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How to Register a Boat

Attractive strong woman sailing with her sail boat
Written by
John Lakkis
Published on
May 15, 2024

How to Register a Boat

You’ve just bought a new or new-to-you boat, and you’re ready to hit the water. You can’t wait to feel the sun on your face and enjoy an entire day on the lake. You’ve taken care of food, sunscreen, music, and safety, but did you register your boat?

Most states require that any watercraft with a motor, including a trolling motor, be registered with the appropriate agency. Sailboats often also need registration, depending on their size.

If you’ve bought a new boat or you’ve moved between states, you’ll need to work through the registration process before pushing back from the dock.


What is the process for registering my boat?

The specific steps for registering a boat vary from state to state, but in general, there are a few steps you’ll need to follow.

  1. Identify the agency that deals with boat registration in your state.
  2. Complete the registration form.
  3. Pay the registration fee.
  4. Place boat registration stickers on your boat.
  5. Remember to renew your boat registration each year.


Which agency registers boats?

The government entity in charge of boat registration varies from state to state. In many states, you register your boat like you register your car at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Keep in mind, you’ll likely need to register your boat trailer as well.

In some states, the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife or the Department of Natural Resources is in charge of boat registration. Check your state’s website to figure out which department deals with it in your state.


What type of paperwork will I need to complete?

The required documents for boat registration also depend on the state where you are registering your boat.

In general, the state will want to know your personal information, the size of the boat, its make and model, the model year, the type of boat, the horsepower of the engine, when the boat was purchased, and the primary state where the boat will be used.

In addition, some states may require you to prove that you own the boat and/or that you paid sales tax when the boat was purchased.


How much will it cost me to register my boat?

Again, the cost for registering a boat depends on the state you live in. Some states have a flat registration fee while others base the fee on the type and/or size of the boat. Check with your state to determine the fee.


What do I need to know about boat registration stickers?

Boat registration stickers on the hull of your boat allow other people to identify your vessel. All boats are required to have their registration number displayed on the hull near the bow, completely within the front third of the boat.

You can purchase stickers for your registration number at any hardware store or you can paint the numbers on your boat.


How do I renew my registration?

Like car registrations, boat registrations generally last for just one year. Most states will send some kind of reminder a month or so before your registration is due.

However, you should keep track of when your registration expires, so you don’t take your boat on the water and end up with a fine for an expired registration.


How do I register a boat without a title?

Registering a boat without a title is not difficult in most states. Generally, without a title, you can use a bill of sale signed by both parties as a substitute for the title.

Some states may require you to fill out a separate form. For example, if you are registering a boat in Texas, you will need to fill out a form to replace a lost title.


What else do I need to know about registering my boat?

  • Boat registration is mostly a state function, but boats that operate in the ocean may also need to be registered with the U.S. Coast Guard. Vessels of 5 net tons or more used in fishing activities in coastal waters or in coastwise trade must be registered with the Coast Guard. Recreational craft do not have to be registered if that is their only function.
  • Your boat can only be registered in one state. If you plan to use your boat in another state for a longer amount of time, check to see what the restrictions are for using a boat in that state. Some states limit the number of consecutive days a boat can be used in their waters without being registered in the state.
  • Many states require that you pay personal property tax on your boat each year. Often your property taxes will be due with your boat registration renewal.
  • If you move within the state, you do not have to re-register your boat, but you will need to submit a change of address to the state.


Titling your boat is usually not a difficult process. Just remember to register your boat as soon as you purchase it or move, so you can get back out on the water without delay.

And now that your boat is registered, use Hula Boat products to get it in ship-shape before heading out on the water!


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John Lakkis

After using the three part system (compound, hang ten wax, and sealant) I believe the name should be changed to time machine in a bottle! Thanks for creating such a wonderful product.
1985 Bayliner Owner
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