Boat Registration and Licenses in California

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Whether you own a yacht for navigating the ocean currents along the Pacific coast, or a motorboat for ripping across the waters of an inland lake, chances are you'll need to register your vessel with California's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Below you'll find all the information you need for California boat registration in an easy, comprehensive format. This way, you can spend more time on the water and less time indoors.

Boats Requiring CA Registration

  • Sail-powered vessels* 8 feet.
  • Powerboats.
  • Commercial vessels that weigh at least 5 tons, or are at least 30 ft long, must be registered with the U.S. Coast Guard.

*The state defines what constitutes a vessel.

What Not to Register

  • Any vessel propelled by oars or paddles alone.
  • Non-motorized sailboats that are 8 feet in length.
  • Surfboards or sailboards.
  • A ship's lifeboat (does not include dinghies).
  • Vessels currently registered in another state (if used primarily outside California).
  • Vessels brought into California for racing.

California Boat Registration Exemptions

  • Vessels documented by the U.S. Coast Guard

Requirements & Procedures for

If you bring a vessel into California and plan on primarily using it here, you must register it first. Do so within 120 days of your arrival. Here's how:

In Person

Visit any California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) local office with:

  1. A completed boat application.
  2. Proof of ownership. This could be an out-of-state title properly signed over to you, your bill of sale, the vessel's Certificate of Origin, or a bond for the boat if proof of ownership cannot be provided and the boat's value is $2,000 or more.
  3. Payment for boat registration fee (see fees below). CA DMV offices accept cash, checks, money orders and debit cards.

Display your vessel registration number (CF number) on both sides of the front half of your boat in, at least, 3 inch block letters that contrast with the color of your boat for easy visibility.

By Mail

Send the required items listed above to:

  • Department of Motor Vehicles
  • P.O. Box 942869
  • Sacramento, CA 94269

Boat Insurance

While California does not require you to have boat insurance in order to register your boat, you should consider purchasing a boat insurance policy to help protect you against the risks of owning and operating a boat.

For more information visit our Boat Insurance page.

Fees for Boat Registration

  • Resident original application (submitted in an even-numbered year): $29
  • Resident original application (submitted in an odd-numbered year): $49
  • Non-resident application (fees due in an even-numbered year): $57
  • Non-resident application (fees due in an odd-numbered year): $77

A use tax based on the purchase price may also be assessed. The DMV provides a complete list of boating-related fees.

NOTE: The California DMV will also collect an annual Quagga and Zebra Mussel Infestation Prevention fee. The fee will be collected when you register or renew the registration for your boat/vessel.

For more information, please see the California Division of Boating and Waterways website.

Boat Registration Renewals & Replacements

Renew your registration every 2 years on odd-numbered years. This needs to be done by December 31st. To do so, return the bottom part of your renewal notice along with payment (check, cashier's check or money order; do not send cash) for the $20 fee ($36 if you are not Quagga exempt) to the address listed on the envelope.

Renewal notices are mailed approximately 60 days prior to the expiration date.

Replace Lost Boat Registration

To replace your missing or damaged registration, visit your local DMV office with:

Before visiting be sure to make an appointment.

Or, mail the application along with a check to:

  • Department of Motor Vehicles
  • Vehicle Registration Operations
  • P.O. Box 942869
  • Sacramento, CA 94269

License to Operate a Boat

California doesn't require you to have a boater license in order to operate a boat. However, children under 16 years old may not operate a boat with more than 15 HP except for a sailboat under 30 ft. Children ages 12 through 15 years old may operate a boat over 15 HP or a sailboat over 30 ft if supervised by someone over 18 years old.

CA Boater Safety Course

While you don't have to take a boating safety course, doing so may make you a safer and better boater. It may also save you money on your marine insurance. For more information click the link below for, the recognized authority on boating safety courses in California.


REG 156

Request replacement license plates, registration stickers, disability placards, disability IDs, and registration documents in California.

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