As a skipper, you are responsible for the safety of your boat and everyone on board. That’s why it’s essential that you know and follow local, state and federal boat registration requirements.
Federal regulations were created to manage the movement of marine traffic and reduce the number of boating accidents. State and local boating laws address similar concerns.
Boat registration requirements
Motorboats must be either
- registered in the state where they are primarily used, or
- documented with the U.S. Coast Guard.
Documentation is an optional form of national registration for yachts of five or more net tons. Some states require you to also register documented vessels.
Additionally, keep your registration or documentation certificate on board in a protective waterproof container whenever your boat is in use.
Boat registration numbers
Attach your assigned registration numbers permanently to each side of the forward half of your boat where they can be readily seen.
- Registration numbers should read from left to right.
- Use block letters at least three inches high.
- Also, use a color that contrasts with your boat: black lettering on a light-colored boat or white lettering on a dark-colored boat.
- Boat numbers include two letters that identify your state, followed by a combination of numbers and letters that identify your boat. Unless specified otherwise by the respective state, your registration is valid in all states for a period of 60 days when traveling or moving.
- Use spaces or hyphens to separate blocks of numerals from letters.
- Attach state registration stickers within 6 inches of the boat registration number.
- Do not display any other numbers nearby.
The law allows each state to create its own numbering system. Find out the requirements in your state. Notify the state agency that issues your registration within 15 days if
- your boat is transferred, destroyed, abandoned, lost, stolen or recovered;
- your registration certificate with assigned numbers is lost or destroyed; or
- your address changes.
Surrender your certificate within 15 days if it becomes invalid for any reason.
Boat documentation requirements
The U.S. Coast Guard controls vessel documentation. In some states, you can use it in lieu of state registration. Documentation used for vessels transiting foreign ports provides clear tracking of the vessel’s ownership.
Documentation applies to
- vessels of at least 5 net tons (refers to volume not weight) wholly owned by a U.S. citizen and
- vessels over 25 feet in length.
Documentation identifies the vessel by name, port and a Coast Guard-issued documentation number, which must be permanently affixed to the boat’s interior. The Coast Guard handles documentation, and you can get information on the procedure by calling 800-799-8362 or visiting the Coast Guard’s National Vessel Documentation Center.
Feel at home on the water
Learn to boat with confidence by taking the Boat Handling course online from America’s Boating Club.