Registration &


Registering a Used Boat

The process of registering a used boat is very similar to that of registering a used car, though depending on the state you live in you may have to go to a different agency or registry office. You can expect your amount of paperwork and your mental checklist to vary slightly depending on whether you buy your boat from a private individual, a dealer, or a broker.

Private Sale

If contemplating a private purchase, it is advisable to contact your state's registration agency beforehand to find out your state's requirements. You may need a special form that the buyer and seller must complete or sign. It's best to get such things done while the seller is still cooperative and available. If the boat is titled or documented, you'll want to examine them closely for indications of any liens or loans still outstanding on the boat. You'll want a handwritten Bill of Sale (required or not) indicating that the seller is the owner of the boat being sold, that he/she warrants that the title is free and clear, and that there are no liens on the boat. Include a description of the boat including the year, make, model, registration number, HIN, and the date of sale.

Used Boat Dealer

Dealers are perhaps the easiest to deal with. Used boat dealers are very familiar with the local paperwork requirements and they will often do much of it for you. What you want to clearly understand is whether they (the dealership) owns the boat or if they're selling it for a third party on consignment. If a third party owns the boat, you must exercise increased caution. You may want to consider a check made out to both the dealership and the boat's owner. As with a private purchase, your purchase contract should warrant that the dealer has a clear title to the vessel and that there are no outstanding liens.

Used Boat Broker

Brokers and consignment sellers require the most attention from a buyer. Most yacht brokers live or die on their reputations and as such are typically trustworthy and very knowledgeable. Consignment sellers come in all varieties, some requiring more caution than others. If possible, inquire about them at local marinas and with other boat owners you might know.

In any case, your deal will involve a third party, the actual boat owner. Due to the nature of this arrangement, the chances of misrepresentation are increased . As always, remember that you must have written assurance that the vessel's title is free and clear. Never buy a boat that has an active lien on it with a promise to pay it off after you have paid for the boat. If need be, and you want to do so, you may accompany the seller to the lien holder. In this case you should plan to have two or even three certified checks with you: one for paying off the lien, one for any brokerage commission, and one for the residual to the owner/seller. You want to avoid any situation where the total monies go to the broker and never find their way to the owner/seller. You don't want to find out after the fact that the title has an unsatisfied lien on it.

State Boat Registration Forms

For links to your state's boating agency website(s) plus online versions of your state's boat registration forms, visit This great website is maintained by the Recreatonal Boating & Fishing Foundation, a non-profit organization whose mission is to "increase participation in recreational angling and boating and thereby increase public awareness and appreciation of the need to protect, conserve and restore this nation's aquatic natural resources."

Vessel Documentation

A "documented vessel" is one that has been federally registered with the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG). Not all boats are able to be documented and generally speaking, only vessels 25' or longer ever get documented. The USCG requirement is actually based on weight, with five net tons being the minimum allowed. It's worth noting that ownership paperwork on a documented vessel is desirable to lenders because it affords a location for a lien to be filed which then becomes a "Ship's Mortgage." To learn more about documented vessels, read over the FAQ at the USCG's National Vessel Documentation Center.

Contrary to popular belief, having a vessel documented may not relieve you from the need to register the vessel within its state of primary use. However, bow numbers will not be issued when registering a documented vessel. A documented vessel has what's called an "Official Number" which the owner must attach to the "main beam" or bulkhead of the vessel. There are useful Documentation Service companies which can assist you with these issues as a seller or a buyer and yacht brokers are also well acquainted with Documentation issues. Or you can do it yourself. If you go the DIY route, be sure to take full advantage of the aforementioned National Vessel Documentation Center website.