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California Boat Registration


All motorized vessels in California are required to be registered. After you register the vessel you will get a valid Certificate of Number, a Certificate of Ownership and registration decals.  

The following vessels 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.


  • You can obtain boat and trailer registrations at any office of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMW).
  • 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.

Display registration decal

Your registration decals and registration numbers must be displayed:

  • 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. 

Validation decal

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.