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Vessel Registration

Registration & Documentation

Info. from Code of Federal Regulations Title 33 Part 173 & Title 46 Part 67

There are two methods of registration for U.S. recreational vessels:

  • Vessel Registration: state-issued Certificate of Number.
  • Vessel Documentation: federally documented with the U.S. Coast Guard.

Vessel Registration: All undocumented vessels equipped with propulsion machinery must be registered in the state of principal use. A Certificate of Number will be issued upon registration and the number must be displayed on your vessel. The owner/operator of a vessel must also carry the valid Certificate of Number whenever the vessel is in use.

When a vessel is moved to a new state of principal use, the Certificate remains valid for 60 days. Check with your state boating authority for registration requirements. Some states require all vessels to be registered, including vessels that are manually propelled and those that are Coast Guard documented.

Display of Numbers

  • Numbers must be painted or permanently attached to each side of the forward half of the vessel.
  • The numbers must be read from left to right.
  • The numbers must be of a color that is contrasting with the background color; for example, black numbers on a white hull.
  • The validation sticker(s) must be affixed within six inches of the registration number. No other letters or numbers may be displayed nearby.
  • 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 that 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 to the issuing authority within 15 days.

Vessel Documentation

Recreational vessels are eligible to be documented under the U.S. Coast Guard Certificate of Documentation if they are wholly owned by a citizen or citizens of the United States and measure at least five net tons. Net tonnage is a measure of a vessel’s volume. Most vessels more than 25 feet in length will measure five net tons or more.

A documented vessel is not exempt from:

  • Applicable state or federal taxes.
  • Compliance with state or federal equipment carriage requirements.

A documented vessel may also be required to pay a registration fee and display a validation sticker from the state of principal use. Boaters should check with their state boating agency.

To be in compliance with federal documentation requirements, a Certificate of Documentation must be:

  • The original document (photocopy not acceptable).
  • On board the vessel.
  • Current (not expired).
  • Signed by the Director of the National Vessel Documentation Center.

Documented Vessel Marking Requirements

Hull Display

A documented recreational vessel hull display must:

  • Have the name and hailing port of the vessel together in one place on the hull (usually on the stern).
  • Be in letters not less than 4 inches in height.
  • Be clearly readable.

The marking requirements for a documented recreational vessel state “together in one place on the hull.” Many recreational vessels will place the vessel name and hailing port on the stern, and vessel name on both sides of the bow, which is required for a commercial vessel. Although not required for a recreational vessel, this is an acceptable option.

Interior Display (Recreational and Commercial)

In addition, the vessel must have the official number permanently affixed in block-type Arabic numerals of not less than 3 inches in height, preceded by the letters “NO.” on some clearly visible interior integral structural part of the vessel.

Arabic numerals are the most common symbolic representation of numbers in the world. Permanently affixed means that the numbers must be affixed to the vessel so that alteration, removal, or replacement would be obvious. Numbers can be painted, carved, or welded.

For more information on documented vessels, contact the U.S. Coast Guard National Vessel Documentation Center at (800) 799-8362 or online at


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