You are currently viewing How to Register a Boat (2023)

As a boat owner, knowing whether you’re required to register your watercraft is very important.Failing to have the required registration or license, can result in fines or even impoundment of your boat. We’ve done a lot of the leg work for you by reviewing the requirements for each state.

In general, motorized boats must be registered. Small boats may be exempt, but this varies from state to state. Some states exempt sail boats from registration requirements, while others exclude small boats but require large vessels to be registered.

Although the registration process is unique for each state, there are a few basis steps that each state requires. In general, you need to do the following to register your boat:

  1. Complete a registration form
  2. Provide proof of ownership
  3. Pay the registration fee

To find out if your boat must be registered, check out your state from the list below.

Alabama | Alaska | Arizona | Arkansas | California | Colorado | Connecticut | Delaware
Florida | Georgia | Hawaii | Idaho | Illinois | Indiana | Iowa | Kansas | Kentucky | Louisiana
Maine | Maryland | Massachusetts | Michigan | Minnesota | Mississippi | Missouri
Montana | Nebraska | Nevada | New Hampshire | New Jersey | New Mexico | New York
North Carolina | North Dakota | Ohio | Oklahoma | Oregon | Pennsylvania | Rhode Island
South Carolina | South Dakota | Tennessee | Texas | Utah | Vermont | Virginia | Washington
West Virginia | Wisconsin | Wyoming

What Kind of Boat Must Be Registered?

In general, if your boat has a motor, it must be registered. This includes gasoline, diesel, or electric powered engines. Sailboats that do not have an auxiliary source of power must usually be registered if they exceed a certain size. The size limit for sailboats is different for each state. Human-powered boats like canoes, kayaks, rowboats, and paddleboards usually do not have to be registered, but this also varies from state to state.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need boat insurance to register my boat?

In all likelihood, you do not need boat insurance if you own a boat. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have insurance. A few states require liability insurance coverage – the reasons vary by state, the type of boat you own, and where you use it. Reasons why you might need boat insurance (or liability coverage) are:

  • Your boat has more than 50 HP
  • Personal watercraft (PWC)
  • You use your boat in a state park
  • You keep your boat in a state-run marina

Arkansas requires boat owners with 50 HP or larger engines and all PWCs to have a liability insurance policy. Utah requires boat owners with 50 HP or larger engines and all PWCs to have owner’s or operator’s liability insurance. Air boats are exempt from this requirement in Utah. Check your state’s requirements about state park requirements – every state is different.

What is the difference between a boat and a watercraft when it comes to registering my boat? A vessel? A motorboat?

In general, the terms boat, watercraft, vessel, and motorboat all mean the same thing. Each state defines these terms in their statutes and regulations.

What is a personal watercraft? Do PWC need to be registered?

Personal watercraft (PWC) are small, one or two-person boats such as jet skis, waverunners, seadoos, and water scooters. Each state has its own registration rules for these craft. However, most states consider PWC’s to be motorized vessels that must be registered.

What is a registration number?

The registration number is analogous to a license plate for your boat. Every registered boat is assigned a unique registration number that provides evidence that your boat is registered. A boat’s registration number allows marine authorities to identify your vessel from afar. These numbers must be displayed on your boat, usually on the front third of the boat.

What is a registration decal?

Registration decals are the equivalent of your car’s registration sticker. These decals allow law enforcement to easily confirm that your vessel is registered. Most states require you to renew your registration on an annual basis.

What is a Hull Identification Number (HIN) and is a HIN required for registration?

A hull identification number (HIN) is a unique serial number that is permanently attached to the starboard side of the transom. It is the equivalent of your car’s VIN number. The HIN is provided by the manufacturer and allows the owner or potential buyer to track the history of the vessel.

Can I register my boat in more than one state?

No, boats can only be registered in one state at a time. Most states allow vessels that are registered in another state to operate for a period of 30 t0 60 consecutive days before having to be registered.

Documented Vessel – US Coast Guard Requirements for Registering a Boat

Vessel documentation is the federal government’s registration process. It is different from state registration, and is generally not required for recreational boats. The purpose of Vessel Documentation is to establish the nationality of the vessel and to facilitate commerce between the states.

In order to be eligible for vessels documentation, the boat must be at least 5 net tons and be owned by a U.S. citizen. If a boat is used for commercial fishing on navigable waters of the United States or used in coastwise trade, it must be documented. Chances are, your boat doesn’t meet either of these conditions.

Although you probably don’t have to document your boat, there are some reasons you may want to consider it. The main benefit for having vessel documentation is to provide a paper trail to indicate boat ownership. This makes buying and selling the boat easier, and is very useful if you’re getting a loan to buy the boat. Another benefit – vessel documentation is often necessary if you travel overseas. Not every nation requires vessel documentation, but it is a great way to establish national origin and ownership while out of the country.


The information presented here was gathered from public sources of information. Most of it was obtained directly from the state agency websites. We are not lawyers or experts on boat registration. This information is provided as a convenience and is not legal advice. We recommend checking with state and local government agencies and law enforcement to verify the information provided in this article.

John Allen

With more than a decade of experience cruising the lakes in my Crestliner Grand Cayman pontoon boat and my Boston Whaler, I now want to share everything I've learned with my community here at Boating Hub.