boat registration - Coast Guard vessel documentation - yacht registry

State Boat Registration Advisor
Answers to frequently asked questions about state level boat registration & titling.

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Can I convert a Coast Guard documented boat to a state title?

Any Coast Guard documented vessel that is used exclusively for recreational purposes can be converted to a state title or registration. However, it must first be removed from documentation and the respective state will require a Coast Guard certification to this effect.

Do all states issue boat titles?

Although all states issue boat registration certificates, there are a number that do not issue boat titles. In these cases, the state registration certificate will typically substitute as proof of ownership when the boat is not Coast Guard documented or otherwise titled.

What is the difference between state boat registration and state titling?

Boat registration certificates are just like those issued for a vehicle in that they must be renewed and are replaced on a periodic basis. On the other hand, boat titles are issued on a one time basis and are not replaced until there is a change in the registered or legal ownership. Registration certificates must be kept on the boat during its operation, but the title is held by the registered or legal owner for safekeeping. The confusing aspect of boat registration is that not all states issue boat titles as they would for a vehicle. Under these circumstances, the registration certificate acts as a quasi-title because it is generally accepted as proof of ownership. This is assuming of course, that the boat has not been awarded a certificate of documentation by the U.S. Coast Guard which would then become the title. Please visit our Boat Registration Summary for a list of states which do not provide boat titles.

What is the difference between vehicle and boat titling?

 There is a common perception that all vessels are simply titled with the appropriate state, just like automobiles and recreational vehicles. However, the methods for recording a vessel's ownership can vary widely depending on its size, intended usage, and the waters on which it will navigate. Among the various governmental agencies that regulate vessel titling, licensing, and registration are the U.S. Coast Guard, individual states, U.S. territories, counties, and foreign countries.
          A typical vessel larger than 25 feet in length may have become subject to one, several, or perhaps all of these conditions during its lifetime. Smaller vessels are more likely to have been titled and registered in the same manner as a vehicle. However, there are still some differences on how boats are handled even on the state level. All of the states issue periodic registrations, but some do not require or even provide vessel titling. Vessel registrations are also administered by different agencies depending on the state. In some cases, they are handled by a fish and game or natural resources department rather than the department of licensing or motor vehicles.
          The manner in which an owner or prospective buyer elects to title or register the subject vessel can have a major impact with respect to taxes, security, and operations. Although there is no substitute for the advice of an attorney or professional accountant, you will find a great deal of information on these subjects right here in our web site.

What exactly is state registration for boats?

Boat registration is the the process by which boats and watercraft are listed on the records of the state where they will be principally operated. Upon payment of the registration fees and any related taxes, the state registration agency will issue a registration certificate. These must be renewed or replaced on a one to three year basis depending on the state.  Replacement certificates issued upon each renewal and new color coded tabs or stickers are awarded for that period. On a first time registration, the state will also assign a registration number which must be permanently affixed to the boat adjacent to the tabs. Although registration certificates can serve as proof of ownership when issued by a non-title state, they should not be confused with a state title certificate or a Coast Guard certificate of documentation.


Can I register a boat  with no hull identification number?

Most registration agencies will require a hull identification number when applying for a state boat title or registration. However, they do have the capability of issuing state assigned hull identification numbers if none is present on the boat. These come in the form of a decal which must be affixed to the stern. If the boat was manufactured after 1976, you will need to satisfy the state as to why no hull number exists and an inspection may be required.

Can my dealer or broker issue a temporary registration?

Boat dealers can typically issue a temporary registration when selling a new boat or a used boat from inventory.  However, this may not always be the case with a broker as some states do not require them to become involved in the registration process.

How do I register a leased boat?

 In long term boat lease situations, the lessee is typically listed as the registered owner. The lessor is then listed on the title as the legal owner or a UCC security interest is recorded in registration only states.  Some states have provisions for designating lease arrangements on the boat title or registration records. If the boat is Coast Guard documented, the lessor can remain as the owner of record or transfer ownership to the lessee and then take back a first preferred mortgage. Vessel or boat lease arrangements should be reviewed by an attorney as there are not only implications of liability, but issues regarding how the lessor reclaims title upon a default.

How are length designations determined for boat registration purposes?

