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Registration, Numbering, and Documentation

All undocumented vessels equipped with propulsion machinery must be registered in the state of principal use. A certificate of number will be issued upon registering the vessel. These numbers must be displayed on your vessel. The owner/operator of a vessel must carry a valid certificate of number whenever the vessel is in use. When moved to a new state of principal use, the certificate is valid for 60 days. Check with your state boating authority for registration requirements. Some states require all vessels (including documented) to be registered.

Some larger recreational vessels may be documented. The certificate of documentation MUST be on board a documented vessel at all times. A document serves as a certificate of nationality and an authorization for a specific trade. A documented vessel is not exempt from applicable state or federal taxes, nor is its operator exempt from compliance with federal or state equipment carriage requirements. A documented vessel may also be required to pay a registration fee and display a validation sticker in some states.

Display of Numbers

Numbers must be painted or permanently attached to each side of the forward half of the vessel. The validation stickers must be affixed within six inches of the registration number. With the exception of the vessel fee decal, no other letters or numbers may be displayed nearby.

Vessel indicating possible locations for display of numbers.

Lettering must be in plain, vertical block characters of not less than 3 inches in height. Spaces or hyphens between letter and number groupings must be equal to the width of a letter other than "I" or a number other than "1".

Notification of Changes to a Numbered Vessel

The owner of a vessel must notify the agency which issued the certificate of number within 15 days if:

  • The vessel is transferred, destroyed, abandoned, lost, stolen or recovered.
  • The certificate of number is lost, destroyed or the owner's address changes.

If the certificate of number becomes invalid for any reason, it must be surrendered in the manner prescribed to the issuing authority within 15 days.

A documented vessel must have the name of the vessel and hailing port plainly marked on the exterior part of the hull in clearly legible letters not less than 4 inches in height. In addition, the documented vessel must have the "Official Number" permanently affixed in block type, Arabic numerals not less than 3 inches on some clearly visible interior structural part of the boat.

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