Subscribe • Archive • Contact us • Not a member? Learn more.
VOL. 13 NO. 9
Take a class

Register your boat

Follow federal regulations to properly register your vessel

Register your boat

As a skipper, you are responsible for the safety of your boat and the people aboard. The federal government created regulations to manage the movement of marine traffic and to help reduce the number of boating accidents, so it’s essential that you know, keep up to date with, and follow them. You must also know your state and local boating laws. The expression “ignorance of the law is no excuse” also applies to boating.

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 that documented vessels also be registered.

Your registration or documentation certificate must be on board whenever the vessel is in use and should be kept in a waterproof container to protect it from the elements.

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.
  • The color of the letters must contrast well with the color of your boat. Examples would be black on white or white on black.
  • Boat numbers include two letters that identify your state, followed by a combination of numbers and letters that identify your boat. Your registration is valid in all states for a period of 60 days (unless specified otherwise by the respective state) 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 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.

Documentation is controlled by the Coast Guard and can be used in lieu of state registration in some states. Documentation is used for vessels transiting foreign ports and 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 documentation number issued by the Coast Guard; the number must be permanently affixed to the interior of the boat. The Coast Guard handles documentation, and you can get information on the procedure by calling 800-799-8362.

To learn more, take our America’s Boating Course.
Like us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Email us! Compass America's Boating Club