California Boat Registration

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Just like land vehicles, most boats (or vessels) are required to be registered with the DMV in order to be operated legally. So if you just bought a new jet ski, ski boat, or pontoon for your summer excursions to the lake, you will need to register your boat with the DMV as soon as possible.

What Kind of Vessels Require Registration?

It can be a bit confusing figuring out what the DMV defines as a vessel and which of these vessels need to be registered. According to the DMV website, "The term vessel applies to every description of water-craft used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water." That seems straightforward, but which vessels need to be registered, and which ones are off the hook? As a general rule, the following vehicles need to be registered with the DMV:

  • Any sail boat that is over 8 feet long
  • Every motor-driven vessel that is 1) not documented by the U.S. Coast Guard, and primarily used in California waters.

Here are some vessels that are not required to be registered.

  • Vessels propelled by rowing or paddling.
  • A Lifeboat.
  • Sailboats less than 8 feet in length.
  • Vessels brought to California for racing purposes.
  • Vessels registered out-of-state that are primarily used outside of California.

If you have questions regarding the registration (or non-registration) of your vessel, call your local DMV.

Registering Your Boat (Vessel)

If your boat is required to be registered with the DMV, you will be relieved to know that this is a simple process. There are two ways that you can register your vessel: in person, or by mail.

  • In Person: Visit any DMV office (appointments are always a good idea) and submit a completed Application for Vessel Certificate of Number (BOAT 101). You will also need to show proof of ownership. Ownership can be proved using documents like a bill of sale, certificate of origin, an out-of-state title, or an invoice. Be sure to bring payment to cover the registration fees (listed below).
  • By Mail: To register by mail, send a completed Application for Vessel Certificate of Number (BOAT 101) along with a copy of proof of ownership and payment to: Department of Motor Vehicles, P.O. Box 942869, Sacramento, CA, 94269-0001.
  • Online: To register online, click here and begin our online boat registration process.

It's important to note that if you use a trailer to transport your vessel, it will need to be registered separately. However, your trailer registration will not be required to be renewed annually.

Registration Fees

As odd as it may seem, registration fees don't vary based on the size of your vessel, but they vary depending on the year that you register. Resident original applications being submitted in an even-numbered year will cost $29, while the same application submitted in an odd-numbered year will cost $49. Non-resident applications in even-numbered years will cost $57, while odd-numbered years will cost non-resident boat owners $77.

What Will I Need to Display On My Vessel?

Obviously, displaying your registration on a boat is not as simple as attaching a license plate with stickers to the front and back of your car. The DMV has very specific criteria for the placement of the Vessel Registration Number and the Hull Identification Number.

Vessel Registration Number:

This needs to be painted or permanently attached to the front left and right sides of your vessel using plain, vertical, block-type characters that remain at least 3'' in height. They must read from left to write and be of a color that is in high contrast to that of the body of your vessel for optimal visibility. The registration number also must "have spaces or hyphens that are equal to the width of a letter other than "I" or a number other than "1" between the prefix and the number, and the number and the suffix." Ex: CF 1234 AB.

Hull Identification Number (HIN):

The HIN must be permanently fixed to your vessel so that its alteration, removal, or replacement would be obvious. HINs are required to be assigned and affixed by boat manufacturers to commercial vessels. If your vessel is homemade, the DMV will assign you your HIN and you will most likely need to affix it yourself.

Renewing Your Vessel Registration

You will be sent a renewal notice every odd numbered year that will tell you when your registration is going to expire and what renewal options are available to you. These options typically include: in person renewal, renewal by mail, renewal by phone, and online renewal.

  • In Person: Go to your local DMV with your renewal notice, your license, your HIN, and payment to cover the fees.
  • By Mail: Collect your renewal notice and a check made out to the DMV and mail it to: Vehicle Registration Operations, Department of Motor Vehicles, P.O. Box 942869, Sacramento, CA 94269-0001.
  • By Phone: Have your HIN prepared as well as a payment method (credit/debit card) and call (800) 921-1117.
  • Online: Your renewal notice will state whether or not you are eligible for online registration renewal. You will need your HIN and payment (credit/debit card) to complete the online renewal process. If you are not eligible for online renewal through the DMV, or need your new registration the same day, you can renew your registration online at CarRegistration (see below).

Renewing Online CarRegistration

CarRegistration, officially licensed by the Department of Motor Vehicles, is an online service that offers a quick, easy, and efficient alternative to DMV renewal options. Don't get caught waiting in line at the DMV or waiting a week or even two for your registration to be delivered. CarRegistration online renewal services offers a same day E-copy of your registration so you will not get stuck driving with an expired registration card. They also offer next business day delivery if you need your official hard copy fast. Did you lose your registration notice? Don't worry about it. You won't need it to complete the CarRegistration renewal process. CarRegistration requires only a few simple steps for you to renew your vessel registration so you can spend your time on the open water instead of at the DMV.

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