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    • A New Wrinkle in the Florida Sojouners Permit/FL Registration Discussion

      (Editor’s Note as of 1/23/13 – Two of the prinipal questions posed in the article below have been answered in a later published posting here on the SSECN. See /?p=106014. We are leaving this older article in place for awhile, as it contains additional information, particularly in regards to “antique” Florida boat registration).

      Recently, we published yet another discussion of the Florida Sojourners Permit here on the Salty Southeast Cruisers’ Net (see /?p=104513). As part of our introductory remarks, one of the reasons we cited for obtaining such a permit was:

      “1. If your vessel is registered in another state besides Florida, you can operate in Floridian water for up to 90 days without a problem. HOWEVER, if your vessel is Federally Documented, and NOT ALSO state registered, you MUST register it with the state of Florida, or you may be ticketed immediately upon entering Floridian waters. Or, put another way, Federally Documented vessels MUST ALSO be state registered (either with Florida or another state), or you face the possibility of a ticket.
      By the way, it’s this onerous feature of Florida state law that used to allow the “Venice Water Nazi” to ticket boats coming and going in the city of Venice.”

      Well, a new wrinkle has surfaced since we published this report, which originally appeared on the SailBoatOwners.com forum. One of this list’s enterprising members unearthed the Florida statute that controls this situation, and here it is:

      328.58’ƒReciprocity of nonresident or alien vessels.’”The owner of any vessel already covered by a registration number in full force and effect which has been awarded by:
      (1)’ƒAnother state pursuant to a federally approved numbering system of another state;
      (2)’ƒThe United States Coast Guard in a state without a federally approved numbering system; or
      (3)’ƒThe United States Coast Guard for a federally documented vessel with a valid registration in full force and effect from another state,
      shall record the number with the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles prior to operating, using, or storing the vessel on the waters of this state in excess of the 90-day reciprocity period provided for in this chapter. Such recordation shall be pursuant to the procedure required for the award of an original registration number, except that no additional or substitute registration number shall be issued if the vessel owner maintains the previously awarded registration number in full force and effect.
      History.’”s. 1, ch. 59-399; s. 1, ch. 65-361; s. 6, ch. 84-184; s. 57, ch. 96-413; s. 16, ch. 99-289; s. 25, ch. 2009-86.
      Note.’”Former s. 371.081; s. 327.16.

      Now, IF YOU READ THIS CAREFULLY, it would appear that if you have a Federally documented vessel, and IF your vessel’s home port is in a state that refuses to state register Federally documented vessels, your vessel is excused from the requirement of having to have some sort of state registration while navigating in Floridian waters.

      It is a fact that certain states do indeed refuse to state register Federally documented vessels. The state of Maine is an example.

      So, consider this message which first called our attention to this possible exception:

      I repeated your information about not having a state registration for a documented vessel being a ticketable offence in Florida on my blog and got shot down. You should check this post which has the cite:

      http://forums.sbo.sailboatowners.com/showthread.php?t=148671&#post990299

      The specific wording is:
      328.58’ƒReciprocity of nonresident or alien vessels.—The owner of any vessel already covered by a registration number in full force and effect which has been awarded by:
      (1)’ƒAnother state pursuant to a federally approved numbering system of another state;
      (2)’ƒThe United States Coast Guard in a state without a federally approved numbering system; or
      Italics added.

      I know this doesn’t mean that know nothing jackboots aren’t issuing tickets in ignorance of their own laws but it does mean cruisers with documented vessel have a leg to stand on if they are from a state like Maine.
      I still wouldn’t take this as absolute gospel without a lawyer. For example, Maine does have a number system for non-documented vessels and I assume it it federally approved. The state does not have registration for documented vessels other than local excise tax and a decal. I’ll bet you could spend five figures arguing this in court in FL if you decided to contest a ticket.
      It’s getting so you can’t cruise intra-state without a lawyer on retainer.
      Roger Long
      S/V Strider

      So, what does all this mean? If you have a Federally documented vessel, whose home port is located in a state that does not allow state registration of said vessel, does that indeed mean you can legally operate in Florida waters for up to 90 days WITHOUT your vessel being registered in any state???? Quite frankly, we do NOT yet have a definitive answer to that, but we are working on it!

      Any of you out there who are attorneys, particularly if you practice in Florida, we would WELCOME your input!!! Please follow the “Click Here to Submit Cruising News” link on the upper right of this, and all (except Chart View) SSECN pages, and share your information.

