Selling and buying boats in Florida is a lot like selling and buying any other motor-operated vehicle. The process is similar in that you must follow the proper steps for registration, proof of ownership, title transfer and sales tax. Review the boat sale laws to ensure you cover all the legal aspects of buying or selling a boat in Florida.
If you're looking to purchase a boat that is motor-powered, you will be required to register the vessel through your local tax collector's office in the county where your vessel is located or the county in which you reside. The registration should be kept on board and available for inspection whenever you plan to operate the boat. You'll have 30 days from the purchase date to register. During those 30 days, you'll need to keep the bill of sale (with proof of purchase date) on board. Additionally, you'll be required to renew your registration annually. Registration numbers should be displayed on the forward half of your boat, on both sides above the waterline and they must be bold block letters in a color contrasting to the hull and at least three inches high. Take note that if your boat is non-motor-powered and less than 16 feet in length, you won't have to register it.
Proof of Ownership
If you bought your boat used from the owner, he will need to provide you with proof of ownership. In some cases, the previous owner may be unavailable to provide you with the necessary paperwork. If that's the case, you can notify your local tax collector or license plate agency; you will need to state the problem in writing and provide the boat's Florida registration number. Some offices and agencies will provide you with the name and address of the titled owner, while others have a policy of not providing ownership information to the public. If you are unable to obtain the information, you can request the owner gets notified of the issue, and that he receives your contact information and any necessary instructions. He will then have the option to contact you to assist you. If he chooses to ignore the situation and does not help you obtain the certificate of title, or a bill of sale, you will then need to obtain a Florida court order to issue a title in your name.
All boat owners are required to pay sales tax on their vessels from the amount entered on the boat's title. However, if you can provide an itemized bill of sale detailing the price of each component of the boat, you may be eligible for lower tax rates. In most cases where boat owners provide itemized lists, they end up only having to pay sales tax on the boat and trailer.
Boat owners and sellers should also be aware that as of June, 2010, the Florida Boat Sales-Use Tax Cap limits the 6 percent Florida state sales tax on any boats purchased or the use tax for currently owned vessels to $18,000.