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How to Register a Boat in California? Here’s What to Do?

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

how to register a boat in california

Assuming you’re living in the state and own an 8-ft plus sail-powered or motorized watercraft that’s not documented, you have to know how to register a boat in California. Otherwise, you’ll likely put up with a needless can of worms once your local DMV boat registration office finds out it’s unregistered.

With the detailed guide I’ve prepared here, consider your watercraft registration lookup finished. It will teach you the entire process and anticipates all other considerations, such as the types of boats that require registration and a brief tallying of up-to-date fees.

Complete List of Requirements for California Boat Registration

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Here is everything you need to prepare when registering a boat in California:

  • Certificate of Ownership or a title from another state if the boat was registered elsewhere
  • Completed registration form like this
  • If the boat is bought from a third party (i.e. not a dealer), a bill of sale or a fulfilled Statement of Facts is needed. You can find it here.

These requirements don’t cover trailer registration. If you intend to use your boat in the state along with the trailer, the latter will need documenting too.

You will need to prepare and fill out a whole host of other forms for that.

To know each one, head over to this page

Steps to Register a Boat in California

Step 1: Gather all the required documents.

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Be mindful of all the listed requirements above, depending on whether you’re a California resident registering a bought vessel in-state or bringing an out-of-state vessel for registration. While you’re at it, confirm whether your specific type of boat requires registration in the first place.

  • There’s no such thing as kayak registration in the state, since they don’t need a motor.
  • Jet ski registration is a different story, though, as these watercraft are motor-driven. However, you only need to register those that span over 8 feet.
  • You also need to register an inflatable boat such as a dinghy if it meets the conditions mentioned above.

Once you’ve confirmed your requirements, fill out the registration form above.

The Certificate of Ownership/Title should be provided to you by the dealer or the seller in California whom you bought your vessel from. The dealer’s sales office will usually take care of it for you.

Can you register a boat without a title? Simply put, that’s not allowed in the state of California, and this also applies to owners meaning to register their boats coming from another state.

If that’s your case, then you can’t skip the next step below.

Step 2: Be mindful of alternative routes to registration.

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Consider the following scenarios, which may apply to you when trying to submit proof of ownership. I’ve outlined the solutions for each one:

  • You have no title

Regardless of what state the boat is from, you’ll need to acquire the title from the previous owner. If the boat comes from another state, then the out-of-state title will do.

These are the most valid steps you can take when registering a boat without title in California.

Otherwise, you’ll fall in the next category below.

  • The certificate of ownership or title can no longer be retrieved

Suppose you’re buying a boat without a title, you’ll have to ask the previous owner to fill out an Application for Replacement or Transfer of Title form. Then, submit the application in person, especially if you’ve moved to a different address than what’s listed in the DMV’s records, and provide ID.

  • You’re trying to register and claim an abandoned boat

An abandoned boat should be reported to the DMV first and foremost. It’s also good practice to try to contact and find the owner first.

Usually, doing this involves months of waiting, if not years. Carefully weigh your options and possible consequences once you decide to go ahead and claim it.

Step 3: Submit all the requirements.

california-vessel-registration

Once you have the two main requirements (the registration form and proof of ownership) and the bill of sale if it’s necessary, all you need to do is calculate the total fees you need to pay.

Original registration will cost 65 dollars, for example. Head over to the second question in the FAQ section below to know all cost requirements.

You don’t need to present a boat license for now.

What’s cool about California vessel registration is that you’re given the option to do it either by mail or in person. Of course, the former is assuming you’re not caught in issues such as missing titles, as explained above.

You can easily search for DMV field offices near you by going to this page if you’re planning to submit in person.

From there, it’s all a waiting game. The DMV will send you the Certificate of Registration, which you should always take along with you every time you’re out boating in California waters.

FAQs

registering-a-boat-in-california

What type of boat do I need to register?

In California, all vessels that have a motor or are powered by sails and span over 8 feet need to be registered. This means once you decide to add a motor to a paddle boat that crosses the size threshold above, it has to be documented.

What is the cost of boat registration in California?

Fees tend to change over time, so it’s best to rely on the official California boat registration fee calculator provided by the DMV on its main website: https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/vehicle-registration/registration-fees/

You will need to use the calculator based on whether it’s a new vehicle or a nonresident one. For boats undergoing new registration as a resident, you’ll only need to input the purchase amount, vessel type, and date.

A breakdown of fees reveals that the total includes original registration, renewal fees, sales tax, and alt-fuel. The sales tax is usually the most expensive.

Conclusion

As you can see, registering a boat in the Golden State is a fairly smooth process, thanks to the state’s clear requirements and regulations. Boat title transfer California is also fairly straightforward, since the state anticipates it with its readily available forms from its government website.

Only the issues pertaining to lost proof of ownership are the sole thorn on the side of most aspiring boat owners. Even then, there are workarounds you can try.

Now that you know how to register a boat in California, I hope you’ll take the time to share this information with other people who have the same issue.

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