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Boat Registration Advisor

Answers about state boat registration and title searches.

A free public resource designed for anyone looking to determine the ownership or lien status of a state registered boat. The topics covered here will address the most frequent inquiries as set forth by our readers. Each answer is supplemented by a wealth of additional information which can be found throughout this website.

How do I know if a boat is state registered?

State assigned boat registration numbers on each side of the bow would be the most obvious indicator. These begin with a two letter state designation which is followed by a series of numbers and characters. The markings are accompanied by tabs indicating the year of registration. Although Coast Guard documented boats may not display state assigned numbering, the tabs are allowed and must be affixed if state registered. It may also be helpful to know the type of boats which are exempt.  In the absence of any visual evidence, it will be necessary to check the hull number in a jurisdiction where the boat has been moored or operated. Visit our "State Registration Summary" page for nationwide contact information and a list of exemptions.

How can I find the owner of a boat?

Boat owner information is restricted is in most states due to privacy regulations. This means that only the owner and certain authorized parties are entitled to such data. Law enforcement agencies, lenders, insurers, and parties with an equitable interest will typically fall within this category. Visit our "State Registration Summary" page for instructions, forms, and further details on how to go about obtaining records from each state and U.S. territory.

How can I find boat history information?

The availability of prior boat ownership records will vary with each state. As a general rule however, such data is purged within just a few years. The gathering of other historical data such as salvaging or damages has yet to become implemented in most jurisdictions. Visit our "Boat Registration Summary" page for instructions, forms, and contact information on obtaining archived records. Further listings on stolen, damaged, auctioned, and recalled boats can also be found in our "BoatScope" database.

How can I check for boat liens?

Security interests on state titled boats are generally listed on the title certificate itself. In non-title states, they are recorded as Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) filings. If a state registered boat is also Coast Guard documented, lien claims and mortgages will appear on its abstract of title. Tax liens are not typically shown on title or documentation certificates, but may be flagged on underlying records or listed as UCC filings. More detailed information about liens, security interests, and mortgages can be found throughout this website.

How is boat ownership listed?

Ownership information is shown in three different ways on state registered boats. The most common is through the issuance of a state title certificate. If a registered boat is Coast Guard documented, ownership will be evidenced by the Certificate of Documentation. Proof of ownership on non-documented boats in non-titling states is relegated to the state registration certificate itself. Although not technically a title, this is recognized as evidence of ownership by most other jurisdictions.

Are USCG documented vessels exempt?

Vessel documentation does not preclude a boat from becoming state registered. However, federal law prohibits the issuance of a state title on documented vessels. State level registrations are allowed as an option because the Coast Guard does not look upon these as actual titles. Accordingly, some states may require the registration of documented vessels whereas others my consider them as exempt. A listing of such exemptions can be found by visiting our "State Registration Summary" page.

What is the difference between registrations and titles?

Boat registration is a process wherein each state enrolls various types of watercraft for usage upon their waters. This culminates in the issuance of a periodic and renewable certificate of registration which must remain on the boat when under way. Most jurisdictions will also issue a title certificate in conjunction with the registration. This echoes the vehicle registration practices of most states. However, there are certain "non-title" states which do not offer such convenience when it comes to watercraft. Visit our "State Registration Summary" page for a state by state listing of "titling" vs. "non-title" states.

Should I verify boat registrations and titles?

What you see isn't always what you get when it comes to state title and registration certificates. There are known cases where prior certificates were still in circulation subsequent to transfers of ownership or the addition of lienholders. There may also be red flags in the state's system which do not show up on the certificate itself. It is always prudent to verify existing certificates unless you have full confidence in the owner's representations. Contact information for every state and U.S. territory can be found in our "State Registration Summary" pages.

Are boat titles branded for salvage and damages?

The practice of branding boat titles when a boat has been salvaged or damaged has not yet been embraced by most states. Although various efforts are underway to standardize boat titling and registration systems, this has yet to become widely implemented in most jurisdictions. It highlights the need for a careful hull inspection, perhaps by a reputable marine surveyor. Our "BoatScope" database service also provides information on salvaged and damaged boats.

Are boats registered in U.S. territories?

United States territories all engage in the practice of registering boats. They are subject to the same federal numbering regulations which are imposed on regular states. There is however, a wide variation in the manner by which territorial registration systems are administered. Language differences are also a barrier in some jurisdictions. Visit our "State Registration Summary" page for resources and additional information regarding all U.S. territories.

Are titles issued on boat motors?

Outboard boat motors are separately titled in certain states. They may also become listed on the underlying boat's registration certificate in some jurisdictions. This practice is offered not only as a convenience and for theft protection, but to enhance the financing of such units. The reason is obvious because outboards can be easily detached and mounted on different boats. Visit our "State Registration Summary" page to determine the applicability of outboard motor registration and titling.

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