Agent’s Handbook for Registration of Undocumented Vessels

Driver Education illustration

Section 2 of 9

Vessel Numbers

2.000 ABCs of the California Boating Law and Carbon Monoxide Warning Stickers (CHNC §651.5)

Pursuant to the Federal Boating Act, and in order to ensure that each original California registrant and transferee is apprised of current vessel safety and registration information, each applicant issued a Permanent Vessel Number (“CF” number) and Certificate of Number shall also be issued a copy of the California State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways publication, ABCs of California Boating, one set of vessel carbon monoxide warning stickers and the companion brochure, Safe Boating Facts About the Silent Killer CO Carbon Monoxide. These pamphlets may be obtained from the California State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways or by visiting their website at

Explain to the customer that the stickers must be affixed to motorized vessels as follows:

  • The TRANSOM sticker must be affixed facing out on the exterior of the stern or transom of the motorized vessel, unless it is inflatable and the sticker would not adhere to the surface of the stern.
  • The HELM sticker must be affixed to the interior of the motorized vessel where it is immediately visible to the operator of the motorized vessel.

2.005 Boat Examples

See 2.050 below

2.010 California Assigned Vessel Numbers (Vehicle Code §9857)

Permanent vessel registration numbers are assigned to undocumented vessels in accordance with the national system. In California, these numbers are prefixed by the letters “CF” followed by four numbers and a two-letter suffix (e.g., CF 1234 AB). A number series will not be issued with the letter suffix containing I, O, or Q.

2.015 Hull Identification Number (HIN) (CVC §9857, 9871, 9871.5 and CCR §190.15)

The hull identification number (HIN) is a unique combination of letters and/or numbers affixed to the vessel. California law requires all registered vessels to have a HIN. Federal regulations, effective November 1, 1972, require vessel manufacturers to assign a HIN to each vessel the manufacturer builds. Noncomplying manufacturers are investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard. Since August 1984, the manufacturer’s HIN consists of a combination of 12 alpha and numeric characters.

Example of current HIN format:

BAY 3561G B 0 90
Three position manufacturer ID code (BAYLINER) Five character serial number (alpha/numeric) Alpha character identifying month of manufacture Last number in year of manufacture Last two numbers of model year.

Example of HIN format for homemade vessels/vessels without a valid HIN:

CFZ 1234A H 1 91
Indicates a California issued HIN First five characters of the CF number (see §2.020) Alpha character indicating month of manufacture Year of manufacture or year fees paid, if manufacture date is unknown Last two numbers of year of
manufacture or year fees paid, if year of manufacture is unknown.

The HINs must be displayed on each hull (two locations). A HIN must be affixed in a visible location and in an unexposed location on the interior of the boat or beneath a fitting or item of hardware.Each vessel application must contain a HIN. The U.S. Coast Guard will investigate manufacturers who do not comply with the regulations.

From 1972 to 1984, HINs were designed in the following formats:

KAW 12345 1280 X
Three-position manufacturer ID code (Kawasaki) Five-character serial number (alpha/numeric) Month and year of manufacture (alpha-encoded or numeric) Additional, optional characters for builders’ purposes.


KAW 12345 L 73E X
Three-position manufacturer ID code (Kawasaki) Five-character serial number (alpha/numeric) Encoded to show month Month and year of certification Additional, optional characters for builders’ purposes.


Federal regulations require vessel manufacturers to assign a HIN to each vessel the manufacturer builds. At the vessel owner’s request, DMV will assign a HIN for “no fee” to a vessel which does not have a HIN. The California Certificate of Ownership and a miscellaneous Statement of Facts (REG 256) form stating the vessel does not have a HIN and the name of the builder (if known) must be submitted.

The department will not assign a HIN:

  • To a 1973 or newer vessel which already has less than a 12-character HIN.
  • To a vessel “commercially manufactured” after 1972.
  • If documentation indicates an existing HIN for the vessel. If DMV’s records do not show a HIN for a vessel, but the owner completes a miscellaneous Statement of Facts (REG 256) form showing a HIN, DMV will correct the record.

2.020 Pleasure and Commercial Numbers

Pleasure and commercial numbers are any numbers not reserved as a special number series (see §2.040). Pleasure and commercial numbers are issued in DMV’s field offices and by agents to any pleasure or commercial vessel.

2.025 Special CF Numbers (CCR §190.08)

Special numbers are CF numbers issued only to vessels listed below by the Vessel Section of Registration Processing Unit II in DMV headquarters and are not issued by agents.

Special Number Issued to
DA-DZ Dealers.
LA, LB, LD, LE Livery (rental) vessels and vessels carrying passengers.
LC Livery (rental) vessels owned by a city or county, fee exempt.
MA-MY Manufacturers.
MZ Other than dealers or manufacturers.
XC Vessels of a city, county, district, or other municipality, fee exempt.
XF Federal vessels, fee-exempt.
XS State vessels, fee-exempt.
YB Vessels owned by certain youth groups, fee-exempt.

