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BoatWiki - Definitions

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June 4, 2023 - Joint Tenants in boating terms, is a method of boat ownership by two or more parties having an undivided interest and equal rights of usage. Although rights of survivorship are typically implied in most situations, this may not always be the case. Such rulings are made on a state by state basis. A joint tenancy may entail any combination of individual owners and include legal entities depending on the respective state regulations. JTWROS is a very popular method of shared ownership when it comes to avoiding probate and other inheritance related issues.

Statutory Context

Joint tenancies are functions of state legislation as recognized by the Coast Guard with regard to vessel documentation. Rules and regulations for such arrangements may vary from state to state. Most jurisdictions will automatically confer rights of survivorship but there are a few hold outs. There are also circumstances where this must be specifically acknowledged on boat registration or title certificates. Other variables may include the number of tenants allowed and the inclusion of legal entities. The tenancy itself is not a legal entity, but rather an agreed consensus among the participants. Joint tenants are also subject to shared obligations and liabilities in most cases and one may bind the other, especially as it relates to the boat. A tenant may also transfer their interest to another party which effectively changes the ownership method to tenants in common.

State Registration Context

A joint tenancy can be established on state registered boats by simply checking the appropriate box on the initial application for registration. However, it may be shown on title certificates in different ways according to the respective protocols. These may include designations such as an "or", "Joint Tenants", "Joint Tenants with Right of Survivorship", "JT" or  "JTWROS". In cases where rights of survivorship are applicable, ownership may be assumed or transferred by a surviving party upon presenting a certified copy of the deceased party's death certificate.

USCG Documentation Context

Establishing a joint tenancy for USCG documented vessels is not quite so straight forward as checking a box on the application. It must be established by an indication of such designation on an instrument of transfer, builders certificate, previous title certificate, or upon a written statement of intent as executed by the respective parties. The Coast Guard will not recognize rights of survivorship unless sanctioned by the state in which ownership is to be domiciled. If called into question, the applicants may need to produce a copy of the applicable statutes. It will also not recognize an "or" designation on state certificates. All tenants must be U.S. citizens in their own right when applying for documentation.

In cases where rights of survivorship do apply, the equity of a deceased party will automatically pass on to the surviving tenant. The survivor may then assume or transfer ownership by presenting a certified copy of the death certificate. Those issued by foreign or non-governmental agencies may be called into question. Re-documentation of an assumption does not require an instrument of transfer. In a transfer situation, any signatures required on behalf of a deceased party should be implemented in the survivor's name as qualified by the words "Surviving Tenant."

 A joint tenancy can be broken by submitting an application for a change of documentation along with a letter of such intent as executed by the involved parties. In this case they will become tenants in common with equal shares of equity unless otherwise specified. It may also broken through an instrument of transfer granting one tenant's share of interest to the other.


Joint tenancy is one of the most popular methods of shared ownership in a particular boat. However, it also carries mutual obligations and liabilities for all parties involved with respect to its operation. It can furthermore impact matters related to estate planning and taxation. Boaters should consult with an attorney, accountant and financial consultant before making such choice. Any registration, titling, or documentation concerns should be addressed with the appropriate agency.

Credits and References

June 4, 2023 - Revision suggested by Vessel Title Services LLC.
Feb 28, 2022 - Initiated by team BoatWiki.



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