Registering and Numbering Your Boat

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State Registration

Boat registration and numbering requirements
Lettering must be in plain, vertical block characters of not less than 3 inches in height. Spaces or hyphens between letter and number groupings must be equal to the width of a letter other than "I" or a number other than "1". Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard

Boats are like cars in that they must be registered with a licensing authority. Depending upon the size and use of a boat, some vessels are required to be documented with the U.S. Coast Guard National Documentation Center. This is only required if the vessel is more than 5 net tons and engages in fishing or coastwise trade. In recreational boating cases however, the Coast Guard only requires "vessels equipped with propulsion machinery to be registered in the state of principal use."

To comply with the Coast Guard regulations, you must register your boat with your state's licensing division. Much like when you register a car, you will receive a certificate of number. The numbers must be displayed on your boat in a specific manner, and the owner/operator must carry the valid certificate of number (like a car's registration paper) whenever the vessel is in use. The best way to ensure the certificate number is readily available in the event of a law enforcement boarding it to put in a zippered plastic bag and store it in a secure, watertight compartment aboard your boat.

Check with your state for specific licensing requirements. Click next to learn how to place the numbers on your boat.

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Display of Numbers

Boat registration and numbering requirements
Lettering must be in plain, vertical block characters of not less than 3 inches in height. Spaces or hyphens between letter and number groupings must be equal to the width of a letter other than "I" or a number other than "1". Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard

Numbers must be legibly painted or permanently attached to each side of the forward half of the vessel. The state validation stickers must be affixed within six inches of the registration number. With the exception of the vessel fee decal, no other letters or numbers may be displayed nearby.

Lettering must be in plain, vertical block characters of not less than 3 inches in height. Spaces or hyphens between letter and number groupings must be equal to the width of a letter other than "I" or a number other than "1".

The owner of a vessel must notify the agency which issued the certificate of number within 15 days if:

  • The vessel is transferred, destroyed, abandoned, lost, stolen or recovered.
    • The certificate of number is lost, destroyed or the owner's address changes.
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Documented Vessels

Vessels of five net tons or more used in fishing activities on navigable waters of the U.S. or in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), or used in coastwise trade must be documented unless the vessel is exempt from documentation. Some larger recreational vessels may be documented. The certificate of documentation MUST be on board a documented vessel at all times. A document serves as a certificate of nationality and an authorization for a specific trade.

A documented vessel must have the name of the vessel and hailing port plainly marked on the exterior part of the hull in clearly legible letters not less than 4 inches in height. In addition, the documented vessel must have the "Official Number" permanently affixed in block type, Arabic numerals not less than 3 inches on some clearly visible interior structural part of the boat.

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Your Citation
Watson, Ericka. "Registering and Numbering Your Boat." ThoughtCo, Feb. 25, 2016, thoughtco.com/registering-and-numbering-your-boat-2747334. Watson, Ericka. (2016, February 25). Registering and Numbering Your Boat. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/registering-and-numbering-your-boat-2747334 Watson, Ericka. "Registering and Numbering Your Boat." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/registering-and-numbering-your-boat-2747334 (accessed November 23, 2017).