Tender and Toy Registration Mandatory in U.S. Waters

1 May 2009 By Kelly Sanford

Just about every other country in the world regards a yacht’s complement of watercraft as possessions of the mothership. Commonly denoted with a simple “T/T,” the tenders and toys of most foreign-flagged boats do not require separate cruising permits or registration numbers, making life blissfully simple…at least until you enter the States.

Take note. According to Quintin Waters, an officer with the marine unit of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, it seems that a lot of yachts coming into Lauderdale recently are unaware of this. “It seems to be happening constantly,” he says. “Just Tuesday, [a large Heesen motor yacht] came in with no [tender] registration.” U.S. Customs Cruising Permits cover only a single vessel, not everything aboard. Small boats fall under local jurisdiction and local legislation, which requires separate registration in order to be used legally while in the U.S.

The U.S. Coast Guard website warns, “Documentation of your vessel does not cover the vessel’s tender or dinghy. These craft fall within the jurisdiction of the motorboat numbering laws of the state of principal use.”

Regardless of your yacht’s flag and your cruising permit, tenders and toys must be registered with the state agency in the area of principal use once you have entered U.S. waters. Though your home port might consider your tender complement an extension of the yacht, within U.S. waters, the only vessels recognized as tenders and authorized for operation without a separate registration are those used for emergency evacuation only.

As Lisa Borkowski, president of ASAP Marine Documentation and Registration, says, “If you are riding around in U.S. waters in an unregistered boat marked strictly as a ‘tender-to,’ then the mothership better be sinking.”

“The typical excuse we get is that the tender is registered under the main boat. But that [registration] does not include tenders or water toys,” Waters says. Though it may be tempting to shrug off registering each and every one of the boat’s tenders and toys for a single season in the U.S., you should completely understand the repercussions of doing so.

The penalty is severe if you operate in Florida waters for 30 days without proper documentation. If you’re caught operating a vessel that remains unregistered after 30 days, regardless of the flag, you can be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor.

That’s right, a crime. This means that the problem is not the owner’s, it’s the operator’s…that’s you, skipper, or possibly one of your crew or guests. If you’re charged with the crime, it appears on your license and can adversely affect your ticket and your future in the industry.

And just because you manage to register your tenders and water toys doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. “You have to carry the documentation with you,” Waters says, “even if that means folding up the paperwork and putting it into some sort of key ring device so that it stays with the vessel at all times.” Even the PWC. “We just want to make things easier so there are no misunderstandings,” Waters says.

To avoid complications, register tenders and toys at the local department of motor vehicles or use a service like ASAP Marine Documentation and Registration to handle those details for you.

“This is not a major ordeal,” says Borkowski. “Once I have all the paperwork and information it only takes a few days and will only cost on average about one hundred-fifty dollars per vessel, depending on the vessel’s length and duration of the registration.”

Of course, use-taxes may also come into play and will be contingent upon your area of principal use. However, if the thought has crossed your mind that registering the tenders and toys for a short stay in the U.S. might be more bother than it’s worth, keep them dry on deck or think again.

For more information, visit or stop by your local DMV.

Additional reporting by Lauren Beck.