Licensing and Registration for U.S. Boats

The laws regarding powerboats and powerboat operators vary somewhat from state to state. Powerboats like motor vehicles are registered and licensed by each state rather than by the federal government. Even though these requirements are not regulated by the federal government, the regulation and requirements are very similar from state to state.

Before you purchase a powerboat, you need to be aware of the rules and regulations regarding ownership of a power boat and the laws that stipulate what you must and must not do.

Powerboats must be registered with the state when they are purchased. The state will assign a number and issue a ‘certificate of number and validation’ decal. A copy of the certificate that is issued must be kept on board the vehicle and be available for inspection. There are specific rules for how this number must be displayed on a boat…and it goes in more than one place. This law applies to powerboats that have a 10hp motor or more and to sailboats over 14’ long.

You must have a title for a motor of 10hp or greater. This title of ownership must also be kept on board and be available for inspection.

Each boat has a hull identification number that is either engraved onto the hull or on a metal plate attached to the hull. It is up to you to make a note of this number and keep it in a safe place away from the boat.

Bruce Stott is the Chief Instructor of Gulf Islands Cruising School Ltd. in Sidney, BC on Vancouver Island.  He is the author of Boating FAQ’s, 71 Essential Answers for Every Boater.

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