boat title and history search

State Boat Registration

What you should know about state boat registration and titling.

Also visit our  Registration Summary - Search Resources - Search Guidelines  pages.

State level registration is basically a process by which domestic and territorial agencies grant operational privileges for various types of watercraft within their jurisdiction. In addition to the assessment of related fees and taxes it may also include the issuance of a title certificate. Anyone looking to check on the ownership and lien status of a state registered boat should accordingly become familiar with such requirements. This website will provide all the necessary resources and guidelines to accomplish this task for interested parties, industry professionals, and the boating community in general.

One of the first things to keep in mind when dealing with boat registrations is the lack of conformity in how they are administered from state to state. Although boat numbering and tabbing rules have been standardized nationwide, there is a great deal of diversity in most other requirements. This is compounded by the fact that certain states do not issue boat title certificates and their thresholds for proving ownership may be less than assuring. Registration agencies may also differ widely from Motor Vehicle Divisions, Departments of Fish and Game, or Departments of Revenue.

Another source of confusion is the difference between boat title certificates and registrations. In most cases these are similar to what one would find in the automobile industry. The title certificate is a one time issue unless damaged, mutilated, lost, or transferred. Registrations on the other hand are periodic, renewable, and must be carried on board the vessel at all times during operation. The rub comes in the few remaining states which do not offer boat title certificates. In this case the registration may serve as proof of ownership, but is not technically viewed as a title. This has major implications with regard to how liens, legal owners, and other encumbrances are recorded..

There are also many questions with regard to where state boat registration ends and U.S. Coast Guard vessel documentation begins. Although the states are prohibited from issuing titles on documented vessels, they are allowed to issue registration certificates. Unfortunately, there is not much by way of interagency coordination and state titles are sometimes inadvertently maintained or not retired properly when a boat becomes documented. This also creates frequent conflicts related to declarations of ownership, vessel details. and identification numbers. On the positive side these issues will not matter anyway on boats under approximately twenty four feet in length as they would not likely qualify for documentation in the first place.

Finally there are matters of errors and omissions to contend with when data is stated incorrectly on applications or misread into the systems. Hull identification numbers are of particular concern because they are often difficult to decipher the hull itself and there are even cases where the factory statements of origin contain typographical errors. This highlights the importance of close visual inspections or professional surveys when it comes to comparing registration data with the vessel itself.

The degree of concern over all of this may of course depend the boat's value and one's confidence in the owner's ability or willingness to make good on any representations of title. There is no such thing as title insurance in the marine industry, therefore it is incumbent on the owner to make good on any guarantees or needed corrections in conveying a free and clear title. Given the complexities of tracking down all the necessary information, especially on older boats, it may warrant the enlistment of a boat titling expert when conducting any form of title research on state registered boats.


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