How to register a boat

Motorized boats generally need to be registered, typically in the state where they're primarily used. Many states handle boat registrations through their department of motor vehicles, though it's not uncommon for departments of parks and recreation or fish and wildlife to process registrations instead. The new boat registration process involves completing registration forms, providing proof of ownership, and paying a fee.

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How does new boat registration work?

You must register a motorized boat with your state. Note the word motorized — small, non-motorized boats like kayaks, rowboats, canoes, and paddleboards don't always need to be registered. Check with your state's laws if your type of boat needs to be registered to make sure you're compliant while enjoying a day on the water.

Your new boat registration has a unique number to identify your boat. It works similarly to a car's license plate number and needs to be visibly displayed somewhere on your boat. You can get registration plates or display the number on both the port (left) and starboard (right) sides of the bow with paint or adhesive vinyl lettering. You'll also receive a registration sticker for the boat, which you'll need to renew each year.

Where to get boat registration

Many states require that boat owners register through the department of motor vehicles. Other states prefer that you register with another state organization, such as the department of conservation and natural resources, the department of fish and wildlife, or the department of parks and recreation. Do a quick online search to see where to register in your state, then get in touch with that department to start the boat registration process.

Pro tip:

You can easily find info on your state's boat registration process on DiscoverBoating.com.

How to register a new boat

Depending on where you live, boat and trailer registration may be bundled together as long as your trailer is below a certain weight. Check your state's guidelines, and if you're required to register your trailer separately, the process is very similar to that of registering a boat — you'll file a form, prove ownership of the trailer, and pay a fee.

If you're buying a boat for the first time and filing a new boat registration, there are a few things you'll need to do.

  • Complete registration forms
  • Show proof that you own the boat (a boat title or a bill of sale will work)
  • Pay a registration fee

You'll then receive a registration plate to display on the back of the trailer. Learn more about how to get a boat title.

Can you register a boat without a title?

It depends on the state's proof of ownership requirements, as some may just require a bill of sale or other documentation showing you own the boat. Some states may also require a title for boats of a certain size or weight. Check your state's requirements before registering your boat to ensure you have all the documents you need.

How much does it cost to register a boat?

Boat registration fees vary based on a few factors: where you live, the size and specifications of your boat, and whether you register your boat on a state or federal level. For example, registration fees in Ohio range from $33 for a motorized boat less than 16 feet long to $98 for sailboats longer than 65 feet.

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