Thursday, September 17, 2015

I Lost My Boat Title — Now What?

When you want to transfer the ownership of your boat to someone else, perhaps the most important document that you need to have in hand is the vessel’s title. The title is a legal document stating who the rightful owner of the boat is. 

In the event that there is ever a dispute over who actually owns the boat the title serves as the primary form of evidence as to who is the owner.

Like many documents, boat titles have a tendency to get lost. Even responsible boat owners misplace their boat titles — they are misfiled, accidentally discarded, or slipped into boxes of “important papers” that are stored for years and never looked at again. 

This isn’t usually a big deal until you want to transfer your boat to a new owner via a sale or donation to a worthy organization. In that case, not having the title can turn into a slight headache but one that’s easily overcome.

Replacing a Lost Boat Title

In most cases, replacing a lost boat title is a relatively simple process. Depending on your state laws — not all states require boat titles — you can generally request a duplicate title from the appropriate issuing agency. 

In most states, this is the same department that registers motor vehicles, but a few states funnel boat registrations and titles through their department of parks and recreation. You can generally find the information for your state on the state website.

If your state requires a title on the boat, you can generally request a duplicate document by filling out the required form and paying the necessary fees, usually just a few dollars. Depending on the state, you may have to request the title in person, or you can do it over the phone or online. 

When the Boat Owner Is Deceased

When the owner of a boat dies, it’s common for his or her estate to either sell or donate the boat

If the title to the boat is included in the estate, the transfer process is relatively simple: Upon completion of the appropriate forms indicating that the seller has the authority to act on behalf of the state (the probate forms), the sale or transfer is completed much like any other. 

If the title to the boat is missing, the representative of the estate can request a duplicate, provided he or she has the appropriate probate forms in place. 

Coast Guard Documented Vessels

If the U.S. Coast Guard documents your boat, the title issue is a little more complex. Boats that are USCG registered are not titled, but instead the owners receive a Certificate of Documentation declaring ownership of the vessel. 

These CODs supersede any title; in other words if the COD information differs from that of a state-issued title, the COD information will be considered true and correct.

When you are attempting to transfer ownership of a Coast Guard-documented boat, and you have the COD in hand, you simply need to complete and sign the transfer of ownership section and have it notarized. 

However, if you do not have the COD, you will need to request a letter of deletion from the Coast Guard, indicating that you are no longer the owner of the vessel and that you have transferred the ownership to a specific person or entity. 

The Coast Guard requires that you submit a valid bill of sale or other documentation indicating that you have transferred ownership of the vessel to another party.
Non-Titling States

Currently, only 32 states plus the District of Columbia require boat owners to hold valid titles. The remaining states only require boats to be registered, which is usually accomplished by showing the bill of sale or transfer, as well as any other required documentation, such as proof of insurance. 

If you are transferring ownership of your boat from a non-titling state to one that requires titles, in most cases the new owner will only need proof of registration in order to register the boat in his or her name. 

If you are transferring ownership in a titling state, or between two titling states, then you will have to take the extra step of acquiring a duplicate title before the transaction can be completed.

Usually, when you donate your boat to a reputable organization, the organization’s representatives can help you determine the paperwork requirements and help you acquire the documents you need. 

So if you are missing the title to your boat, don’t let that stop you from selling or donating it — with some legwork you can make the transaction legal.

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