Owning a boat is an amazing experience and provides owners with memories and adventures out on the water. You’ll encounter many benefits when you own a boat, including:
- Deepening family connections.
- Mastering new skills.
- Enjoying fun activities.
- Joining the boating community.
- Exploring lakes, oceans and rivers.
- Reducing stress.
If you recently bought a new boat, congratulations! This is an exciting purchase that opens up many opportunities to explore the bodies of water around you and create lasting memories. Before you start taking your boat out on the water, the most important thing you need to accomplish is registering your boat.
It’s required by law to register a new boat. This step should be the first thing you accomplish when you take home your boat. Make sure you know all the information and documents needed by your local authorities to register your boat.
Learn how to register your boat in the U.S. and be a responsible boat owner.
How to Register a Boat or Boat Trailer
Many questions arise for new boat owners when they begin the registration process. How much is boat registration? Where do I fill out a registration form? What documents do I need?
Luckily, this guide will help answer all your questions regarding the registration process, like how to obtain a certificate of title and why it’s essential for a boat owner.
1. LOOK INTO THE BOAT REGISTRATION REQUIREMENTS FOR YOUR STATE
The first step of the boat registration process is to look up all your state’s requirements regarding boat registration. The laws and rules vary between states, and you must follow the guidelines set out by your state government.
Following the process provided by your state ensures that you’re abiding by the boating laws and being a responsible and safe boat owner. Here is some of the other important information regarding boat registration that varies from state to state:
- Size and type of boat: Whether certain boats must be registered and the amount of their registration fee depends on the state. Many states consider boats powered by gas, diesel or electricity as watercraft requiring registration. States also consider the size of the boat and separate boats into categories by their length. Typically, watercraft like kayaks, paddleboats, canoes and similar items do not meet the size or power requirements for boat registration.
- Exemptions: Some other exemptions that state governments generally follow include vessels without motors, lifeboats and boats owned by the U.S. government.
2. COMPLETE A BOAT REGISTRATION ONLINE, IN PERSON OR USING A MAIL-IN REGISTRATION FORM
Once you know the requirements and laws in your state, you’ll need to know where to complete the registration. You can usually register a boat online, in-person or through the mail. A great place to start is online since most states offer the application process through their state government website. You may also visit your local Department of Motor Vehicles or equivalent entity and fill out an application in person. Some states allow you to mail in your boat registration application.
You’ll need to provide important documents and information along with your application that proves you are the vessel’s owner. While ownership documentation varies depending on the state, proof of ownership may include a boat title, a bill of sale, a consignment note or a copy of the receipt. The documents should include your signature, full name, address, the date you purchased the boat and a message showing you’ve paid for the boat in full. You’ll also need to provide a description of your boat in the registration application and hull identification number.
It saves you time when you check with your local department of motor vehicles or the equivalent department in your state to ensure you have all the correct documents before submitting your registration application.
3. ADHERE THE BOAT REGISTRATION STICKERS
After you submit your registration application and it’s approved, you must place your boat numbers and state sticker on your vessel and ensure your registration documents are on board. Like car drivers must operate their vehicles with a license plate and ensure they have their car registration on them while driving, boat owners must have all their necessary paperwork to cruise around a lake, river or ocean.
Typically, boat numbering and registration are a state requirement for all vessels that travel on the water. You’ll place the boat number on the front of the boat on the starboard and port side.
While the details of the registration numbers vary by state, they follow the same general rules:
- Numbers and letters must be clear, block-style lettering.
- Numbers and letters must be a least three inches and readable from 100 feet away.
- Registration numbers and letters must read from left to right on both sides of the boat.
- The color of the numbers and letters must contrast with the boat color.
- Registration numbers and letters must be separated by a hyphen or space equal to the size of the characters.
- The state sticker must be before or after the registration number.
4. LOOK OUT FOR REGISTRATION RENEWAL
Registering your boat after your purchase is the first important step to owning the new vessel. Another part of being a responsible boat owner is renewing your boat registration annually.
Having current boat registration paperwork is a law. It’s important to check the expiration date only for your boat registration paperwork to know when you’ll need to pay renewal fees and obtain an updated boat registration. Try and start this process 60 or 90 days before the registration expires to ensure you renew your registration before the expiration date. It’s also helpful to refresh yourself on the boating registration laws in case any rules or laws have been added or updated.
Many states make it convenient for boat owners to renew their boat registration. Owners may have a few renewal options depending on their state.
