GREAT OUTDOORS: Buying Used Boats – Obey The Law

Great Outdoors pic-4-18-13

Special to the Parade

Spring along the Texas coast translates to people taking to the Gulf and bays in ever increasing numbers. Fishing and just pleasure boating is a popular activity. New boat prices have increased as have the longevity of boats and motors. This has led many people to look for and purchase a used or pre-owned boat.

As if the savings were not enough some folks not getting filing for new titles and altering the actual sale price on the transfer documents trying to avoid paying the proper taxes on the boat and motor. In some cases this practice has led to some people purchasing stolen boats, motors, and trailers.

The state of Texas and the law enforcement branch of Texas Parks and Wildlife have issued notices and warnings that buying or selling a boat people should be handled much in the same way they would a motor vehicle.

“We see people buying boats at garage sales and receiving no paperwork and wanting to transfer it to their name,” said TPW game warden Tony Norton of Henderson County. “You wouldn’t buy a car without getting the title.”

If the seller doesn’t have a title but has proof of boat ownership, they can request a duplicate title and then transfer it over to the buyer. The penalty for not transferring a title is up to a $500 fine. And without a title, the boat can’t be registered. There are also far more serious ramifications for those who refuse to properly register their boats.

“What if somebody steals it? They have to come up with proof they own the boat and a lot of them can’t,” said Sgt. Fred Churchill, member of a new TPW Marine Theft Unit formed in March.

Another common mistake is getting a title but not completing the boat transfer and motor transfer forms correctly. The forms can be obtained at any TPW office or at A separate transfer form must be filled out for the outboard motor title. There is a civil tax penalty and a fine for not registering and paying the sales tax on the boat and outboard motor within 20 days of purchase.

Since boat registrations are good for two years, some people may have boats for as long as 18 months before they try to register the boat in their name and by then, it may be impossible to track down the pervious owner and get a bill of sale to prove it was a legitimate transaction.

“Most people don’t worry about it until the registration expires,” Churchill said. “Then they realize what a mess it is.”

Another common violation is people selling boats without endorsing the title in the first place. They thereby skip paying taxes on the boat – another violation punishable by a fine of up to $500.

Norton says he also sees changes made in the tax affidavit sections on transfer forms, (title applications). “They change the price of the boat so they don’t have to pay as much tax,” he said. Title applications are government documents and falsifying information or altering them for financial gain is a felony, according to Churchill.

“Because people see boats as toys, they don’t put as much importance on the titling process as they do with cars,” Churchill said. “People don’t realize when they’re trying to save a couple hundred bucks, if the altered documents are presented to one of our offices and processed, they committed a felony,” he said. And that violation is punishable by up to two years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.

For more information on titling, registration and boat sales, visit

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