Boat/Vessel Registration

Boat Side

If you own a sailboat over eight feet long or a boat/vessel with a motor (no matter the size), you must register it with DMV in order to legally operate it on California waterways.

To register your boat/vessel, you will need:

You may also need a:

  • Bill(s) of sale (if you bought your boat/vessel from a private party instead of a dealer). 
  • Statement of Facts (REG 256) form, in case you do not have a copy of the bill of sale.

You can register your boat/vessel at any DMV field office, or mail your registration application and related documents to:

Department of Motor Vehicles
PO Box 942869
Sacramento, CA 94269-0001

Frequently Asked Questions

Any boat or vessel that you can use to transport yourself on water, such as a:

  • Sail-powered boat/vessel that is over eight feet long.
  • Vessel/boat with a motor (no matter how big it is).

If you bought your boat/vessel from an out-of-state seller, or if you recently moved to California, you need to register your boat/vessel with DMV within 120 days of bringing it into the state.

There are some boats/vessels that do not have to be registered:

  • Canoes, rowboats, or any boats/vessels that use paddles or oars
  • Sailboats shorter than eight feet long
  • Sailboards or parasails
  • A ship’s lifeboat
  • Seaplanes on the water
  • Boats that run on a track, such as amusement park rides
  • Floating structures that are tied to land and use power, water, and a sewage system on the shore.

Dinghies must be registered with DMV.

Houseboats that have a motor must be registered with DMV.

Commercial boats/vessels that weigh more than five net tons and are longer than 30 feet must be registered (documented) by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Yes. Any boat/vessel that travels or is moored in California waterways, including private lakes, must be registered with DMV.

  • documented boat/vessel is registered with the U.S. Coast Guard and has a marine certificate. These boats/vessels do not have to be registered with DMV.
  • An undocumented boat/vessel is registered with DMV and does not have a marine certificate from the U.S. Coast Guard.

If you buy a new boat/vessel, it is automatically considered undocumented, so you have to register the boat/vessel with DMV before you can put it in California waters.

Your boat/vessel will get a vessel registration number (beginning with CF before the numbers) when you register your boat/vessel with DMV.

You have to display your vessel registration number on your boat/vessel. Make sure it meets the following requirements.

Your Vessel Registration Number must:

  • Be painted on or permanently attached to each side of your boat/vessel’s bow.
  • Be written in plain, vertical block letters and numbers that are more than three inches high.
  • Be properly arranged so you can read it from left to right.
  • Contrast with the color of the background so that it is easy to see and read.
  • Have spaces or hyphens that are the same size as letters other than “I” or numbers other than “1”.
    • Example A: CF 1234 AB
    • Example B: CF-1234-AB

In addition to your vessel registration number, you will also receive a registration sticker. You should attach it to the both sides of your boat/vessel, three inches apart from your vessel registration number.

Your registration sticker must be clearly visible at all times. Please do not place any numbers, letters, or devices near the registration sticker (other than your vessel registration number).

Example of vehicle registration number.

Since 1972, all boats/vessels manufactured in the U.S. come with a Hull Identification Number (HIN).

The HIN must be:

  • Painted on or permanently attached to your boat/vessel so that it cannot be changed or removed.
  • Assigned and attached by manufacturers to commercially built boats/vessels.
  • Assigned by DMV for homemade boats/vessels.

If your California Certificate of Ownership is lost, stolen, or damaged, you can submit a completed Application for Duplicate or Transfer of Title (REG 227) form.

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

You can then mail the forms to DMV or visit a DMV field office in person.

You must renew your boat/vessel registration by December 31 of every odd-numbered year (for example, 2013, 2017, etc.), even if you do not use your boat/vessel.

To remind you that you need to renew your registration, DMV will mail you a renewal notice 60 days before your registration expires.

Visit our online registration page to see if your vessel is eligible to be renewed online.

You can also renew your registration by phone (automated system), mail, or by visiting a DMV field office in person.

Phone: 1-800-777-0133
Mail:
Vehicle Registration Operations
Department of Motor Vehicles
PO Box 942869 MS C271
Sacramento, CA 94269-0001

If you renew your registration by mail, please return the bottom portion of your renewal notice in the envelope provided with a check, cashier’s check, or money order to cover your fees.

If you do not receive or lose the renewal notice, you may contact DMV and pay your fees.

When you buy a boat/vessel from another person, you should also get the California Certificate of Ownership from the person who sold it to you. That person should sign/endorse the certificate on line 1. If there is a lienholder, you need their signature on line 2.

Once you have the California Certificate of Ownership, write your name and address on the back. Then you can submit the certificate to DMV along with the transfer fee, use tax, and any renewal fees that might be due.

If the boat/vessel has a trailer, you need to get the trailer title. If you cannot get a copy of the title, you can complete a Permanent Trailer Identification (PTI) Certification and Application (REG 4017) form to transfer it into your name.

If you decide to sell your boat/vessel, you need to:

You must provide the boat/vessel information (vessel registration number, HIN), the name and address of the buyer, and the sale date on the form.

  • Submit the form online or by mail.

If the boat/vessel has a trailer, give the titling and/or registration documents to the buyer and submit a separate Notice of Release of Liability (REG 138) form.

Additional Information

Boats and vessels registered in California are included in property taxes by the county tax collector, depending on where the boat/vessel is stored or moored. DMV might deny registration renewal or transfer if the county tax collector tells DMV that you have not paid your personal property taxes.

Vessel registration becomes invalid when a boat/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 tell the DMV when a boat/vessel is:

  • Sold.
  • Moved to a different storage location.
  • Documented through the U.S. Coast Guard.
  • Destroyed, lost, or abandoned. Return the California Certificate of Ownership to DMV within 15 days.

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