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How to Register a Boat in California? – 7 Simple Steps

Written by Anthony Roberts / Fact checked by Jonathan Larson

How to Register a Boat in California

The California boat registration process is important since it guarantees that your sailing excursion will be legal and seamless. It allows you to embark on an endless adventure on California’s waters.

Whether for a seasoned boat owner or a first-time seafarer, or someone wanting to register an abandoned boat, understanding the registration process for a boat in California is crucial.

Follow these step-by-step processes on how to register a boat in California to navigate through the registration requirements with ease and confidence.

Step-by-step to Register a Boat in California

Step 1: Prepare

Before boat registration lookup, it is important to gather all documents and information to streamline the process. To do that, compiling all the papers needed is the key.

  • Proof of Ownership – A properly endorsed boat title transfer from California or a manufacturer’s certificate of origin is necessary. For people who purchased a used boat, ensuring you have a bill of sale or a transfer of a boat title ownership document is essential.


  • Hull Identification Number – A crucial data for CA boat registration, HIN uniquely identifies a specific boat. Guarantee that the HIN is correctly attached to the boat and verify its accuracy. If the HIN is missing, you can contact the Department of Motor Vehicles for HIN inspection.


  • Vessel Documentation Number – This boat ID is only for federally registered vessels and is issued by the U.S. Coast Guard.
  • California Vessel Certificate of Number Application – REG 227 details boat information (i.e., make, length, number of passengers it can carry, and more).
  • Proof of Identity – A passport or driver’s license is necessary to establish the boat owner’s identity.


  • Fees – Fees will vary depending on the boat length and boat type. Depending on the registration agency, Payment options will include cash, check, or credit.


  • Smog Certification – Some boats are powered by a gasoline-operated engine, this type of boat might require smog certification. Contact DMV vessel registration or visit their website if a specific boat will falls under this requirement.


There are many steps involved in registering a boat in California and knowing them in advance will make the process smooth and effortless. Here is a Boat 101 CA DMV on how to register a boat in California

Step 2. Prepare the Boat Registration Documents


The first thing is to collect all the documentation, including proof of ownership, vessel documentation number, HIN verification, REG 227, IDs, and any additional documents specific to registration, like smog certification for gasoline-powered boats.

For boats without a title, secure the title from the previous boat owner.

Step 3. Fill Out the REG 227 Form

For REG 227, accurately and legibly providing details about the boat is a necessity. It is important to ensure all information is correct before proceeding to ensure a seamless process.

Step 4. Check How Much You Will Pay


Determine the registration back fees based on the length and type of your boat. This information can be accessed on the California DMV’s website. Once known, be prepared to make the necessary payment, whether in cash, check, or credit/debit card.

Step 5. Submit the Boat Registration Application


Depending on the specific requirements of the boat, anyone can either visit the DMV office in person or mail the completed application form along and pay payment to the DMV.

One can avoid a costly trip to the DMV by visiting them online or contacting DMV in advance to confirm the submission methods.

Step 6. Wait for Confirmation of Boat Registration Approval


Once the application is completed and approved, boat owners will receive a registration certificate for the boat. Although the state says you can have your new boat registration certificate and sticker within two weeks, it’s best to extend your patience.

This certificate will show the assigned vessel information and registration number, expiration date, and any special designations or endorsements applicable to the registration.

Step 7. Secure the Boat Registration Sticker on Your Boat


To display the certificates or any registration sticker, one could use waterproof materials; ensuring these are visible and conform to the prescribed size and placement requirements is critical for visibility.

Additional Information

  • Boat registration is renewed every year so remembering to do so on the dot is essential.
  • The great thing is the DMV will send all boaters a registration renewal notice before the expiration date; however, it is most advisable to mark the renewal date to avoid any registration lapse.
  • If anyone buys a boat from a dealer, they may assist the buyer with the registration process by handling the necessary paperwork on their behalf.
  • In such cases, making sure all the required documents are compiled and verified and registered in their name is critical.

The image below describes VRN and HIN locations.



Boat Registration Fees and Payment Options

The registration fee is a one-time fee paid upon the first time registering a boat in California. This fee is dependent on whether one is registering in an even or odd-numbered year.

  Even-numbered Years Odd-numbered Years
California residents $37 $65
Non-California residents $65 $93

Check the California boat registration fee calculator for a more accurate breakdown of fees.

There are many payment options for boat registration in California, including cash, personal check, and even debit or credit card.

Types of Boat/Vessels Have to Be Registered in Ca

In California, most boats and vessels are required to be registered. There are exceptions to the rule, like a kayak or canoes, so knowing what requires registration will make the process easier.

  • Any boat powered by a motor, including personal watercraft like jet skis, must be registered in the state. This also includes boats propelled by electric motors. Sailboats with auxiliary motors, regardless of the motor’s size, are required to register.
  • Commercial boats used for business purposes, like fishing charters, water taxis, tour boats, etc., must be registered with the DMV.

The image below identifies watercraft requiring CA registration.

Criteria for Placement of Vessel Registration Number and the Hull Identification Number

In California, there are specific criteria for placing the Vessel Registration Number and the Hull Identification Number or HIN number on a boat.

  • Vessel Registration Number – each side of the forward half of the vessel in block letters visible to the colors of the boat’s hull, three inches in height, and never below the waterline
  • Hull Identification Number – starboard side on the stern, with figures carved, burned, or stamped to ensure accessibility for inspection and not obstructed or covered by any attachments or accessories


The first step to ensuring a hassle-free boating trip and experience and owning a boat in California is making sure that the boat complies with state rules by having it registered.

Once all of these are done and over with, all boating adventures can be done with peace of mind coming from being a registered boat owner in the state of California.

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