      One final point, even if this is a correct interpretation of Florida state law, that does not mean that some on-the-water “county mountie” who barely knows that the bow is the pointy end of the boat, may not write you a ticket anyway if your vessel is not state registered.

      As noted above, we’ll keep working on this thorny “only in Florida” problem!

      And, just in case you didn’t think this is a MURKY issue, we received these thoughts from fellow nautical author, and long time Florida cruiser, Captain John Kettlewell:

      Claiborne:
      Florida has always interpreted this as requiring your boat to have a “registration” in some state, whether or not it is “documented.” In 328.58 the sentence labeled (2) refers to the practice in the past that the Coast Guard provided state registration numbers and services in a couple of states that had no state registration program. I am not certain if any states still do not have a “registration” program, but it used to be this way in New Hampshire and Alaska, for example. The sentence labeled (3) is the one that pertains to most documented boats, and states clearly that even if you have CG documentation you must have a state registration to operated in Florida. The Venice “water Nazi” used to be quite explicit about these when he ticketed someone. The confusion comes because the terms “registration” and “documentation” mean different things.
      John J. Kettlewell

      Meanwhile, here is some seemingly contradictory info from Captain Ted Guy, maritime lawyer in Stuart, Florida, and past president of the Treasure Coast Marine Industries Association:

      For LESS than 90 days, no Documented vessel requires paying Florida tax or “registration”.
      W.E. Ted Guy, Jr.

      Ted, my understanding has been that law enforcement understands the law to mean even a documented vessel must have a state registration from some state to operate on Florida waters for those 90 days, even if your home state does not require you to register a documented vessel.
      John Kettlewell

      Are there any vessels that are `grandfathered’ from this regulation? For instance, a documented 1965 vessel that has been in Florida since 1970 and continuously operated in Florida waters.
      sv Karen from Chicago

      Karen, there is no `grandfathering,’ but if your boat is 30 years old it qualifies as an antique vessel and it is very cheap to register it in Florida’“something like $5 per year in most counties. Here is a link to information on that: http://www.flhsmv.gov/dmv/forms/BTR/87243.pdf
      John Kettlewell

      Here is a VERY GOOD question. Anyone got an answer?

      Would someone please define `90-day period’.

      Is it 90 consecutive days?
      Is it 90 days in a calendar year (1/1 ‘“ 12/31)?
      Is it 90 days in a 365 day period?
      Is it 90 days, period.
      Jeff Graham

      Now, here’s a really GOOD idea. We’ll get right on it!

      Claiborne,
      Perhaps you, or Larry, could write on SEECN letterhead to the Florida Attorney General and ask for a legal `opinion’ that applies to USCG Documented Vessels from states that do not register vessels. I know in NY an Attorney General’s `opinion’ carries the force of law in any NYS court of competent jurisdiction. It would be `enlightening’ to see what Pam Bondi has to say about this, and her opinion would bind courts and future administrations in the absence of intervening legislative action. The request must be rather specifically worded. Perhaps Ted Guy could help craft it.
      Whatdya think?
      Jim

      Another twist. I live in a state which requires surrender of federal documentation if you wish to register a federally documented vessel in that state. However, they did not require me to surrender mine when I registered my boat. Therefore I have a current state registration and a current federal documentation. I guess I get to pay double in Florida?!
      Reggie

      Claiborne answers – No, Reggie, I think you are OK. If your vessel is state registered in any state, then you are compliant with Florida state law, at least for stays less than 90 days! A stay of more than 90 days means you will have to acquire a Sojourners Permit!

      Reggie,
      Could it be that you’d surrender your USCG COD (a US Government Certificate of Title) if you wanted to `TITLE’ it in your home state? Titling and registration are *not* the same thing, legally, although they are often done together, and some states will process them together. This is a case where boats are very different from cars, and the automobile model does *not* apply to boats. You can not `Title’ a car with any US government agency, such as we do with the Coast Guard for boats. Because of a quirk in that process, I actually wound up with both a State of Maryland Certificate of Title and a USCG COD for Sanctuary.
      Jim Healy, aboard Sanctuary

      I printed out and read through the antique exception. If I understand it correctly, the vessel must first be registered in Florida, and then the registratio can be changed to antique.
      Reggie

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