In today’s modern world, the purchase, sale and resale of watercraft and their appurtenances has become relatively easy to do even for the novice through online listing platforms such as Craigslist, Yachtworld, and others. Often enough, however, buyers and sellers of vessels or outboard motors may be unaware that South Carolina law prohibits sales where titled property is not in the seller’s name. Pursuant to S.C. Code section 50-23-190(3), it is unlawful to sell, trade, or dispose of any watercraft or outboard motor unless first titled in your name, with certain exceptions, including motors less than 5 horsepower, U.S. Coast Guard documented vessels, and canoes, paddleboards, kayaks, and other such non-motor vessels only capable of movement through human effort (this does not include sailing vessels). Recent South Carolina residents may be unfamiliar with our state’s outboard motor titling laws since South Carolina is one of only 6 states nationally which titles outboards.
In short, when purchasing a vessel or outboard motor from an individual rather than a dealer or through a broker, pay special attention to whether the purported owner has a valid title. It has become common for “flippers” to purchase a vessel or motor and then try to sell it to someone else for a quick profit without first transferring the title into their name. This saves the seller the property taxes and registration fees, but can put an unwary purchaser in a tough spot if things are not what the seller purports them to be. The prudent purchaser should check the title against the Seller’s drivers’ license or other identification.
Sometimes, however, situations arise where there is no title to the vessel or outboard. For instance, if a vessel is abandoned by its owner, a person coming into possession may apply for a provisional title through the Department of Natural Resources. Another instance where this may arise is where an outboard is purchased used from a non-titling state. S.C. Code section 50-23-290 addresses the process for obtaining clear title to a watercraft or outboard motor without proper proof of ownership. Both processes require submission of various types of information to the SCDNR Marine Theft Investigations division and  attempting to contact the former owner of the property.

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