Is a Bill of Sale All I Need to Buy a Boat?

by Will Charpentier ; Updated July 27, 2017

Whether you're buying a used boat from an individual or a dealer, you must get a bill of sale for the transaction. You might wonder if a bill of sale is all that's needed to appease the government officials who deal with such matters. State law and the circumstances of the sale will qualify any answer to that question, since some states -- in some circumstances -- require more.

Buying From a Dealer

If you're buying a new boat from a dealer, the dealer will give you a bill of sale and an armload of paperwork. Part of that paperwork is the Manufacturer's Certificate of Origin. Dealers receive the Manufacturer's Certificate of Origin from the builder and pass it along to buyer. Before you use the boat, you must register the boat. Before you can register the boat, you must either pay the sales tax or prove that the sales tax has been paid to a dealer. Your bill of sale from the dealer indicates the dealer sold you the boat. The Manufacturer's Certificate of Origin lets the tax collector know that the appropriate sales taxes have been paid for a new boat.

Buying a Used Boat

When you buy a used boat, you'll receive a bill of sale. Generally, the bill of sale for a used boat states the name of the person or organization who's selling you the boat, the hull identification number of the boat your name --as the purchaser -- the amount paid for the boat and, if the boat is registered in a state, the state's registration number. The bill of sale will be signed by the seller, if the seller is an individual, or by the name of an authorized representative if the seller is a business or an organization.

State's Right to Request Added Information

States and counties generally reserve the right to ask for additional information and documentation. Because boat registration is a source of income for government entities such as county clerks, states that collect sales tax on all boat transactions, whether from a dealer or an individual, generally question any transfer where the stated price seems low; they may request additional information or documentation, such as a statement that the transfer is between family members. States that require a boat to carry a title as well as registration may require you to produce the seller's title before registering the boat.

Documented Vessels

Buying a U.S. Coast Guard documented vessel requires that you execute the bill of sale on the form provided by the National Vessel Documentation Center. The form is similar to the bill of sale required by the states in content except that the sale price of the boat is listed as "One dollar and other valuable consideration unless stated." You'll file this form with the NVDC rather than with the states or county.

About the Author

Will Charpentier is a writer who specializes in boating and maritime subjects. A retired ship captain, Charpentier holds a doctorate in applied ocean science and engineering. He is also a certified marine technician and the author of a popular text on writing local history.