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Uniform Titling For Boats

A Member interested in a used boat wanted to know how to tell if it might have been salvaged or sunk after a hurricane. The answer? You can't tell. Yet.

Uniform titling

Photo Montage: Getty Images/Brookselliot (boat), i-frontier (form)

If you're in the market for a used car, there's an easy way to find out if the car was ever involved in a serious accident or the insurance company considered it a total loss. State titles "brand" salvage vehicles so buyers know that the car was severely damaged (and may or may not have been repaired properly). Once a car has a salvage title, the brand remains with it, even if the car is reregistered in a different state. It's a valuable tool for consumers.

But prospective boat buyers have no such tool. In fact, 10 states don't even issue titles for boats, eliminating the possibility of a paper trail for a boat's history. That also makes it much easier to sell stolen boats to unsuspecting buyers. A thief can steal a boat in say, Florida, transport it and register it in a no-title state, such as Arkansas. With no paperwork, a buyer won't know his new boat was stolen.

The BoatUS Government Affairs team believes that boaters should have the same advantages as car owners when it comes to titling, and we support legislation called the Uniform Certificate of Title for Vessels Act (UCOTVA). The regulations would standardize titling laws in all states, just as boat numbering is standardized now.

The BoatUS manager of Government Affairs, David Kennedy, says, "This legislation institutionalizes several consumer protection mechanisms that are already commonplace for motor vehicles. These include clear labeling of significant structural damage on vessel titles, creating a uniform system to identify legitimate vessel owners/lienholders, and better ways to prevent the sale of stolen boats." Added Kennedy, "By 'branding' the titles of vessels that suffer significant damage, buyers will be made aware of material information that could affect a vessel's condition. It's designed to give buyers the true condition of the vessel and helps them make smart purchases."

There are a couple of other benefits that come as part of UCOTVA. One is that lenders may be able to offer the same lower "preferred mortgage" rates that federally documented boats are eligible for, without being documented. A robust titling system, recognized nationwide as well by the U.S. Coast Guard, also makes transfer of ownership easier and more secure. For consumers, the biggest advantages are that boats that suffer significant damage and are repaired, then later put up for sale, will now have titles clearly labeled as such.

If you're in the market for a used car, there's an easy way to find out if the car was ever involved in a serious accident or the insurance company considered it a total loss. State titles "brand" salvage vehicles so buyers know that the car was severely damaged (and may or may not have been repaired properly). Once a car has a salvage title, the brand remains with it, even if the car is reregistered in a different state. It's a valuable tool for consumers.

But prospective boat buyers have no such tool. In fact, 10 states don't even issue titles for boats, eliminating the possibility of a paper trail for a boat's history. That also makes it much easier to sell stolen boats to unsuspecting buyers. A thief can steal a boat in say, Florida, transport it and register it in a no-title state, such as Arkansas. With no paperwork, a buyer won't know his new boat was stolen.

The BoatUS Government Affairs team believes that boaters should have the same advantages as car owners when it comes to titling, and we support legislation called the Uniform Certificate of Title for Vessels Act (UCOTVA). The regulations would standardize titling laws in all states, just as boat numbering is standardized now.

The BoatUS manager of Government Affairs, David Kennedy, says, "This legislation institutionalizes several consumer protection mechanisms that are already commonplace for motor vehicles. These include clear labeling of significant structural damage on vessel titles, creating a uniform system to identify legitimate vessel owners/lienholders, and better ways to prevent the sale of stolen boats." Added Kennedy, "By 'branding' the titles of vessels that suffer significant damage, buyers will be made aware of material information that could affect a vessel's condition. It's designed to give buyers the true condition of the vessel and helps them make smart purchases."

There are a couple of other benefits that come as part of UCOTVA. One is that lenders may be able to offer the same lower "preferred mortgage" rates that federally documented boats are eligible for, without being documented. A robust titling system, recognized nationwide as well by the U.S. Coast Guard, also makes transfer of ownership easier and more secure. For consumers, the biggest advantages are that boats that suffer significant damage and are repaired, then later put up for sale, will now have titles clearly labeled as such.

Titling Vs. Registration

You may not realize it, but titling and registration are two very different things. A title establishes ownership of your boat, while registration proves that you have paid taxes or use fees in the jurisdiction where you keep your boat. Your boat's registration number is what you see in big numbers and letters on the hull, often along with a yearly sticker that shows you've paid the required fees. In non-title states, registration is as close as you can get to proof of ownership without an actual title (along with previous bills of sale, insurance documents, and so on) because HINs and owners' names are included in the document.

While there are several states that don't title boats, all states require some form of registration on boats with engines, or over a certain length, and some states even require canoes and kayaks to be registered. Vessels that are U.S. Coast Guard-documented (which does establish ownership) must still be registered in most states. Registration fees collected typically fund state boating programs, which include resource protection, building and maintaining boating access areas, educational programs, and safety patrol programs that aid in identifying lost or stolen boats.

Author

Charles Fort

Contributing Editor, BoatUS Magazine

Charles Fort handles BoatUS Magazine’s exclusive Reports section, a group of in-depth tech features in every issue written to help readers avoid accidental damage to their boats. He’s also on the BoatUS video team, and writes investigative features for the magazine. He writes BoatUS Magazine’s Consumer Affairs column, is member of the National Association of Marine Surveyors, he’s on ABYC’s tech committees, and has a 100-ton U.S. Coast Guard license. Charles once took his young family cruising for a year, before returning to head up BoatUS’s Consumer Affairs department, helping Members with dispute-mediation when they have consumer issues with marine products. He lives in California, where he’s BoatUS Magazine’s West Coast editor.