Under Florida state law, boat trailers for all motorized vessels that operate on public waterways must be registered. A boat trailer that is 2,000 lbs. or more when empty must also be titled. The agency that issues vehicle registrations and titles is the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV). An owner can file an application for title and registration at the office of their county tax collector or at a license plate agent office. An owner can register their vessel for one year or two years.
Florida Law Relating to Boat Trailers
Section 328.40 of the 2021 Florida Statutes gives the FLHSMV authority over registration and titling of boat trailers. The purchaser of a new or used vessel has 30 days to title and register the vessel. During this interim period, the owner must have proof aboard the vessel of the date of purchase. It is a second-degree misdemeanor to operate an unregistered vehicle after 30 days. The penalty for a second-degree misdemeanor is up to 60 days in jail and a fine up to $500.
License Plate May Be Required
A boat trailer that is 2,000 lbs. or more needs to have a license plate. A homemade boat trailer requires a certified weight slip. A trailer’s weight determines the trailer registration fee. A Florida boat registration number is permanent – the numbers remain with the vessel for as long as the boat trailer is operated or stored in Florida. This is true even if the boat trailer changes owners.
Exemptions From Titling Requirement
Certain boat trailers do not need to be titled. These include boat trailers owned by the U.S. government, the state of Florida, cities or counties in Florida, and boat trailers already covered by registration numbers in full force and effect awarded to them by another state or the U.S. Coast Guard. The exception is for trailers located in Florida for over 90 consecutive days. Boat trailers used only for demonstration, testing or sales promotional purposes by a manufacturer or dealer also do not need to be titled or registered.
Certain Boat Trailers Need Fenders
A boat trailer that is 2,000 lbs. or more must be equipped with fenders, covers or other splash and spray suppressant devices, like substantial flexible flaps on the rearmost wheels of the vehicle. The Florida Department of Transportation can adopt rules necessary to implement this statute. A violation of this statute is a noncriminal traffic infraction punishable as a non-moving violation.
Towing Requirements for Boat Trailers
Towing requirements for boat trailers are found at 2021 Florida Statutes Section 316.530. When a towing vehicle is pulling a boat trailer, the drawbar or other connection needs to be of sufficient strength to pull all the weight that the trailer can tow and must not exceed 15 feet from one vehicle to the other. When a vehicle is towing the boat trailer, and the connection consists of a chain, rope or cable, the driver must display a white flag or cloth not less than 12 inches square.
When a vehicle is towing a boat trailer on a public road or highway with a trailer hitch on the rear of the vehicle, the driver must also attach safety chains, cables or other safety devices. These safety devices must be of sufficient strength to maintain the connection of the boat trailer being towed by the vehicle. A violation of this section is a noncriminal traffic infraction, punishable as a moving violation. A boat trailer must also be equipped with turn signals, taillights and brake lights.
Bill of Sale Is Required
A purchaser must show proof of ownership by completing and submitting an executed Form 82050, a notice of a bill of sale for a boat trailer and providing this document to the office of their local tax collector. The notice of the bill of sale must contain the year, make, body type, model, color, certificate of title number, current issue date and vessel identification number for the boat trailer. The seller and purchaser must also provide their names, signatures and addresses on the bill of sale. Further, the purchaser must state the boat trailer’s identification number or license plate number, date of sale and selling price.
A seller must submit a bill of sale to the office of their local tax collector within 30 days. This limits the seller’s civil liability for operation of the sold boat trailer. The tax collector updates the DMV database to reflect the title record as sold.
The ownership status of the boat trailer does not change until the purchaser applies for and is issued a new certificate of title in their name. An owner may also submit a builder’s contract, manufacturer’s certificate of origin (MCO) or other document acceptable to the FLHSMV when applying for registration. If the boat trailer must be titled, the title is issued prior to the registration being issued.
Online Transactions, Fees and Deadlines
An owner can renew their boat trailer registration or obtain a replacement registration online. They need to provide personal identifying information for the owner to log in and complete the transaction. If the owner renews online, they will receive the registration in the mail within seven to 10 business days. They can request an emailed confirmation receipt until the registration arrives in the mail.
There is a 2.4 percent convenience fee to pay by credit or debit card. An individual who renews their registration by mail will receive their registration within 10 to 15 business days. An owner can also renew by dropping the payment off in a secure drop box in their tax collector’s service centers. A trailer owner must drop off the payment within the center’s regular business hours. The registration deadline for a privately owned boat trailer is midnight of the first registered owner’s birthday. The deadline for a business-owned boat trailer is midnight of June 30.
Information for Visitors and Nonprofits
The owner of a boat trailer who lives out of state can use their registration certificate and number for up to 90 days. An owner who intends to use a boat trailer in Florida for longer than 90 days must register the boat trailer with the county tax collector or a license plate agent. The owner may keep the out-of-state registration number if they plan to go back to their home state within a reasonable time.
An organization is exempt from paying registration fees if they are a nonprofit exempt from federal income tax and use a marine boat trailer exclusively for nonprofit activities. The nonprofit must go to a local motor vehicle service center with their IRS determination letter to get the exemption.
- Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles: Getting a Hassle Free Title Frequently Asked Questions
- Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles: Vessel Titling and Registrations
- 2021 Florida Statutes: Section 328.40 Administration of Vessel Registration and Titling Laws; Records
- Palm Beach County Tax Collector: Vessel/Boat Registration
- 2021 Florida Statutes: Section 316.252, Splash and Spray Suppressant Devices
- 2021 Florida Statutes: Section 316.530, Towing Requirements
- Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles: Notice of Sale and/or Bill of Sale for a Motor Vehicle, Mobile Home, Off-Highway Vehicle or Vessel
- Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles: Vessels, Frequently Asked Questions
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.