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Old 02-22-2006
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FaithAB,

Its unfortunate that no one with first-hand experience with Florida’s application of use taxes has responded. You can find relevant info about the FL sales and use tax at: http://www.myflorida.com/dor/taxes/sut_boat_owner.html.

Frankly if the MA broker has been in business very long I expect he has full knowledge as to how the FL use tax will apply to you as a FL resident, but probably doesn’t think it in the interest of his pending sale to share any potentially bad news with you. So he says “what do I know…”. He’d have to be a neophyte not to know the tax facts for major East coast states.

Based on my reading the link above (which is a bit ambiguous in key spots), and on my unfortunately extensive personal experience in MA with the subject of boats and the use tax, I offer the following opinions:
- if you bring your boat into FL, the FL tax authorities will find you out and as a FL resident you will pay the use tax.
- At the time you pay that tax you will be subject to interest and penalties, both based on the last date that you can CONCLUSIVELY PROVE the boat was not in FL.

The tax authorities operate by their own sets of rules, not like some court of justice, you have no presumption of innocence – they proceed on the basis that you are guilty of anything you cannot conclusively prove otherwise…

As a FL resident at the time of the purchase I expect you will find that the out-of-state exemption and six months does not apply to you. I think the key statement in the above FL link is the following: “However, use tax may be due immediately upon importation into Florida, under either of the following conditions:
  • The boat is owned by a Florida resident...”
Note also the last paragraph of the FL text: “Inspections and Compliance: Tax compliance is an important aspect of boat ownership because it helps pay for services that benefit all boaters in this state. DOR conducts tax compliance inspections at marinas, repair facilities, and other docking sites on a regular basis. We also use many other sources of information to determine compliance.”

In MA (and I bet FL) harbormasters, marine police, environmental police and the dog-catchers are all enlisted in surveying boats located in mooring areas and marinas for tax compliance, the tax collectors never need to leave their offices. They look for a state registration sticker or a town mooring permit. To get one, you have to prove to the issuer you’ve paid your sales or use tax. If your boat doesn’t have one, the boat name goes to the tax collector. The tax collector finds your name and address and bingo, you get a mail notice with a use tax bill, including estimated penalties and interest with thirty days to pay.

Whether you have Federal documentation only factors into this by allowing you to avoid walking into the tax office to get a state registration. Florida does explicitly exempt documented boats for the state registration requirement. As I say above, why should they care, you cannot easily hide a boat, and they have their agents on the job.

I know the above is the way it plays in MA – my current boat is a documented vessel located in downeast Maine when I purchased her – on the way home from the closing I stopped at the MA DOR and paid the use tax.

You may have some wriggle room in FL, but it doesn’t look like it. If you cannot find an authoritive source,(orbrowbeat it out of the broker...), given the tax involved it may be worth hiring legal advice...

Good luck,

PS - Remember there's only two certainites in life, death and taxes...
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