Boat Registration and Licenses in California

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 so you can spend less time indoors and more time on the water.

Boats Requiring CA Registration

In California, you're required to register the following types of boats:

  • Sail-powered vessels over 8 feet in length.
  • All motor-driven vessels.
  • Commercial vessels weighing at least 5 tons OR measuring at least 30 ft in length, must be registered with the U.S. Coast Guard.

Still not sure if you need to register your boat? Give the CA DMV at (800) 777-0133 for more assistance. 

CA Boat Registration Exemptions

The CA Department of Motor Vehicles DOES NOT require boat registration for the following:

  • Seaplanes.
  • Watercraft guided by a mechanical device that keeps the vessel on a permanently fixed course.
  • Houseboats.
  • Any vessel propelled by oars or paddles.
  • Non-motorized sailboats that are 8 feet or less length.
  • 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.
  • U.S. Coast Guard documented vessels.

Procedures for CA Boat Registration

The California DMV allows you to register your boat in person OR by mail.

If you recently moved to CA with a vessel currently registered in another state, you must register your boat with the CA DMV within 120 days of your arrival.

To register your boat, first gather the following items:

To complete the registration process you can:

  • Take the items above in person to your local California DMV office.
  • Mail the required items to:
    • Department of Motor Vehicles
    • P.O. Box 942869
    • Sacramento, CA 94269

Once you receive your vessel registration number (CF number), display it 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.

NOTE: Boat trailers must be registered separately from your boat—check out our CA vehicle registration guide for details.

Fees for Boat Registration

The fees associated with registering your boat with the CA Department of Motor Vehicles are as follows:

  • Original application fee—Depends on your residential status AND the year you apply:
    • Resident original application submitted in:
      • An even-numbered year: $37.
      • An odd-numbered year: $93.
    • Non-resident original application submitted in:
      • An even-numbered year: $65.
      • An odd-numbered year: $93.
  • Registration renewal fee (due every 2 years on odd-numbered years): $20.
  • Transfer fee: $15.
  • Duplicate registration fee: $27.

For more information about boat registration fees and vessels exempt from the Quagga fee, check out the CA DMV's vessel fees chart.

Boat Registration Renewals & Replacements

The CA Department of Motor Vehicles requires you to renew your boat registration every 2 years on odd-numbered years by December 31st.

To renew your registration, 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 renewal fee ($36 if you are not Quagga exempt) in the envelope provided.

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

Replace Lost Boat Registration

To replace your missing or damaged registration, first gather:

Then you can:

  • Take the required items in person to your local DMV office.
  • Mail the items above to:
    • Department of Motor Vehicles
    • Vehicle Registration Operations
    • P.O. Box 942869
    • Sacramento, CA 94269

For additional assistance with replacing your boat registration, call the California DMV at (800) 777-0133.

Qualifications to Operate a Boat

California doesn't require you to have a boater license in order to operate a boat.

However, unsupervised children under 16 years old may not operate a boat with more than 15 HP unless it's a sailboat under 30 ft.

Children ages 12 through 15 years old may operate boats over 15 HP and sailboats over 30 ft if supervised by someone over 18 years old.


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