Boat Registration Numbers: Placement & How to Apply

boat registration numbers placement

Whether you just bought a brand new bowrider or personal watercraft (PWC) to buzz around the lake, you acquired an aluminum fishing boat so you can catch a fresh fish dinner, or you picked up a pontoon boat destined for Party Cove, one thing is for sure: you’ll need to have the proper boat registration number placement in order to avoid a ticket.

boat registration numbers

No matter where you live and what sort of boating you enjoy, boat registration numbers are a legal must-have.

Boat Registration Numbers Placement

The legal requirements for boat registration numbers varies from state to state, and should be researched specific to where you’ll be doing your boating. That said, there are a few general rules of thumb.

Most states specify that the boat registration numbers placement allow for them to be clearly visible and easily read. Another common regulation is that there be no other numbers on the forward half of the boat. And almost every state requires that the boat registration numbers be three inches in size, at minimum.

Boat registration number location is generally:

  • On the bow of the boat or at least the forward half; 
  • And on both sides of the boat.

Some states have additional rules and regulations that must be followed.

  • Some states may require that the color of the registration numbers be in contrast with the background;
  • Some specify block-style lettering; 
  • Some call for spaces or hyphens to be used to separate specific characters.
  • Some states also require that the numbers be located within a certain distance of the registration decal.

How to Register a Boat


how to apply boat registration numbers

How to Apply Boat Registration Numbers

While regulations in most states merely require that the numbers be affixed permanently, in most cases people will use one of two methods to apply boat registration numbers: stick-on vinyl decals, or stencils and paint.

Stick-on vinyl decals are most commonly used, since they’re available at most marine supply stores, are readily available in the minimum sizes and styles, and are easy to apply. Stick-on vinyl decals also offer excellent longevity and don’t often come free from the boat as long as they’re applied on a clean, dry fiberglass surface.

Stencils are also effective, although few people want to apply paint to a fiberglass boat—especially in states which don’t transfer registration numbers between owners. There are some situations, however, when they make a lot of sense.

  • In the case of inflatables, for example, vinyl stick-on numbers may not adhere well and even if they do, are subject to loss as the inflatable collar shrinks and expands.
  • Stick-ons may also be inappropriate for boats made of polyethylene (common among dinghies) as many have very slick surfaces that don’t have good adhesion properties.

How to Clean the Exterior of a Boat


boat registration numbers location

Where Do I Find My Boat Registration Numbers?

Before you put the registration numbers on your boat, obviously, you’ll have to find them. These will be included with the paperwork sent to you by the state, when you first register the boat.

If you’re buying a new boat from a dealership, in all likelihood, the dealer will help you wade through this paperwork right from the start. In fact, this is one of the big advantages of working with a boat dealer. They’re familiar with the process, and generally assist with issues like titling and registration paperwork.

We love our boats because boating is such an awesome experience, but to keep it that way it’s important to make sure we fulfill all the legal responsibilities that go along with owning a boat. That includes getting your boat registration number placement right, so check out your local rules and regulations, apply those numbers, and then prepare yourself for the endless enjoyment of being out on the water.

Start the Process to Register Your Boat Online

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