Where On The Boat Registration Numbers Are Placed


The US Coast Guard requires that all watercraft be registered within the state in which they operate. Different states have different specifications on the types of vessels, boats, and watercraft that need registration.

According to USCG laws and requirements on watercraft lettering, boat registration numbers should be placed on the front part of the boat. When you register your vessel with your state, you are issued with a certificate containing the registration numbers.

These are like car license plates and must be clearly displayed so that they are easily visible from outside of the boat. We have compiled a comprehensive guide on boat registration numbers placement to help you comply with the USCG requirements. But before we dig into that, let’s answer some of the questions regarding boat registration that most beginner boaters forget to ask.

Where Should You Go For Boat Registration?

Where you register your boat will depend on the state with which you are registering. Boat registration in most states is handled by the Motor Vehicle Department, Fish and Game Department, Licensing Department, or Finance Department. If you just acquired your kayak, canoe, sailboat, motorboat, or any other type of watercraft, make sure to check with your state’s local government to find out whether your specific vessel needs registration and what office to contact for the same.

What Do You Need To Have Your Boat Registered?

To register your vessel with a state, you will be issued with a registration form that you are supposed to fill out with your vessel details. You will also be required to produce a boat title or bill of sale as proof of ownership. There will be some charges involved but these will depend on the state with which you are registering your boat.

Do You Need To Register Your Boat Trailers Too?

Most boat owners think that the only thing they need to do to their boat trailers after they have purchased them is attaching them to their boats right away and carrying out some boat trailer maintenance once in a while but they are wrong. As with your boat, you do need to register your boat trailers with your state too after you have acquired them. However, such registration will be separate from boat registration.

How Does Boat Registration Differ From Boat Titling?

Just like a car, boat registration with the state will involve two parts; registration and titling. Boat registration documents are a declaration of the vessel’s ownership with the state while the boat title proofs that you own the vessel.

What Is A HIN (Hull Identification Number)?

Similar to the VIN on your car, a HIN (hull identification number) is a serial number that uniquely identifies your boat. It is generated by the manufacturer to help the owner keep track of the vessel’s history. The HIN will mostly be found on the starboard (right side) of the transom.

What Is A Registration Decal?

Your boat registration number will act as the license plate. Once you are done registering your vessel with the state, you will be issued with a unique number that proofs that the watercraft is legally identifiable. Your boat’s registration number will allow the government and port authorities to recognize the watercraft when in use.

So where on the boat are registration numbers placed?

Boat lettering should be done on the front part of the boat where they can easily be seen by the authorities and other boaters.

A registration decal (validation decal) is similar to the sticker issued when you register a car. It proofs that your boat has been legally registered for that year. Application for a registration decal is done every year and the decal itself is only issued by the state with which you have registered your vessel.

What Do You Need To Document Your Boat With The USCG?

To have your boat documented with the USCG, the boat itself has to meet certain requirements for boat size and weight. For instance, it must weigh at least 5 net tons. You should also be a US citizen. Thus, trading and commercial fishing watercrafts owned by US citizens and weigh at least 5 net tons must be documented with the USCG.

Why Do You Need To Register Your Boat With The USCG?

Having your vessel documented with the USCG allows it to be acknowledged internationally as a watercraft hailing from the US. Vessel documentation gives it the ability to trade within various restricted areas and with other states.

What Vessels Are Exempted From Documentation?

Any boat that doesn’t operate on the US’s navigable waters is exempted from registration. Navigable waters in this case refer to all inland water bodies like rivers, lakes, and canals that are deep, slow, and wide enough for watercraft to pass through.

Is Registration Required For USCG Documented Vessels?

This will depend on the state you live in. In some states, you don’t need to register your vessel if you have already documented it with the USCG. If your boat is documented but needs registration with the state, you will usually not be required to display its registration numbers. Always check with your local boating agencies to find out if state registration is required for your USCG documented vessel.

Do You Need A Boat Name And Hailing Port To Register Your Vessel?

Naming a boat and having a hailing port will only be required if your vessel is documented with USCG. In such an instance, you will be required to create boat decals with the name of the boat and hailing point and display them on a visible area of the boat. Usually, these will be shown on the exterior section of the watercraft in block letters of not less than 4 inches in height.

Do You Need To Register Personal Watercraft?