Length designations for state registered boats are generally based on the overall length which includes any overhangs such as bowsprits and integral swim steps. Such measurement is normally extracted from the Manufacturer's Statement of Origin which is presented for registration purposes when the vessel is new. However, an owner's declaration may be sufficient when a boat is home built. This may also be the case for vessel's converted from Coast Guard documentation as they utilize a different measuring system.

Is U.S. Citizenship required for boat registration or titling?

Citizenship is not a issue for state level boat registration and titling. Residency is not typically required of foreign owners either, but the boat must be located within the respective state.

Must my dealer or broker register the boat?

When selling new boats or used boats from inventory, the dealer is typically required to complete the state level registration process on your behalf. However, this may not be the case with a broker who is selling the boat on behalf of another party.  Only a few states require brokers to complete the registration. In most cases you are on your own with regard to titling or registering the boat in your name.


Can I operate my boat while waiting for the registration?

Law enforcement officials are generally aware of the time lapse that occurs while waiting for the issuance of a state registration or title certificate. You should accordingly gather up copies of any previous registration or title documents and transfer instruments such as a bill of sale or title release. If you carry these on the vessel along with copies of any applications made for re-registration or titling, they may be sufficient for temporary operating purposes. However, you should keep in mind that acceptance of such items will be subject to jurisdictional discretion. You should accordingly check with the appropriate boating enforcement officials for the area in which you will be operating.

Do I need to state register a documented boat?

 It all depends on the respective state's registration requirements. Some states exempt documented vessels from registration, others do not. In any event, a documented vessel can not hold a state boat title. Federal regulations prohibit dual titling of documented vessels, but do not look upon state registration certificates as titles.

Is registration required on foreign vessels?

Most states do not require registration of foreign owned vessels if they are currently registered in the respective country and are operating under a valid U.S. customs cruising permit. However, this can vary and the local rules should be checked if the visitation extends beyond that allowed for domestic reciprocity.

What are my reporting requirements as a state registered boat owner?

Owners should be aware that notifications must be filed upon the occurrence of certain events on boats that are state titled or registered. Among these is a requirement to submit a written report if the vessel has been sold, transferred, or its physical status has changed.
          Reports are also required in the event of any changes in address, abandonments, thefts, or destruction of the boat. The time period for such reporting varies by state, but is typically within 10 to 15 days. Registration reports do not of course, preclude any insurance, financing, and other operational reporting requirements.
          Most states have a special forms for filing registration notifications which are typically referred to as "Report of Sale" or "Change of Registration". However, a written notification on the owner's letterhead will usually suffice if the boat is properly identified and circumstances are thoroughly described.
          Although reporting regulations are not always enforced, there are some other common sense issues to consider. Major problems may arise If a seller fails to report the sale or transfer of the boat and a subsequent owner does not follow through in changing the registration. An injured party will look to the owner of record for restitution should the boat become involved in an accident or create any other liabilities such as unpaid repair bills and tax deficiencies. In such cases, the burden will be upon the recorded owner's shoulders to disclaim ownership of the boat at the time of such occurrences.
          Please contact your local state boat registration agency with any specific questions or concerns about title or registration reporting requirements.


Can I register a boat or yacht in Delaware to avoid taxes?

Delaware boat and yacht registration is a worldwide phenomenon because of their relaxed registration and revenue requirements. This state does not levy sales, excise, or personal property taxes on boats. Accordingly, many boat owners form entities such as corporations in Delaware to establish in-state residency for boat registration purposes. However, there are several caveats that owners should be aware of when pursuing this course of action. The "Delaware Yacht Registration" link shown below offers more insight into registering your boat or yacht in the State of Delaware.

How  does the state value my boat for tax purposes?

Methods for evaluating boat values can vary widely depending on the respective state's policies. If a sale has just occurred, you may need to provide a bill of sale, purchase agreement, or some other evidence showing the purchase price. In some cases you can merely provide a written declaration of value. This may not may not be further questioned if the dollar amount appears to be within reason. Many states will also compare or establish boat values through published media such as NADA or BUC  guides. You will need to contact the appropriate registration or tax agency to determine their exact method for determining tax evaluations.

How long can my boat remain in a state while under repair?

Most states have provisions for extending a visitation grace period while a boat is under repair. However, the boat must typically remain in a dry-dock repair yard and out of the water during this period. Special permits must also be obtained in some cases depending on the state. You should contact the respective department of revenue or tax department for a definitive ruling on your own particular circumstances.

