boat registration - Coast Guard vessel documentation - yacht registry

California Boat Registration Summary

California boat registration summary is a free resource designed to inform the boating public about registration requirements, recording methods, and title search guidelines for the State of California. The data is maintained as an open wiki forum where readers are encouraged to participate by sharing knowledge and experiences with this particular state. Simply click on the "Wiki-Share" link to contribute further details or suggest a revision.

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The information presented here is subject to change and should be confirmed with the respective state agency.

Boat Registration Agency California Boat RegistrationState of California
Department of Motor Vehicles.

Boat Registration Website
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Registration Overview Boat registration and titling in the State of California is administered through the Department of Motor Vehicles. The home office in located in Sacramento and there are regional service centers located throughout most populated areas. California issues both registrations and titles for boats. Outboard boat motors are not registered. Titling and registration is required for boat trailers.
Sales and use tax are levied on first time boat registrations and boat transfers. Personal property tax is levied against boats on the county level.
There are approximately 745,641 boats registered in the State of California. This accounts for 6.2% of all nationwide registrations.
Marking Requirements Boat registration numbers in California begin with an "CA" designation which is followed by four numbers and then two letters. These must be displayed on all non-documented boats along with registration sticker tabs.
Coast Guard documented vessels must display an owner designated vessel name, and a hailing port. An official documentation number must also be affixed to a visible interior location in the hull itself or an integral part of the hull.
All vessels manufactured after 1972 are required to have a 12 digit hull identification number affixed to the vessel by the manufacturer. State assigned hull numbers prefixed with the letters "CAZ" are available for home made boats and those without factory designations. California offers a special plaque identifying for vessels of historical interest constructed of wood prior to December 31, 1942. Boats must be inspected by a California law enforcement official if there is a discrepancy with the hull identification number.
Registration Requirements Registration is required unless otherwise exempted, for every sail-powered vessel over 8' in length and every motor-driven vessel, regardless of length, which is used or on the waters of this state. Coast Guard documented vessels are exempt from registration requirements. A complete list of other exemptions can be found by visiting the DMV website.
Titles are issued for all boats registered in California. Outboard boat motors are not registered. Titling and registration is required for boat trailers. The DMV has provisions for dealing with boats which have been abandoned on private property. Bonded boat titling is available if sufficient proof of ownership cannot be provided.
The Department of Motor vehicles must be notified within 15 days if the boat is destroyed, abandoned, or the owner's address has changed. If vessel ownership is transferred, notice must be provided within 5 days.
Ownership and Liens Security interests in non-documented boats are recorded with the Department of Motor vehicles. These will be shown on both the registration certificate and title when applicable. All titles with active security interests are sent directly to the secured party. Tax liens are sometimes flagged in the state's registration database or perhaps recorded as Uniform Commercial Code filings.  A UCC financing statement must be filed if the boat is neither titled or documented. There are no provisions for recording mechanic's liens or other non-secured claims against registered boats which are not documented.
 If the vessel is USCG documented, a lender's security interest may be perfected by filing a preferred vessel mortgage. These are recorded with the National Vessel Documentation Center with the earliest submissions taking priority. Other lien claims can be filed in the same manner although these function as notifications only. All such filings are indexed on the vessel's underlying abstract of title.
Title Searches Boat title and registration records in California are maintained by the Department of Motor Vehicles. The agency does not facilitate online searches for the general public due to strict privacy laws. However, record printouts may be obtained by an owner or otherwise qualified party by submitting a boat record request form. It has also been reported that the DMV will check their database by telephone for a hull identification number or verify registration information if you have a copy of the certificate in hand.
State and Federal tax liens on boats are not always recorded in a consistent manner and are therefore difficult to identify. They may show up as a red flag on state registration records, as UCC filings, in state revenue records, in a county clerks records, or on a vessel's abstract of title for documented boats. Given these disparities, it may be worth obtaining the services of a public record vendor that has access to a broad range of personal property lien recordings. Information about business or legal entities that own boats registered, titled, or documented in Alaska can be obtained by searching the Secretary of State business records online.
Ownership, mortgage, and lien search recordings for USCG documented vessels can be obtained by ordering an abstract of title and a copy of the certificate of documentation from the National Vessel Documentation Center. However, these are encoded and can be difficult to interpret, especially on older vessels with numerous recordings. It may be worthwhile to contact a professional vessel documentation company for assistance in this regard.
Non-recorded maritime liens may also be a factor when conducting boat title research in Alaska. These include liabilities for items such as services, equipment, fuel, storage, parts, supplies, and damages which can become attached to the boat itself regardless of ownership. One of the most useful tools for doing this kind of research is our premier boat history search database. It is a gathering of eight nationwide databases into a single interface which can be searched by numerous criteria. These include records for stolen boats, marine lien claims, boating accidents, pollution incidents, auctioned boats, factory recalls, and boat manufacturers.
Resources Boat History Search Database
Boat Record Request by Owner
Boat Record Request by Non-Owner
Boat Record Request by Lien-Holder
Boat Record Request by Attorney
UCC Search
Public Record Vendors
Business Entity Search
Vessel Documentation Companies
Wiki Contributors  


Visit our database page for the nation's premier boat history report with a full compliment of title search resources. Includes eight maritime databases all rolled into one convenient interface. A must-have service for any prospective buyer, marine lender, or maritime professional.


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