How To: Register, Renew, or Transfer a Vessel

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Which Vessels Must Be Registered?

Generally, every sail-powered vessel over eight feet long and motor driven vessels not documented by the U.S. Coast Guard used on California waters are subject to registration by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The vessel must be located in California.

The following vessels do not have to be registered in California:

  • Vessels propelled solely by oars or paddles.
  • Nonmotorized sailboats that are eight feet long or less.
  • Nonmotorized surfboards propelled by a sail and a mast that the operator must hold upright (sailboards).
  • A ship’s lifeboat used solely for lifesaving purposes (a dinghy is not a lifeboat).
  • Vessels currently and lawfully numbered (registered) by another state that are principally used outside of California.
  • Vessels brought into California for racing purposes only (exempted only during races and tune-ups).
  • A floating, stationary, residential dwelling not designed to have power of its own, dependent for utilities to a source on shore.

What Is the Difference Between a Documented and Undocumented Vessel?

An undocumented vessel is registered by DMV and issued a Certificate of Ownership.

documented vessel is registered by the U.S. Coast Guard, and issued a marine certificate.

NOTE: Commercial vessels of five net tons or more or 30 or more feet long must be documented by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Must I Register a Vessel Used Exclusively on a Private Lake?

Yes; any vessel that is used or moored on California waterways, including private lakes, must be registered.

How Do I Register My Vessel?

To register and title a new vessel or a vessel being registered in California for the first time you will need:

To avoid penalties, registration fees must be paid prior to operating the vessel on California waters.

  • To pay use tax based on the purchase price.

You may submit your vessel registration application and fees by mail to the address at the end of this brochure. Or in person at your local DMV office. For faster service, we recommend you make an appointment online at or by phone at 1-800-777-0133.

How Do I Register the Trailer?

If your vessel has a trailer, it must be currently registered. This registration is separate from the vessel. Vessel trailers are subject to permanent trailer identification (PTI). Additional information regarding PTI registration, including requirements and fees, is available at

What If I Purchase a Vessel With California Registration?

You must:

  • Obtain the California Certificate of Ownership from the seller with the owner’s release on line 1 of the certificate. If there is a lienholder, the release on line 2 is also required.
  • Write your name and address and sign on the back of the certificate.
  • Submit the certificate to DMV with the transfer fee, use tax, and renewal fees, if due.

If the vessel has a trailer, obtain the trailer title or a completed and signed Permanent Trailer Identification (PTI) Certification and Application (REG 4017) form to transfer it into your name.

When Do I Renew the Vessel Registration?

You must renew your vessel registration by December 31 of every odd-numbered year, regardless of use. DMV mails a renewal notice about 60 days before the expiration date.

DMV issues a certificate of number (vessel registration card) and stickers to identify currently registered vessels.

How Do I Renew the Vessel Registration?

You may renew your vessel registration online using the online vehicle registration renewal system, by phone at 1-800-777- 0133, or by mail. When renewing by mail, return the bottom portion of your renewal notice in the envelope provided with a check, cashier’s check, or money order. If you do not receive or lose the renewal notice, you may submit a copy of your current certificate of number to DMV with the renewal fees to the address listed at the end of this brochure.

How Do I Replace Lost, Stolen, or Mutilated Certificates or Stickers?

If your California Certificate of Ownership Is lost, stolen, or mutilated, submit a completed Application for Duplicate or Paperless Title (REG 227) form and the duplicate title fee.

If you lost the certificate of number or sticker, submit a completed Application for Replacement Plates, Stickers, Documents (REG 156) form to replace the lost certificates and/or stickers and the appropriate fee.

Replacement applications may be mailed to the address at the end of this brochure.

What If I Sell the Vessel?

You must:

  • Give the Certificate of Ownership to the buyer with your releasing signature on the front.
  • Notify DMV within five days after the sale by submitting a Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability (REG 138) online at or by mail. You must provide the vessel information, the name and address of the buyer, and the sale date.

If the vessel has a trailer, give the titling and/or registration documents to the buyer and submit a separate REG 138.

Where Can I Locate Vessel Forms and Fees?

Since fees (vessels) and forms (vessels) are subject to change, visit our website at for the most current information.

How Is a CF Number Displayed?

You must display the CF number (vessel registration number) issued by DMV as follows:

  • Painted on or permanently attached to each side of the forward half of the vessel.
  • In a color that contrasts with the hull or backing plate, to be distinctly visible and legible.
  • In plain, vertical, block characters at least three inches high.
  • In characters arranged to be read from left to right.
  • With spaces or hyphens between the prefix and number and between the number and suffix. The spaces or hyphens must be equal to the width of a letter other than “I” or a number other than “1”.
Correct placement of vessel registration sticker.

How Is the Registration Sticker Displayed?

Registration stickers must be securely affixed to each side of the vessel, three inches from and directly in line with the registration numbers, and shall be clearly visible at all times. Be sure the area is clean and dry prior to affixing the stickers. Do not place any numbers, letters, or devices near the registration sticker.

How Is the Hull Identification Number (HIN) Displayed?

A hull identification number (HIN) must be displayed on all vessels registered in California as follows:

  • Permanently affixed to the vessel in such a way that its alteration, removal, or replacement would be obvious.
  • Assigned and affixed by manufacturers to commercially built vessels.
  • Assigned by DMV to homemade vessels.

What Other Information Is Unique to Vessels?

A vessel renewal or transfer will be withheld, if the county tax collector notifies DMV that the personal property taxes are delinquent on a vessel.

A certificate of number becomes invalid when a vessel is:

  • Required to be documented by the U.S. Coast Guard.
  • Transferred to a new owner.
  • Destroyed or abandoned.
  • No longer used primarily in California.

You must notify DMV when a vessel is:

  • Sold.
  • Moved to a different storage location.
  • Documented through the U.S. Coast Guard.
  • Destroyed, lost, or abandoned (in any manner). Return the certificate of number and the California Certificate of Ownership to DMV within 15 days.

Or you can report the information in person to your local DMV office. For faster service, we recommend that you make an appointment online at or by phone at 1-800-777-0133.

In addition, you should notify a local law enforcement agency upon the theft and/or recovery of a vessel.

You will receive the ABCs of California Boating booklet when you first register a vessel in your name. This booklet contains the current safety and registration information. For motorized vessels, you will receive an additional brochure on carbon monoxide.

For additional information and publications on boating in California, visit the California Department of Boating and Waterways online at

What Is the Mailing Address?

Vehicle Registration Operations
Department of Motor Vehicles
PO Box 942869 MS C271
Sacramento, CA 94269-0001