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California Boat Registration requirements - fees - renewal

What boats must be registered in California?

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

The following boats are exempt from registration:  

  1. Boats propelled manually.
  2. Sailboats eight feet or less in length propelled solely by sail.
  3. Documented vessels.
  4. Foreign vessels.
  5. US vessels from other states remaining in California less than 90 consecutive days.
  6. Sailboard.

Must I register a boat 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 boat in California?

The documents required to register and title a new vessel or a vessel being registered for the first time are:

  • Application for Vessel Certificate of Number (Boat 101 form).
  • Proof of ownership, such as the out-of-state title in the applicant's name or properly endorsed for transfer and signed by the applicant. A bill of sale is acceptable in lieu of the seller's signature on the title,
  • The original or certified copy of a conditional sales contract or security interest showing the purchaser's name and any lienholder and marked "paid" and countersigned,
  • A bond for the vessel value if proof of ownership cannot be provided and the vessel's value is $2,000 or more.

How much will it cost to register my boat in California?

California dmv registration fees to register and title a new vessel.

California dmv registration fees to register a vessel that was previously registered in another state.


  • You can obtain boat and trailer registrations at any office of the DVM.
  • The Certificate of number must be readily available for inspection by a law enforcement officer at all times while underway. It is valid for two years.
  • The Certificate of Ownership is your evidence of title to the vessel. We recommend that you keep your certificate in a sealable plastic bag in a dry place. 
  • On the reverse side of the Certificate of Ownership you will find the application for transfer of ownership.

Registration decal number

California boat registration number placement

  • On the forward part of your vessel well above the waterline
  • On both sides of the bow 
  • Numbers must be painted or applied as a decal, where law enforcement officials can read it.
  • Letters and numbers are BLOCK style of at least 3 inches in height and must contrast in color with the hull. 
  • Letters and numbers are to read from left to right and have a space (CF 4252 AF) or hyphen (CF-3534-AF) to separate letters and numbers.   
  • Registration decals show the expiry date and must be displayed within 3 inches of the registration number on each side of the watercraft, toward the stern and in line with the numbers.
  • You must display only current registration decals and remove any expired ones.
  • The decals are valid for 2 years. 

Display registration number & validation decals

Documented boats

You may document larger vessels which meet Coast Guard guidelines. Documentation is a form of national registration and is useful for boats taken into international waters or other countries. Call USCG at 1-800-799-8362 for more information.

Get your California Boating License today!

Beginning January 1, 2018, the mandatory boating safety education law goes into effect and will be phased in by age. If you operate any type of motorized vessel on California waterways (including powered sailboats/paddlecraft), you will be required to pass an approved boating safety examinaton and carry a lifetime California Boater Card.