Iowa boat registration is provided by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (NDR) and all vessels must be registered unless their type is listed in the exemptions section below. All registered boats in Iowa are required to display their current registration numbers and decals as issued by the state.

Vessels bearing valid registration numbers help sheriff marine deputies to identify vessels in the event of an accident, theft or other situation needing assistance. Keep reading to learn about the Iowa boat registration process, including the requirements for registration and how to renew or replace missing registration documents and decals.

Requirements for Boater Registration in Iowa

There is some variance in the requirements to register a boat in Iowa, based on whether the vessel was purchased from a dealer or in a private sale. Iowa boat registration instructions for dealer-purchased vessels begin when the dealer issues you a “registration applied for” placard.

This placard can be used for up to 35 days while waiting on your registration form to be processed by the state. By law, dealers cannot provide these placards unless the application has been submitted to obtain a registration certificate.

As for vessels purchased in a private sale, the Iowa boat registration instructions state that you must have a registration, bill of sale and title when you go to the county recorder to apply for a transfer. You have 30 days from the date of purchase to operate the boat, which allows time for your transfer of registration to be established.

New vessel registrations must include the Iowa boat registration form, Application for Boats, Snowmobiles, ATVs and ORVs (Form 542-8048). You must bring the other documents that abide by the requirements and submit them all in person at your county recorder’s office. These include proof of ownership, a bill of sale or title, the prior registration documents and fee payment.

Exemptions from Boat Registration and Titling in Iowa

Common boat registration exemptions in Iowa are extended to a variety of vessels that meet certain criteria: The following list shows which boats are exempt from registration in Iowa:

  • Inflatable boats that are 7 feet long or less
  • Any vessel powered exclusively by oars or paddles
  • Canoes and kayaks that are under 13 feet in length and lack a motor or sail
  • Vessels with valid out-of-state registrations that are using Iowa waters for 60 days or less
  • A ship’s lifeboat
  • Vessels owned by the U.S. government or another recognized government agency and used primarily for educational or search and rescue purposes

Iowa Boat Insurance

Boat insurance rates in Iowa vary depending on the level of coverage, but many boaters find the expense worth it. If you have a lien on your boat, the lending company might require you to obtain boat insurance quotes in Iowa and buy coverage necessary to repay the loan if you cannot. Insurance is designed to cover accident- or theft-related loss, damages or injuries.

Note: Many insurance companies in Iowa provide coverage to boaters who request it, although the state does not require boaters to carry insurance by law.

Iowa Boat Registration Fees

You should know that boat registration fees in Iowa are the same for initial registrations and each three-year renewal period. The boat registration cost in Iowa is based on the vessel’s length. Motorboat and sailboat registration fees are as follows:

  • Class I: Less than 16’ long – $22.50
  • Class II: 16’ to less than 26’ long – $36
  • Class III: 26’ to less than 40’ long – $75
  • Class IV: 40’ or longer – $150

Fees for vessels with no motor or sail of any length are $12. Personal watercraft incur a fee of $45, while a documented vessel of any length costs $25 to register in Iowa. Additional administrative fees may apply.

Renewing Your Iowa Boat Registration

Be aware that registrations are valid for three calendar years, and boat registration renewal in Iowa is always due on April 30th of the third year. Remember that you cannot renew boat registration online in Iowa, and you must bring your current registration card and fee payment to your county recorder’s office. There is no grace period for renewal and a $5 penalty is added when the registration expires.

Replacing Your Iowa Boat Registration

Because you must carry your registration certificate onboard at all times, you must replace a boat registration in Iowa as soon as you notice your registration card or decals are lost or damaged. The fees involved with how to replace your boat registration in Iowa vary by county but can be obtained by completing DNR Form 542-8067 and submitting it with payment at your county recorder’s office.

Boater Safety Courses in Iowa

Boat operators between 12 and 18 years of age must take boater safety course in Iowa to obtain an Iowa Watercraft Safety Certificate, which is required to legally operate any motorized watercraft with a 10 horsepower or more engine. There are different Iowa boating safety course options, and one of the easiest is to take an online class and exam. In-person options are also available locally. However, boaters should make sure the course is approved by the NDR.

Iowa Boater License

An Iowa boating safety course certificate is used in lieu of an online boating license or a license obtained in another method. You should always carry the certificate on board and be prepared to present it to anyone who requests to see a license to verify boating credentials.

Last updated on Monday, March 9 2020.