Must I pay boat taxes if I reside in a different state?

 If your boat is to remain in a particular state over a certain period of time, it will likely become subject to taxes and registration requirements. The owner's place of residency is not a determining factor. Most states allow a free visitation period which usually ranges fro 30 to 90 days. You should contact the respective boat licensing or state revenue agency for up-to-date information in this regard.


How do I register an abandoned boat?

Requirements for registering or titling an abandoned boat will vary according to the rules and regulations of each respective jurisdiction. In many states there will be a defined set of procedures which dictate the steps that must be followed in order to dispose of an abandoned boat. A title and/or registration can thus be attained when it is demonstrated that such steps were properly implemented. In some states, such action must be approved and authorized by a court of law. It should be noted that passage of title for Coast Guard documented vessels may fall within the realm of federal maritime jurisdiction under these conditions. There is also a matter of lien extinguishment which may not apply where title is passed under non-judicial procedures.

How do I pass ownership from a non-title state?

Boat registration certificates issued in non-title states will serve the same purpose as a title if the vessel is not Coast Guard documented. When transferring ownership, the new owner should be handed the current registration certificate. If this does not contain an assignment area for the new owner, a notarized bill of sale can be used instead. Although such registrations are not titles, they will be accepted as such in by other jurisdictions as proof of ownership.

How do I register a boat with no prior title or registration?

Each state has its own rules for dealing with used boats where no prior title or registration can be found. These may include bonded titling, conditional registrations, or abandoned boat procedures. If nothing else, it may be necessary to petition a court of proper jurisdiction for an award of ownership. You should check with the boat registration agency of the state in question to determine the options.

Should I accept a boat title or registration at face value?

 It is always a good practice to verify a boat registration or title certificates with the issuing agency. The one you are being presented with may not be the latest issue or reflect certain restriction flags placed on the state's record database. In some states, tax liens are flagged in the state's boat title or registration database but are not shown on the certificates. In these cases, you will be unable to re-register the boat until such liens are paid.


Can I file a claim on a state titled or registered boat?

As a general rule, claims can not be arbitrarily filed or recorded against a state titled boat without the owner's written consent. The title would then have to be reissued with the claimant shown as a secured party or legal owner. Action to collect on a non-recorded claim must typically be implemented under state summary lien foreclosure regulations or dealt with as a judicial matter.

How do I enforce my lien on a state titled or registered boat?

Recording a boat lien is one thing, enforcing it is another matter altogether. Most states have procedures which allow marinas, boat yards, and other vendors to sell the boat for delinquent charges without recording a claim or going to court. However, this only applies if the boat is still in their possession. Otherwise, it will be necessary to obtain a court order in order to take any action in foreclosure. There are also issues to consider if there are any outstanding lien or security recordings in addition to that of the claimant's. In any event, the services of an attorney should be enlisted to protect against backlash from the boat's owner for conducting an improper foreclosure.


How can I find the owner of a state registered boat?

Although some state boat registration agencies are quite free with ownership information, others may require that you request such information in writing with an explanation regarding the nature of your inquiry. The adoption of very strict personal information disclosure rules is becoming ever more common among various boating jurisdictions. Our Vessel Record Search service will provide a state-by-state listing of ownership name and address disclosure requirements, data links, request forms, and contact information.

How can I obtain historical information on a state registered boat?

The length of time in which historical or previous ownership information is maintained for boats will vary with each state. The manner in which such records are kept may include file folders, microfiche, and electronic media storage. You will need to contact the respective boat registration agency for information on how to go about obtaining copies or print-outs of any prior records. In some cases, this may entail the current owner's authorization due to public disclosure regulations.

How do I search for registration liens on boats?

 If the boat is not U.S. Coast guard documented and registered in a non-title state, you should conduct a Uniform Commercial Code search under the registered owner's name. If the boat is state titled, you can inspect the title and current registration certificate for secured parties or legal owners. In doing so, you should also contact the respective titling agency to confirm such information. Although a few states offer this information online, such access is generally restricted due to disclosure rules. On Coast Guard documented vessels, you must obtain an abstract of title to identify any outstanding liens or encumbrances.


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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