrived and started hauling the boat with us on it, we were repossessing a $3 million custom-built yacht. Danny was able to cut the tow rope, and I could drive the boat away, leaving the other repo men behind us. We made a $300,000 commission on that contract alone.

We start with an internet search of state registers for each repo. We also look up the boats’ history with the US Coast Guard, which shows the chain of ownership and name changes. Then we begin phone calls. Thanks to local spotters around the nation, we’re sometimes able to identify a boat with only one call.

I’m not here to cause anybody any embarrassment; I’m just here to collect the bank’s assets.

When I see a debtor face to face, I always inform them that no one needs to know why I’m here. They may tell spectators I’m buying their yacht from them, and they’re ripping me off for all I care. They can salvage face if they collaborate. It all comes down to appealing to their ego. One person even went out of his way to assist me by tying up his boat for me to the repo so he wouldn’t appear terrible.

Debtors are often pleased that it’s all done; they know it’ll only be a matter of time until we catch up with them. However, others are abrasive and will fight back. As a final shot at the bank, one man in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay Area hooked his boat’s propeller to the pier in the hopes of inflicting damage.

I’ve been in high-speed pursuits on land and water throughout the years, avoiding booby traps laid by enraged debtors.

Professional athletes twice my size attempting to fight me, a drunk hurling a shovel at my head, getting shot at, you name it.

I’ve never bought a boat since I didn’t have time to appreciate it. Between 2005 and 2012, I spent around 250 days a year on the road. However, we are considering purchasing a 24′-30-30′ fun family boat. I’ll pay cash for it.