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How to Apply Boat Registration Numbers Correctly?

Written by Anthony Roberts / Fact checked by Jonathan Larson

How to Apply Boat Registration Numbers

So, you bought a new boat, then got the paperwork all wrapped up. What’s next? You get your registration number properly displayed on the boat. A vessel is similar to an automobile; it also needs a license plate to legally operate.

But how to apply boat registration numbers the right way? And where to place them on a pontoon boat? This article includes a detailed guide to help you install boat registration numbers legibly to make port identification easier, thus avoiding a ticket. Stay tuned!

Step-by-step to Apply to Apply Boat Registration Numbers

Step 1: What to Prepare


  • Authorized validation stickers
  • Stick-on decal registration numbers
  • Masking tape
  • Squeegee

Registration numbers are required to be permanently affixed to both sides of the vessel. Generally, there are 2 ways to put boat letters on: using stick-on vinyl decals or using stencils and paint.

The following guide includes detailed steps to apply registration numbers with stick-on decals.

Step 2: Getting the Paperwork Ready


Before applying the registration number on deck boat, make sure you get the correct numbers first. These numbers will be sent to you directly or through the dealership you got your boat from.

  • Of course, to get individual boat registration numbers, you ought to sign up for them first. If you got a new boat via a dealership, they will most likely get the paperwork done for you and give you instructions on the placement of the numbers.
  • Most states allow registration within 30 days, after that, operating an unregistered boat can get you fined and your license disqualified. In Florida, the act is considered a second-degree demeanor.

Step 3: Place the Registration Number on Your Boat


Before applying, check the numbers again to make sure you got everything correctly, including the boat registration numbers and decal placement.

Double-check the boat registration sticker requirements of your state for the right location of boat registration numbers since there might be a slight difference varying among states.

Have in mind that CF numbers may be required to be placed differently than MC numbers. So, where must the registration decal be placed?

  • The numbers must be located on both sides of the vessel’s bow; they also need to be placed at the forward half at the very least.
  • In most states, the height of the numbers is at least 3 inches in size.
  • It is compulsory in some states for the color of the numbers to be contrasted with the vessel’s color.
  • Some states also issued a determined distance between the numbers and the registration decal.

Step 4: Display the Registration Numbers


Carefully lay out the registration numbers and validation decals to ensure a smooth application.

  • The reading order of the numbers should be from left to right, with a minimum size of 3 inches
  • Block-style lettering is mandatory in some states
  • Certain spaces and hyphens are required to separate the letters
  • No other numbers should be seen along with the registration numbers for ease of visibility

Step 5: Clean and Layout the Application


Make sure the surface in which you lay out the stickers is thoroughly clean. You can use a sponge to scrub it off with water and soap, then leave it to dry for a couple of hours.

Then, put boat registration sticker on the topmost forward half of the bow with masking tape. Determine the exact position for the lettering and hold the decal stickers in place with a piece of tape at each end, then use another long piece to lay along the outer edge of the decal.

Finally, balance the space between the vessel’s numbers and registration tag.

Step 6: Apply the Boat Registration Numbers


After securing the decal at the assigned spot, remove the backing paper slowly and carefully so the sticker doesn’t crumble. Next, press down gently with a squeegee to remove the excess bubbles to ensure a smooth application. Finish by pulling out the backing paper at a steep angle against the lettering.

Repeat with the other side, and you’re done!

Note: On inflatable boats, stick-on decals don’t adhere as effectively as they do with other boat types; they also wear off much faster as inflatables resize by degrees. In these situations, it is recommended to use stencils.


The Law for Boat Registration Numbers

Even though the regulations for boat registration numbers vary among states, there are still rules of thumb you need to abide by, including:

  • Must be permanently affixed on the sides of the boat
  • Must be in contrast color with the background (the hull color)
  • Must be at least 3” in height
  • Must have a hyphen or space (for most states, the space is 6”) between the boat letters and numbers

Where Do I Find My Registration Numbers

You can only have your registration numbers after you have registered for your vessel. Then, boat registration numbers lookup is available in the paperwork sent to you (or most of the time, your dealer). Besides, you can also find the vessel number as well as

What Size Do Boat Registration Numbers Need to Be

In almost every state, the minimum size letters is 3 inches. So, make sure you adhere to this standard measurement to avoid issues during traveling.


By now, you should know how to apply boat registration numbers to your vessel in the most straightforward way!

The tip to a smooth finish is to always check if there are any bubbles left, and if you spot any, press them out with a squeegee. Also, make sure to get the placement accurately to avoid paying unnecessary fines.

Good luck!

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