2.030 Special CF Numbers Transfer

Livery and Fee-Exempt Special CF Numbers

Livery and fee-exempt special numbers cannot be transferred unless the new owner qualifies for the same kind of special number. The “LC” livery series cannot be transferred to a nongovernmental livery operator. A Statement of Facts (REG 256) form must be submitted with the application explaining the buyer’s qualifications for the special number and request for use tax exemption if the buyer is using the vessel “for hire” (passengers or property). Exempt vessels transferred between federal agencies or between state agencies are not subject to use tax.

Special CF Number to Pleasure CF Number

When a livery or fee exempt vessel is transferred to an owner not qualified for the special number, a pleasure number is issued. A Statement of Facts (REG 256) form stating the vessel will be used for pleasure only must be submitted with the transfer application. The renewal fee is due if the former owner was fee exempt (see Chapter 3 for fees). The U.S. Coast Guard has assigned a HIN format for departmental use when assigning a HIN to vessels that are homemade or do not have an established identification number.

2.035 Special CF Numbers (Dealers and Manufacturers) Applications

Boat dealers and manufacturers may secure a special number for demonstrating or testing unregistered vessels. The number must not be permanently affixed to any vessel and it is not transferable.

Original Applications—The requirements are a completed Application for Boat Registration Number Dealer-Manufacturer (BOAT 101A) form with “Dealer” or “Manufacturer” checked and the applicant’s Board of Equalization (BOE) account (permit) number and the original registration fee. (December applications should also include the renewal fee).

Renewal Applications—A new completed BOAT 101A (see originals above) and the registration fee must be submitted for any dealer or manufacturer vessel number that is not renewed prior to midnight of the expiration date. A certificate of nonoperation is not acceptable

The application requirements for special use vessels are the same as for a dealer/manufacturer application. An example of “special use” would be a marina borrowing vessels from vessel manufacturers throughout the United States for use in movie productions and then returning the vessels to the manufacturers at the end of filming.

The requirements are:

2.040 Special CF Numbers (Livery, Government Agencies, Youth Groups) Applications

For new or nonresident vessels:

 If the Use of the Vessel Is
Complete an Application for Registration
Number (BOAT 101) and Collect Certificate
of Ownership and Certificate of Number for
Undocumented Vessel
Issue a Miscellaneous
Receipt and
Temporary Certificate
of Number
(BOAT 103)
Livery (nonexempt) Appropriate proof of owner ship, original registration fee and use tax, if due (See Chap ter 3 for fees) And a sticker.
Fee Exempt Gov’t Agency No fee As a “No Fee” item and a sticker.
Fee Exempt Youth Group
No fee. The Boat 101 must be signed by an authorized agent of the youth group attesting to the purpose of the organization
As a “No Fee” item and a sticker.
All special numbers are issued and mailed to the customer by the Registration Processing Unit II in DMV headquarters. Livery and fee-exempt special numbers are not transferable unless the new owner qualifies for the same kind of special number.

2.045 Vessels Not Required to be Registered (CVC §9873 and CCR §190.19)

The following vessels may be registered at the owner’s option:

  • Vessels propelled solely by oars or paddles.
  • Sailboats 8 feet or less in length without motors.
  • A public vessel of the United States, another state, or subdivision of another state.
  • A ship’s lifeboat (a dinghy is not a lifeboat).
  • A vessel of another country temporarily using the waters of this state.
  • A vessel bearing an assigned number in full force, which has been issued pursuant to federal law or a federally approved number system of another state, provided it has not changed its state of principal use and has not been used within this state for a period in excess of 90 consecutive days.
  • Nonmotorized surfboards over 8 feet in length, propelled by sail, that requires the operator to hold the mast upright.
  • A floating, stationary residential dwelling not designed to have power of its own, which is dependent for utilities to a source on shore, and has a permanent sewage hookup on shore.
  • A vessel not using or on the water of this state.
  • Racing vessels brought into this state exclusively for racing purposes and remaining for less than 90 days, providing the state of origin also exempts such vessels.

2.050 Vessels Which Must be Registered in California (CVC §9850)

The following vessels must be registered:

  • All undocumented motor boats.
  • All undocumented sailboats with motors.
  • All undocumented sailboats over 8 feet in length.
  • Amphibious vehicles (vessels).
  • Houseboats (see the following section for exception).
  • Inflatable vessels with motors.
  • Personal watercraft (ski type vessels such as jet ski, wet bike).  
  • Shuttle Craft. “Shuttle Craft” is a full size, open bow, jet boat similar to a barge. It is powered and steered by any personal watercraft (PWC).
diagram of boat types