Registering a boat in California is a necessary part of being a boat owner. Although the process is fairly simple and the cost relatively low compared to vehicle registrations, it is still important to make sure it gets done before taking your boat out. This is because the California Department of Motor Vehicles requires that all motorized and sail boats be registered to ensure safe and responsible driving.

Requirements for Boater Registration in California

Boat registration in California is completed through the California DMV, and can be completed online, by mail or in person. Additionally, it must be completed by the driver within 120 days of residing in California. New boat registration is required for all motorized vessels, sail-powered boats over 8 feet in length, and commercial vehicles weighing a minimum of five tons or measuring at least 30 feet in length.

Requirements include a boat registration fee, which must be paid when submitting a boat registration application. A bill of sale for the vessel must also be presented with the application to prove ownership. A registration number (CF number) will be given to a boater once these documents are received and processed by the California DMV. Boaters must showcase their CF number on both sides or the front of their boat to show proof of registration.

Exemptions from Registration and Titling in California

Boaters that plan on registering a boat should be aware of registration exemptions that exist in California. This means that certain types of vessels do not have to be registered. California boat registration is not required for vessels registered in another state that are primarily used in that state or boats brought into California for racing. The following types of vessels:

  • Any vessel that operates by oars or paddles.
  • Sailboats with a length of 8 feet or less.
  • The lifeboat of any vessel.
  • Vessels of the United States Coast Guard.

California Boat Insurance

Boaters wondering how to register a boat in California should consider signing up for a boat insurance policy. Boat registration requirements do not include purchasing a boat insurance policy, but investing in a policy offers benefits to all boaters. Owners of vessels that are not registered can protect their boat through an insurance policy that will cover the cost of repair or replacement. Furthermore, new boats are guaranteed better protection with insurance coverage.

California Boat Registration Fees

Boat registration fees are one component of the boat registration process. California boat registration fees depend on residency and the year the application is submitted, and the fee schedule is explained below:

  • Residents applying in an even-numbered year: $29
  • Residents applying in an odd-numbered year: $49
  • Non-residents applying in an even-numbered year: $57
  • Non-residents applying in an odd-numbered year: $77

Renewing Your California Boat Registration

Boat registration renewal is required every two years on an odd-numbered year. A renewal notice is sent to a boater by mail within 60 days before the date their current registration will expire. The boat registration fee of $20.00 for renewal can be sent to the DMV by mail accompanied by the bottom of the renewal notice.

Replacing Your California Boat Registration

Boat registration replacement is required if a boater’s current registration is damaged or missing. Boaters can fill out Form REG 156 and bring it to their local DMV with the $15.00 duplicate boat registration fee. These items can also be mailed to the California DMV office of Vehicle Registration Operations in Sacramento, California to replace a damaged or lost registration.

Boater Safety Courses in California

California boat registration does not require boat owners to have a license to operate a vessel, but some boaters may be required to complete a boater safety course. Boat registration requirements do not include the need for a boater to take a boater safety course, but enrolling in a course can benefit boaters of all ages and experience levels. Vessel registration requires that any boaters that receive a moving violation enroll in a boater safety course.

Boaters that do not have any previous violations can also enroll in a boater safety course to learn how to safely operate a boat and prevent boating accidents within California waterways. A boater safety course can be taken online or in a classroom setting, and the class is approximately eight hours in length. Any necessary exams must be completed to pass the course and receive a completion certificate.

California Boater Licenses

Boat registration does not currently require boat owners to have a boating license to operate a vessel. Beginning in January of 2018, registering a boat will require drivers to have their boater card to operate their vessel. Those with a valid CA drivers license can obtain a California boater card by completing a boater safety course.

All current boat drivers will be incorporated into this new law over the next eight years. Registration accompanied by the completion of a boater safety course online or in a classroom can provide boaters with the boater card necessary to operate a vessel.

Last updated on Monday, March 9 2020.