In Florida, maritime liens are authorized under both federal law, under 46 U.S.C. § 31342, and by statute. If you are interested in federal maritime liens, the Sarasota County Bar Association has a helpful article here.
Under Florida law, a marina can put a maritime lien on a vessel for unpaid costs, storage charges, or dockage fees. Fla. Stat. § 328.17. Individuals or commercial entities can recover money due from providing “necessaries,” such as repairs, labor, fuel, supplies, towage, and use of a dry dock. Fla. Stat. § 713.60.
What is considered a “vessel?”
Florida law has a very broad definition of “vessel.” It includes personal and commercial boats, barges, jet skis, airboats, etc. Basically, if you need to register your watercraft with the DHSMV, it is legally considered a vessel under Florida law. See Fla. Stat. § 327.02 for a more complete list of definitions.
Who can place a lien on a vessel?
If you have provided goods or services under a contract for the benefit of the vessel, chances are you can use a lien to recoup any money owed to you by the owner of the vessel. Individuals, commercial entities, and marinas are all eligible to use a lien as a means to recover from a delinquent vessel owner.
But I don’t want to go to court…
No problem! Since placing a maritime lien on a vessel is an administrative process, you don’t need to go to court. Maritime liens are best suited for smaller claims that would be impractical to sue upon. In fact, the lien attaches at the time the services or goods are provided to the vessel. If the owner does not pay for the goods or services, you can then “perfect” the lien by following a few steps outlined in the Florida Statutes. Instead of spending time and money on a civil or small claims lawsuit against the vessel owner, you simply provide notice that the amount owed is due, then after a short waiting period, you can sell the vessel to recoup your original expenses. Of course, it’s always a good idea to discuss your options with an experienced attorney, but if you think a Florida maritime lien is for you, then read below to find out how to perfect a maritime lien.
As a marina:
Holding a vessel to compel payment by the owner is just the first step. Next, the marina must file a lien form with the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Then, under Fla. Stat. § 328.17(5), at least 60 days before sale of the vessel, the marina must notify the vessel owner at his last known address by personal delivery or certified mail that a lien has been recorded against the vessel. The marina also has to provide the same notice to any current lienholders or others with a security interest in the vessel. If the vessel is registered outside of Florida, the marina must make a diligent search of that other jurisdiction’s lien records in order to find lien-holders outside of Florida.
By statute, the written notice to the vessel owner and other parties in interest must contain the following:
1. An itemized statement of the marina’s claim, showing the sum due at the time of the notice and the date upon which the sum became due.
2. A description of the vessel.
3. A demand for payment.
4. A conspicuous statement that, unless the claim is paid within the time stated in the notice, the vessel will be advertised for sale or other disposition and will be sold or otherwise disposed of at a specified time and place.
5. The name, street address, and telephone number of the marina that the owner or lienholder may contact to respond to the notice.
If, 60 days after mailing the written notice, the amounts owing have not been satisfied, then the marina can sell the vessel to recover the amounts owed plus interest and costs associated with the lien and sale. Meanwhile, the sale must be advertised in a local newspaper once a week for 2 consecutive weeks. The advertisement must include a brief and general description of the vessel, the address of the marina facility or the address where the marina is located, the name of the owner of the vessel, and the time, place, and manner of the sale or other disposition. The sale or other disposition cannot take place sooner than 15 days after the first publication.
After the sale, the marina may recover its amounts owed from the sale and hold the rest for the vessel owner to collect. A notice of the balance must be personally delivered or sent by certified mail to the last known address of the vessel owner. If the owner does not claim the balance within one year, the marina may keep it.
As an individual or commercial entity:
For individuals, the process is a little easier. An individual or commercial entity can perfect a lien against a vessel on their property using the mechanic’s lien statute, Fla. Stat. § 85.031. First, a prospective lien-holder must file a lien form with the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, which will serve as notice to the owner of the vessel.
Three months after the payment was due, a lienholder can sell the vessel at a public auction. Before the auction can be held, public notice of the sale must be made by posting notices for at least 10 days in 3 public places in the county where the sale will occur. Florida Statutes require one of these places to be the local courthouse, and another the place of business of the lienholder, in a conspicuous area. After the sale, the the proceeds (minus the payment owed and the costs of the sale) must be deposited with the clerk of the circuit court of the county, who will hold the balance of the proceeds for the vessel owner or other lien-holders to collect.
That’s all there is to it! Of course, you should check your local laws and ordinances to see if there are further requirements where you live or do business, and always double-check to see if you’re proceeding under the most recent laws and regulations. If you have questions or concerns, it’s a good idea to check with an experienced attorney who can help guide you.
Widerman Malek, PL: Our legal team
FL DMV lien form
Interesting article on federal maritime liens