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How to Apply Boat Registration Numbers? – 6 Simple Steps

Written by J. Harvey / Fact checked by S. Numbers

how to apply boat registration numbers

Gain the knowledge on “how to apply boat registration numbers” even before purchasing your watercraft. You can learn the step-by-step guides and helpful tips in this review to install boat registration numbers legibly.

The assigned boat registration numbers serve as license plates issued by the government’s regulating agency. All boats in use need to display their registration number to ease out identification by port or maritime authorities.

Take care of your boat registration numbers to make them clearly legible and good in restricted visibility.

Read on to find more expert insights.

6 Simple Steps to Affix the Registration Numbers on Boats

What To Prepare?

  • Certificate of Registration Number, and Validation Stickers in 2 sets issued by the State/National Authority
  • Two sets of stick-on decal registration numbers
  • Stencil, marine paint, paintbrush/spray gun, and squeegee
  • Water, liquid dishwashing soap, bucket, and sponge
  • Masking tapes, measuring tape, old cards, and scissors.

Step 1: Secure the Watercraft Registration Number

Operating a boat requires a vessel’s registration number from the government’s registration system and applying it on the watercraft properly. Each state varies in its requirements on how to apply individual boat registration numbers to a watercraft.

Before affixing these registration numbers on deck boat, visit (or check online) your state’s motor vehicle requirements to secure them. Once registered, these numbers are included in the documents issued to you directly or sent via a dealership.

Buying a new boat through a dealer can help you with the boat registration numbers requirements among all paperwork needs. They can guide you on where to put boat numbers correctly.

Do the titling and registration process in about 30 days or depending on the state’s requirements before operating your boat. Operating an unregistered boat after the processing period is serious misconduct and gets any owner penalized.

Step 2: Properly Place the Registration Number on a Boat


Check that everything is accurate on your certificate of registration and validation decal before placing them on your boat. Consider the boat registration number, decal placement, and how to apply them following your state’s laws.

  • The location of the registration number must be on both sides of the boat’s bow and at the forward half. It’s the only numerals allowed to appear on both sides of the forward half, or rudder in inflatables or airboats.
  • The height of the numbers is about 3 inches placed at a revealing angle visible to other watercraft or ports.
  • Each registration number must contrast the boat’s color, and be maintained to ease reading it from left to right.
  • The numbers must be permanently affixed using paint (with stencil) or attached using a stick-on decal following each state’s rules.
  • Some states require these numbers to be placed within a proximate distance from the validation decal or boat registration sticker.

Remember that these are permanent registration numbers issued by your state for easy boat identification even if ownership changes thereafter.

Step 3: Display the Prescribed Registration Number


Correctly displaying the registration number and validation sticker/decals of your pontoon boat ensure smooth boat ownership and navigation.

  • Ensure to layout the dimension of the registration numbers and validation sticker at least 3 inches in height.
  • Use marine-grade materials that will not peel off, be dilapidated, or fade when exposed to extreme pressures and outdoor conditions.
  • Use water-resistant paint or custom-made impervious vinyl decal to display boat registration numbers in fresh and saltwater environments.
  • In Florida for instance, registration numbers are applied in block style and are easy to read from left to right. The numbers are affixed with assigned letters separated by a space or hyphen.
  • Other than these prescribed numerals, no other numbers should be on the sides of the boat’s bow.

Step 4: Clean and Layout the Application Area

The proper application of boat registration numbers by stencil and paint, or stick-on decal can make your boat look good. Always have the materials you need on hand, clear the surface, and layout the actual application area before affixing the numbers.

  • Clean the surface with water, soap, and a sponge to get rid of dirt or marine formation. Leave it to dry for a few hours to ensure the surface is ready for the painting or transfer process.
  • Use masking tapes to layout the registration number along the upper-most forward-half section of the bow.
  • Get the dimensions of the registration number and validation decal using the measuring tape.
  • Lay the masking tape along the outer edge of the stencil or stick-on decal for the correct painting or transfer process. Align all sides and balance the spaces between the registration number and validation sticker.

Step 5: Boat Registration Number Application With Stencils and Paint

Painting the registration number or using a paint stencil is useful for specific purposes or conditions.

  • Use this method with inflatables, wooden, and tender boats, and in states that do not allow ownership transferability.
  • You can use custom-made paint stencils that can be reverse-transferred to your boat. Only remove mask papers when the paints are dry.
  • Put the stencils in place and cover the surroundings using the masking tapes to avoid making any mess.
  • You can also make stencil patterns and paint the stencil areas using a paintbrush or spray gun with enough coats.
  • Do this on both sides and ensure to attach the validation decals close to the registration number after painting.
  • Allow the coatings to completely dry and remove the stencils/masks before operating the boat.

Step 6: Boat Registration Number Application With Stick-on Decals


Vinyl materials are mostly marine-grade and available from marine supply stores. They are easy to customize and apply as stick-on decals when applied on a clean surface.

  • Applying the boat letters and numbers is easy by using Vinyl decals with a wet or dry application method. In this case, use the “dry” method to affix the registration numbers.
  • Remove old decals if there are any. Then, hold the decal on one end of the assigned location with masking tape for proper alignment.
  • Lift and pull the paper backing off until it’s all removed from one end to the last numeral.
  • Make sure you do not leave any bubbles by pressing the decals firmly onto the surface with an old card or a squeegee.
  • Smooth out the applications from one end to the other by rubbing them with a squeegee or with your fingers. You can spray wax protectant and wipe away excess solutions and leave the decals to set before using the boat.


You now have the relevant information on “how to apply boat registration numbers” from boating experts in this simplified review. Keeping in mind these easy and simple steps leads to smoother and safer boating with your family and peers. 

The insights in this review are your guide in taking care of the registration numbers assigned to your marine craft. Ensure they are durably placed on both sides of your boat and follow the national or state vessel registration code.

Enjoy safer and more convenient boating knowing your boat has legal registration numbers and are clearly legible to maritime authorities.

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