A personal watercraft is smaller, usually one or two-person vessels like seadoos, wave runners, jet skis, and water scooters. Registering such vessels will depend on the state you reside in but in most instances, personal watercraft will be classified as motorized vessels. So, yes, if yours is a motorized kayak, scooter, or any other vessel that uses a certain type of boat engine, you will have to get it registered and do the placement of the numbers right.

Can You Register Your Boat In More Than One State?

Absolutely not. You are only allowed to register your vessel in one state at one time. A boat documented in another state will be allowed to operate for 60 days before registering with that state.

How To Format Your Boat Registration Numbers

The USCG requires that your boat registration numbers be at least 3 inches high and written in plain block. They must be legible. You can either paint them on or buy vinyl letters from your local marine supply store. Purchased letters will have a neater, cleaner look but if you are an expert artist, you can go with the first option. Just make sure the paint you buy is more visible than the color of your vessel.

The numbers must be displayed in the usual English sequence, as in from left to right. This applies to the two sides of the vessel where the numbers appear.

Make sure that the color you pick for your lettering contrasts against the boat’s color so it can be easy to read. Camouflaging your registration numbers will only get you in trouble with the authorities. Having visible numbers is also the first step to ensuring boating safety.

You can check with someone just to be sure they are readable. Some people are colorblind and may not be able to tell the difference between green and yellow. If you ask a few of your friends to read your registration numbers and they are all able to do so correctly, then you are safe. White on black or black on white is always great.

Do not write anything else on the sides of the bow. Save that area for your state sticker and boat registration numbers placement.

Have the numbers separated from letters with either a hyphen or space. For instance, ST-432-AB or ST 432 AB. The hyphen or letter used for separation must be equal to the width of a number or letter other than 1. You do not want to place your letters and numbers too closely together, as this will only make them difficult to read.

Also, make sure that there is enough space on both sides of the registration number, as this is where you are going to add the state sticker. Check with your state’s boat registration agency to find out where the sticker should be placed. Some states want the sticker placed before the registration number while others require that it appear after the number. It would therefore be wise to leave enough space on both sides just to be safe.

Your numbers need to be permanently attached too. You can’t just get away with using the easy-to-remove and easy-to-switch around magnetic numbers. Having your numbers permanently attached will also save you the trouble of going through the registration process again in the event your boat capsizes and the numbers get lost in the sea.

Where To Place Registration Numbers For Your Boat


If you just bought your first watercraft, you may be bombarding the internet with questions like, “Where on the boat are registration numbers placed?” Maybe all you know is that the numbers should be displayed someplace visible but aren’t sure whether this should be in the front, the middle or the rear.

So, here is the answer to your question; boat registration numbers should be displayed on the forward half of your vessel. Locate your boat’s midline and make sure that there is enough space in the front portion for the placement of your number.

Once you have the numbers placed, affix your state’s sticker either before or after the registration number, within 6 inches. But where you attach your sticker will depend on your state’s requirements so make sure to check this up so you can get it right.


A vessel’s tender is a small boat like a dingy, inflatable boat, etc. used for transportation from the registered or documented parent boat to the shore or another vessel. A tender is treated as a separate vessel and according to USCG, it too must be registered and properly numbered except in the following instances:

  • If it has a motor of less than 10 horsepower
  • If it is already identified with the parent boat’s registration numbers

What You Need To Know About Boat Registration

Just like registering your car, boat registration is important as it gets your vessel recognized by the federal government. Registration provides proof that your vessel does indeed exist.

Boat documentation simplifies trade between states and allows vessels to access certain restricted areas. Although it started as a technique for the federal government to collect taxes and manage commercial shipping, vessel registration is currently a USCG requirement too.

If your vessel measures 5 net tons and operates in the Exclusive Economic Zone or is used for fishing on US waters, then it needs documenting. But how do I know my watercraft’s net tonnage – you may ask?

Contrary to what many people think, net tonnage doesn’t necessarily refer to the boat’s weight, but its volume. If your watercraft is longer than 26 feet, it is assumed that its tonnage is greater than 5 and therefore it has to meet USCG requirements for boats between 26 and 40 feet and one of the rules is having it registered.

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Vessel registration is one of the most important USCG requirements. Familiarize yourself with your state’s boat documentation rules so you can do it right and most importantly, have your registration numbers placed strategically. If your boat requires documentation, it is unlawful to operate it or let others operate it unless it has properly been documented and numbered as explained above.

More Boat Reviews:


  1. Vessel Registration Number Instructions, dol.wa.gov
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My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!