Claiming an Abandoned Vessel in Florida
Florida has no salvage laws giving the finder of an abandoned vessel rights of ownership. Florida is a title state, thereby requiring a transfer of vessel title from owner to purchaser in order to obtain legal ownership. A person who finds an abandoned vessel and who wants to make claim to it must comply with Section 705.103, Florida Statutes. This will allow for a person to make claim to the property and make application for title transfer into his name.
Frequently asked questions
Can I just help myself to an abandoned vessel that has been discarded or left on public waters of the state?
No! It is a crime in the state of Florida to take an abandoned vessel without first getting title to it, doing so is considered theft. Failure to comply with Section 705.103, Florida Statutes could result in fines or even jail time.
If I see a vessel that I believe is abandoned, how do I make claim to it and start the claims process?
The first requirement is to report it to a law enforcement agency. The law enforcement agency will collect a fee for beginning an investigation, conduct an investigation under Section 705.103, Florida Statutes, and determine the owner of the vessel. If the vessel is not claimed in the process of the investigation, the law enforcement agency may transfer it to the finder with a bill of sale and evidence of the investigation. The finder would then make application to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) to have the title put into his name.
What am I required to bring to the DHSMV when making application to transfer the title into my name?
Please review document VSTL-29 of the Florida DHSMV explaining the procedures for acquiring such title. Remember, the investigation referred to in this document must be completed by a law enforcement agency.
How long does this process usually take and how much does it usually cost?
The investigation process usually takes between 45 days to 120 days or longer. The cost associated with the investigation is usually between $300 and $600. The costs may be more or less than this depending on the investigation requirements.
What happens if I get title and then can't remove the vessel or bring it into legal compliance?
Once title has been transferred into your name, you become legally responsible for the vessel. If its condition were to become derelict, then you would be held responsible. Derelict vessel owners can face both civil and criminal penalties which may include jail.
Can I take parts of an abandoned or derelict vessel without obtaining title?
Absolutely not! This is considered theft and would subject a person taking such parts to criminal charges.
Can I claim a vessel that has been posted as derelict by a law enforcement agency?
In most cases the answer would be no. Due to an ongoing criminal investigation and the condition of the vessel, it is not suitable for the claims process.