...To learn what the requirements are

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 Boat Registration and Documentation - Articles & helpful information

Boat Registration


Boat Documentation is the best evidence of ownership of your vessel and the methods for recording liens against boats are varied and complex.

There are a number of reasons to document your boat with the US federal government.

Some US states may require documented boats to be registered and numbered as well. However, documented vessels are not titled by the state as this would create conflicting forms of ownership of the boat. Boats are either state titled or fedeally documented to show ownership, but never both.

A dmv.org - This state-by-state guide will give you the proper office to contact for forms or with more technical questions. You'll find their addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and websites

Require registration

All US states require registration for all powerboats and most sailboats. When you register your boat, the state issues you a certificate of number. Like the license plate you are issued when you register your car, the numbers on your boat provide a form of identification to aid in rescue operations and law enforcement. Although requirements vary by state, all states require powerboats to register and to display their numbers on the hull.

For more details or FAQs visit USCG National Vessel Documentation Center http://www.uscg.mil/.

Half the states also require non-powered boats (sailboats, powerboats, jonboats, etc.) to be registered. Some states also require registration of outboard motors.

A majority of states also require titles for motorboats. A title provides a record of legal ownership and is valuable if rightful ownership is contested. Some states require outboard motors to be titled as well as boats.

You should register your boat (also called “applying for a certificate of number”) in the state where you use your boat the most. You may use your boat in any state for 60 days before you are required to register and obtain a number from that state.

If your boat has been previously numbered, the seller must give you the signed title if the state in which the boat is registered has a titling requirement. A bill of sale works in states that have no titling laws. In order for you to transfer title and number into your name, the previous owner must usually surrender his certificate of number to the state within 15 days of the sale or transfer.

the difference between titling and registration

A title is a one-time document of ownership provided to the registered or legal owner of the boat. Registration certificates are issued by states periodically, usually once each year, for the purpose of collecting state fees and taxes, and for monitoring boating activity within the state. You pay a fee for your annual registration certificate and color-coded registration decal.


In proportion to its size and population, more big boats have a hailing port, but they are not necessarily registered there. Some limitations, exclusions and exceptions apply. This route only makes sense if the boat you are buying is big enough that the incorporation/documentation costs are less than the sales tax in another state.

Import duties on boats

The US Customs service (http://www.cbp.gov/) is in charge of collecting import duties on boats and yachts. According to the Customs rules, "Yachts or pleasure boats owned by a resident or brought into the United States for sale or charter to a resident are dutiable. Further information may be found in the U.S. Customs pamphlet

Pleasure Boats."

Note: that more than just Customs is involved. Since it floats, the boat is subject to US Coast Guard regulations. According to the import laws, “Imported boats and associated equipment are subject to U.S. Coast Guard safety regulations or standards under the Federal Boat Safety
There are currently no tariffs on boats imported into the US. Since your boat complies as dutiable, US Customs rules for buying foreign boats is about 1.5% duty on sailboats or inboard powerboats. They suggest that you pay by credit card (Visa, MasterCard or Discover) or Money Order drawn on a US bank in US funds.

Note that US federal duties do not relieve you of paying state sales and use taxes, personal property taxes or other levies by the state in which the boat is to be docked. In addition, depending on the country of manufacture and the type of wood, wooden vessels may require fumigation or inspection for environmental hazards.

The paperwork must include the information from the boat's builder that will allow you to register the vessel with your state and/or document it with the US Coast Guard. The Manufacturer's Statement of Origin (MSO) and the Master Carpenter's Certificate should be in hand at the time of the final closing on the boat.

You can find many of these currently requirements on the website help.cbp.gov.

The proper way to apply state registration numbers

Federal law mandates that the state registration number be permanently affixed on both sides of the vessel forward of the beam. No other numbers may be displayed on the forward half of the vessel. Characters must be vertical, block style letters at least 3" high and be in a color that contrasts with the background color of the hull. Letters are separated from numbers by a hyphen or space equal to the width of an individual letter. The full number must read from left to right (see photo).

Thus the number should read AL-5678-DF or AL 5678 DF on both sides of the hull.

Your state validation sticker must be placed according to state policy, and the registration paperwork be onboard and accessible at all times.

For more details: http://www.dol.wa.gov/forms/420082.pdf

NOT a US citizen

If you are not a US citizen, you would not be able to document your boat with the US Coast Guard.

That would leave registration with one of the individual states and you would have over 50 of those from which to choose, each one having different regulations, tax structures and paperwork requirements.

First you would have to deal with the federal government as to customs and import duties, there are currently no tariffs on boats imported into the US. If your boat complies as dutiable, US Customs rules for bringing foreign boats into the US is about 1.5% duty on sailboats or inboard powerboats.

As for the state registration, the first obstacle will be that you don't intend to berth the boat in the US for part of the year, this may present a problem in many states, especially if you do not hold a valid resident alien (green) card or permanent visa. Other states may require an officer of the state to visually inspect the boat, checking that it meets state regulations and is, in fact, the boat being registered, this would be a problem if the boat is in the Med. The state registration office will require proof of your identity, such as a passport and proof of ownership of the boat.

This latter could be in the form of a foreign title, document from another country's recognized ship's registry, bill of sale from the manufacturer etc., but the requirement will vary from state to state. Registration costs again will vary, but in most states the amount to title and register a boat is quite modest. It is the taxes that will get you.

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