How To Get A Title For A Boat Without A Title

Buying a new boat will likely be one of the most exciting purchases you make in your life. However, if the current owner doesn’t have a title, you may worry about whether you can legitimately buy the boat and whether you’ll be able to get your own title in the future.

How to get a title for a boat without a title

Make sure that you get a bill of sale including the hull identification number and/or registration number of the boat and be sure that you get a title warranty or don’t complete payment until you get your title. Then, you’ll be able to apply for a title with your state.

Here’s what you need to know about how you should get a title if your boat doesn’t come with one, some common reasons why boats may not have a title, and how to be sure you can avoid buying a stolen boat. 

How To Get A Title For A Boat Without A Title

Ensure That You Have A Bill Of Sale

If you want to get a title for your boat, it is imperative that you have a bill of sale. The bill of sale is what gives you ownership over the boat.

Without it, you will have a very difficult time proving that you really have bought the boat. Be very questionable of any seller that refuses to give you a bill of sale when they hand over the boat.

The bill of sale should include some essential information:

  • Sale date
  • Purchase price
  • Name and address of seller and buyer
  • Make and model of the boat
  • Condition, color, and year of the boat
  • Hull identification number
  • What is sold along with the boat, including a trailer, boat cover, etc.
  • Warranties that are included with the boat

The bill of sale is typically signed by both the buyer and the seller. In many states, a notary signature will also be required. 

If you are not being given the boat’s original title, it is a very good idea to get a notary signature even if it isn’t required by your state since this will be extra evidence that the bill of sale is legitimate and will help you to get a title.

Apply For A Title

When the sale has been completed, you will use your bill of sale to apply for a legal title. The first step is to determine what state agency is responsible for boat titles. This responsibility varies state-by-state. 

Typically, the Department of Motor Vehicles or the Game and Wildlife Agency are responsible.

Your state’s website should give you information about how to register your boat. Your state’s website will also be able to give you information about what forms are required, how much title registration will cost, etc.

Keep in mind that sometimes the trailer needs to be registered separately. In some cases, the trailer will need to be registered with a different agency than the title.

The same bill of sale should be acceptable for both boat and trailer registration, assuming that the trailer has been listed on the bill of sale.

How To Get A Title For A Boat Without A Title

Is A Receipt The Same Thing As A Bill Of Sale?

A receipt that simply indicates how much you paid for a boat is not the same thing as a bill of sale. Do not accept only a receipt, even if the seller insists that it is sufficient.

A bill of sale doesn’t have to follow a particular template or need to be a particularly official document, but it does need the information indicated above.

Write up a bill of sale yourself and insist that the seller provide the necessary information and signature if they do not have a bill of sale.

Even if the boat sale is a handshake deal for a gift, insist on getting the bill of sale so that you will be able to get a title for the boat. 

What Is A Title Warranty?

A title warranty isn’t always included with the boat, but it often is in order to set the buyer’s mind at ease.

The title warranty is a guarantee by the seller that there are no outstanding claims like a loan against the boat when it is sold. 

It will give you protection in case a claim comes up. If this should happen, the seller, not you, will be held liable.

If you do not get a title warranty when you buy a boat, if a claim comes up after the sale, you may be responsible for it, even if you didn’t know about it before you bought the boat.

You can look up the boat’s registration number or hull identification number to see if there are any liens against it. If there aren’t, you may not be as concerned about getting a title warranty.

However, if there are, title warranty is absolutely essential. Otherwise, you’ll be responsible for the debt that goes along with the boat.

Why A Boat May Not Have An Existing Title

Sometimes, a boat not having a title may be an indication that it has been stolen or has liens against it.

However, other times, there is a perfectly legitimate reason that a boat may not have an existing title. Here are some cases in which a title may not come along with the boat:

  • The boat is new or has never been used on the water. If the boat has never been put into use, a title may never have been created for it. If you are buying a boat from someone who has made it themselves or if the boat was bought and stored on someone’s property or dry dock and never taken out on the water, there may never have been a title registered for it. In some states, only boats that go out on public property require a title, so if the boat was exclusively used on private property it may not have a title.
  • The boat may be coming from a state that doesn’t require a title. Not every state demands that a boat has a title. If you are buying a boat from a state that doesn’t require a title but live in a state that does require a title, a new title will be required.
  • The boat isn’t long enough to have required a title in its state of origin. Some states only require titles for boats of a certain length. If the boat you’re buying is shorter than that length, a title may not have been necessary for it. 
  • The boat was stolen or has liens against it. The final possibility for why the boat doesn’t have a title is that it was in fact stolen or loans are open against it, so the current owner doesn’t want to give you the title or doesn’t have access to it. This is probably not the most likely reason, but it is important to be cautious if a title isn’t included with the boat for this reason.

How To Tell If The Boat Someone Is Trying To Sell You Has Been Stolen

Unfortunately, selling stolen boats can be big business. Stealing boats from docks or off of anchor can be very easy, making this an attractive crime for many people.

If you are not very careful, you may end up accidentally buying a stolen boat, which can be an expensive mistake or even make you a suspect in the crime.

Here are a few indications that somebody is trying to sell you a stolen boat:

  • There is no existing title. A boat that doesn’t have a current title does not necessarily mean that it has been stolen, but it is a warning sign to look out for. After all, how was the current owner using the boat if it did not have a title? If someone tries to sell you a boat without the title, ask some questions about why there is no title included.
  • The seller does not have the boat’s registration number or hull identification number. The registration number or hull identification number will allow you to go online and see if the boat has been titled in the past and check for any possible liens on the boat. If the seller refuses to give this information to you, it may be because they don’t want you to know about existing liens on the boat or that the boat is in fact stolen. 

How To Safely Buy A Boat That Does Not Have A Title

There are a few things that you can do to ensure that a boat that you’re buying without an existing title has not been stolen or does not have liens on it.

  1. Get the registration number or hull identification number and any other identification numbers that the seller has.
  2. Go to whatever agency is responsible for titles in your state, whether it is the DMV or Fishery and Wildlife. Check numbers on the database to confirm that the person who is selling the boat is really the owner.
  3. Ask for language on the bill of sale that indicates that some of the payment will not be provided until you get a new title to protect you in case you have trouble getting the title after you purchase the boat.
How To Get A Title For A Boat Without A Title

Make Sure To Follow The Laws When Getting Your New Boat

Buying a boat is extremely exciting, and it can be easy to be overwhelmed with plans for getting out on the water and not think carefully about all the legal ramifications.

However, it is very important to make sure that you will be able to get a title for your boat to stay within the law.

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