The most common option is to visit your local Department of Motor Vehicles and renew your boat or boat trailer registration in person. If you want to renew your boat registration another way, look for your state’s options for registration renewal. Depending on the state, these options may include:
- Online renewal through your state government’s website.
- Renewal over the phone or through the mail.
- Options for extended registration renewal periods.
It’s important to stay informed on boat registration laws and renewal processes to ensure you are a responsible boat owner and are knowledgeable on boating rules and safety.
Why You Need to Register Your Boat
Owning a boat is like owning a car. You wouldn’t go for a ride in your vehicle without having all your driving credentials, registration documents and license plate because that is against the law, and you could get into trouble with law enforcement without proper car registration. The same goes for owning and operating a boat. You need to register your boat so officials know who owns the vessel and if the owner has paid the required fees and taxes to use their boat on local waters.
After you register your boat, your vessel will be on record with the state. These records ensure the state knows who is on the water, making boating safer for everyone. Each registered boat has a unique registration number on the boat’s hull and a hull identification number on the back of the vessel.
The hull number shows the boat manufacturer, the month and year it was made and the serial number. This hull number must always be visible to other boats. You may not alter the number in any way, cover it with a sticker or paint or remove the number for any reason.
Common Boat Registration FAQs
Registering your boat is a relatively straightforward process. While you now have basic knowledge of how to register your new boat, you may still have some important questions about the registration process or becoming a new boat owner. You may still wonder how to register a boat trailer in your state or how to register your boat if you move to another state.
If you want to learn more information about registering your boat or essential details of becoming a boat owner, check out some of the most commonly asked questions that new boat owners ask.
DO YOU NEED A BOAT LICENSE TO REGISTER YOUR BOAT?
Some states may ask vessel owners to take a boat license course or complete a boating safety class before operating a boat. Still, a boating license and boat registration are two different things. While you may not always need a boating license to operate a boat, you must register your boat in your state.
Having a boating license does come with its advantages. When you take a boating license course, you’ll learn essential boating information, such as:
- The safety equipment you’re required to have on board.
- Launching information and safety tips, such as navigating your boat in the fog and avoiding other hazards.
- The different types of marker buoys and what they indicate.
- Navigation rules in your area.
- Discounts on certain boat insurance policies.
- Other essential boating basics.
HOW MUCH IS BOAT REGISTRATION?
The registration fee for registering your boat varies between states. Depending on where you live, you can expect the boat registration cost to range anywhere from $25 to $250. These prices also account for the size of the boat and the type of boat you own. The money you pay for the registration goes towards keeping state waterways safe and funding water and animal conservation projects. As a new boat owner, you can research the registration cost for your size and type of boat on your state’s website.
The accepted form of payment varies by state. Check your local Department of Motor Vehicle or state fish and wildlife department to see how the application process works and if they accept payments online, over the phone, through the mail or in person.
After you pay your boat registration fees and submit your registration application, you’ll receive your certificate of registration and the registration numbering decals you place on the front of your boat.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A REGISTERED BOAT AND DOCUMENTED BOAT?
Smaller boats and watercraft are registered with the state. If a vessel is five net tons or over, the watercraft can be documented with the United States Coast Guard. The government first used vessel documentation to manage commercial shipping, but now it is used by many large vessels, including fishing charters, yachts and other large boats. Large boat owners may document their boat for reasons such as:
- Owners may not need to register their boats with the state.
- Documented boats receive clearance from foreign governments to travel in foreign waters with protection by the United States flag.
- It may be easier to receive a loan from the bank when you’re documenting your large boat.
- You can save money on taxes depending on the state you operate your boat.
- It can be easier to travel along the United States coast.
If you sell your documented boat, you’ll need to complete a documented vessel ownership transfer because the existing documents are non-transferrable.
DO I PAY PROPERTY TAXES ON A DOCUMENTED BOAT?
Yes. All registered boats and documented boats must pay property taxes. You can research more information on your state’s rules and guidelines to see if you save any money in taxes on a documented boat.
DO I RE-REGISTER MY BOAT IF I MOVE?
Yes — you’ll need to re-register your boat if you move to another state. Your boat must be registered in the state that you’ll be operating the boat. Once you move to a new state, you have 60 days to register your boat. Before you move, research your new state’s laws and guidelines to learn how to register a boat in a different state so you can have all the information you need to successfully register your boat when you move.
Request a Formula Boats Catalog and Register Your Boat
Becoming a boat owner is an exciting adventure. You want to be safe and responsible on the water, and that’s why Formula Boats encourages you to learn how to register your boat. It’s one of the most vital parts of owning a boat.