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
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
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
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
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?
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
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
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
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
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.
TAXES & FEES
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
Must I pay boat taxes if I reside in a different state?
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
How do I register an abandoned
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
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
Should I accept a boat title or
registration at face value?
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.
LIENS & ENCUMBRANCES
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?
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.