Florida Abandoned Boat Salvage Laws

By Chelsea Levinson - Updated August 13, 2018
Stranded yacht

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Abandoned and derelict boats are a huge problem in Florida. Dozens of wrecked boats litter the sunshine state’s waterways, causing hazardous conditions for other boats, and damaging the environment. Because of this problem, Florida has had to create multiple laws to deal with abandoned and derelict vessels. As recently as 2016, Florida enacted yet another statute to deal with this problem, focusing on boats that are at risk of becoming derelict. If you find an abandoned boat in Florida and are hoping to salvage it, there are a few things to understand first.

Tip

An abandoned boat in Florida is one that has been been left on public property in a wrecked or otherwise unusable condition. You cannot simply claim ownership of such a vessel. Doing so is theft under Florida law. If you want the boat, there is a legal process that must be followed.

When is a Boat Considered Abandoned?

Abandoned boats in Florida are vessels that have been disposed of on public property in a condition which makes them unusable. That could mean the boat is wrecked, partially dismantled or otherwise inoperable. Abandoned boat laws in Florida also include derelict vessels. Essentially, a boat falls under this law if it is abandoned in the water or on a public-owned boat ramp in unworkable condition. Leaving a boat in this condition is against Florida law, and can result in penalties for the owner, including up to five years in jail or a $5,000 fine. However, just because you find an abandoned boat doesn’t mean you can simply claim it for your own. There is a proper procedure that must be followed first.

Vessel Salvage Rights

Florida does not have vessel salvage rights laws. Basically, this means you cannot simply claim ownership of a boat that has been abandoned. Doing so is considered theft under Florida law and could result in fines or even potential jail time. If you want to claim rights to a boat that has been abandoned or left derelict, you must follow the abandoned boat salvage laws of Florida, contained under Section 705.103 of the Florida Statutes. This law lays out the process for how to claim an abandoned boat in Florida.

How to Claim Abandoned Boats in Florida

If you find an abandoned or derelict vessel, the first step you must take is to report it to law enforcement. Next, an investigation will occur for which you will be charged a fee. This fee typically runs anywhere between $300 and $600 depending on the individual circumstances of the case. Understand that the investigation process can take between 45 and 120 days, sometimes longer. If the boat is claimed by its original owner during the investigation, unfortunately, you are out of luck. However, if the owner does not come forward, law enforcement may decide to allow you to claim the boat. If this is the case, you will be presented with an Abandoned Property Certificate FWCDLE-003. Using this document, you should apply for the boat’s title at the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. This is the final step in the process. Once the boat’s title has been passed to you, it’s your responsibility. You must care for the boat. If you abandon the boat or leave it derelict at this time, you will be legally responsible, and penalized accordingly.

About the Author

Chelsea Levinson earned her J.D. from Cardozo. As a former policy researcher, she has a passion for communicating legal issues to the public. She has created legal and policy content for Vox, Levo, Run For Something and more.

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