Q: Can I keep the boat that washed up in my yard during Hurricane Ian?
A: The answer is almost always no. Florida, is not a “finders keepers, losers weepers” state. Possession is not 9/10ths of the law. Florida is considered a “title” state. Title to the vessel remains with the boat owner, even if the boat breaks loose and ends up in your yard. If you take possession of the boat without obtaining title to it, you may be subject to criminal penalties for theft.
Q: If the owner doesn’t claim the boat, can I get title to it?
A: Under maritime law, you can obtain title as a “finder” of the boat only if the boat owner expressly or impliedly “abandons” the boat. Bemis v. RMS Lusitania, 884 F. Supp. 1042 (E.D. Va. 1995).
Q: What is express abandonment?
A: In some cases, the boat owner may not have insurance and may be willing to simply sign title over to you rather than incur the expense of removing the boat from your property. That would be considered express abandonment.
Q: What is implied abandonment?
A: Don’t assume that the owner has impliedly “abandoned” the boat just because he or she hasn’t shown up to retrieve their boat soon after the storm passes. Under the law, there is a strong presumption that the owner has not abandoned the boat. In many cases the boat owner does not know where the boat ended up and is looking for it. In other cases, the owner may be a “Snowbird” who can’t get to Florida because of closed airports. It would be up to you to prove that there has been an express or implied abandonment of the boat by its owner. Balzano v. Kutchytska, 981 N.Y.S.2d 633 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. Richmond County, 2013) (“there was no abandonment of the beached vessel by the claimant even though he did not locate it until ten days after the hurricane struck.).
Q: What should I do if a boat washed up in my yard?
A: Chapter 705 of the Florida Statutes regulates lost or abandoned property. Section 705.102(1) provides that “[w]henever any person finds any lost or abandoned property, such person shall report the description and location of the property to a law enforcement officer.”