The requirements for registering a boat vary from state to state. In many, the Department of Motor Vehicles handles boat registrations. In some, it is a boating or natural resource agency. You have to find out the specifics for where and how to register a boat for your state, which is easily done online.
Do I have to register my boat?
Generally, any boat propelled by a gas or electric motor has to be registered (including canoes, kayaks, and sailboats), whereas non-motorized boats do not (although there are some exceptions). The registration (and title, if one is issued) becomes proof of ownership, especially if the boat is one that you acquired used from a previous owner. In some states, a boat used solely on private water does not require registration.
How long is registration good for?
At a minimum it’s good for one year, but you may register it for multiple years. You do not have to register a boat in multiple states. A current registration from your home state will be honored in other states, so you can take your boat wherever you want.
Can I register a boat in a state where I don’t live?
Generally you cannot register a boat in a state where you don’t live, although some states do allow bona fide nonresident property owners to register a boat in a place where they own property and pay real estate taxes. Why do this? Perhaps the registration fees and/or personal property taxes are less in a state where you own property but don’t live. Or perhaps you keep the boat only in that state where you don’t live (such as at a vacation home) and this is more convenient.
Also, some states require that if you operate a boat that is registered in another state for more than a certain period of time (like 90 days) in their state, then you need to register it in their state.
How to Register a Boat
If you bought a new or used boat from a dealer, the dealer should be able to register the boat for you or help you complete the paperwork. If you bought it directly from a manufacturer or from an individual, you’ll have to do the registration yourself. Generally, you’ll need:
• a signed and dated bill of sale
• a manufacturer’s statement of origin (only from a dealer or manufacturer)
• a registration or certificate of title that is signed over to you by the seller
You’ll provide these and a completed registration form to the appropriate agency and pay the required fee. They’ll issue you a registration, perhaps a certificate of title (depending on the state and the size of the boat), and assign you a registration number, which has to be displayed on your boat, often along with an expiration-dated sticker.
How to Register a Boat Without a Title
Try to avoid buying a boat that doesn’t have a certificate of title (this is even more so for a boat trailer). A lack of title or proper registration from the seller invites suspicion of the item being stolen, and can lead to registration delays and headaches. In some states, you cannot register a boat if it doesn’t have a title, yet others may not issue a title. In some, a boat can be registered with just a bill of sale and the last boat registration certificate (current or lapsed).
So check with your state for its requirements on how to register a boat without a title. At the very least, you’ll have a special form to fill out and probably some extra documentation to provide. If the seller doesn’t have a title (whether it’s required or not), get as much information about the boat as possible on the bill of sale, and make sure that you have the last registration issued for that boat.
Don’t take your new acquisition on the water until you have it registered. And check to see if you need a boating license in your state.