Washington Boat Registration Summary
Washington 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 Washington. 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.
This information is subject to change and should be confirmed with the respective agency.
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State of Washington
Department of Licensing
Boat Registration Web Site
Boat Registration OverviewWashington issues both registrations and titles for all non-exempt boats operating within its jurisdiction. These are administered by the Department of Licensing. This state does not issue titles or registrations for outboard motors. Boat trailer registration and titling are required in Washington. Sales or use tax is required on all first time registrations and transfers of ownership. The rates vary by county. There are approximately 254,280 boats registered in the State of Washington. This accounts for 2.1% of all nationwide registrations.
Registration RequirementsWashington registers all non-exempt power and sailboats. Coast Guard documented vessels are also subject to registration. Exceptions include canoes, kayaks, etc. and sailboats under 16 feet in length without a motor. A complete listing or requirements and exemptions can be found by visiting the DOL website. Washington has provisions for bonded boat titles and conditional registrations when there is insufficient proof of ownership. Transfers of ownership, abandonments, thefts, and destructions must be reported within 5 days, excluding weekends and holidays.
Marking RequirementsWashington boat registration numbers begin with a "WN" 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 may not display the state registration numbers. However they must display the state registration tabs, 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 boats 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 "WNZ" are available for home made boats and those without factory designations. Hull number inspections are not required in Washington unless there is a discrepancy.
Ownership and LiensWashington issues titles on all registered boats except for those which are Coast Guard documented. This state also has provisions for establishing boat titles without sufficient evidence of ownership when the registration remains uncontested after three years and there are no undisclosed security interests. Washington has procedures for acquiring titles on abandoned boats. Security interests in state titled boats are recorded with the Department of Licensing. These will be shown on both the registration and title certificates when applicable. All titles with active security interests are sent directly to the secured party. However electronic titles are available at the lender's option. Security interests in boats that are neither titled or USCG documented are recorded with the Secretary of State as Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) filings. Tax liens may be flagged on boat registration records, recorded as UCC filings, shown on state revenue records, or filed with a county clerk's office. There are no provisions for recording mechanic's liens or other non-secured claims against state titled boats. If the vessel is USCG documented, a lender's security interest must be perfected by filing a preferred vessel mortgage. These are recorded with the National Vessel Documentation Center and priority is attained according to the date filed. Other maritime liens can be filed in the same manner although they function as notifications only. All mortgage and lien filings are indexed on the vessel's underlying abstract of title.
Boat Title SearchesBoat title and registration records in Washington are maintained by the Department of Licensing. This 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 is also reported that DOL offices will check for hull numbers by telephone or verify information shown on boat title or registration certificates in hand. Inactive boat records are purged after 6 years in this state. Uniform Commercial Code searches are available online from the Secretary of State. If there are any suspected state or federal tax liens however, it may be advisable to use a public record vendor as they have a much broader access to such filings nationwide. 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 title company for assistance in this regard. Non-recorded maritime liens may also be a factor when conducting boat title research in Washington. 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 offers 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 documented vessels. Yacht brokers, documentation companies, and attorneys do not warrant or guarantee titles. It is therefore incumbent on the owner to stand behind any such representations. Of course it will be of no consolation if a guarantor is insolvent, non-cooperative, or can not be located. This calls for a thorough background check to ensure the owner's wherewithal for making good on any hidden liens or title deficiencies.