How to Register a Boat in California

If you're a boat owner in California, it's essential to understand the registration process to avoid any legal issues while enjoying the state's beautiful waterways. California requires all sailboats over 8 feet long and all boats with a motor of any size to be registered. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to register your boat in California.

Step 1: Gather Required Documents

Before you start the registration process, you'll need to gather some essential documents. Here's what you'll need:

·        Proof of ownership: You must provide documentation that proves you are the owner of the boat, such as a bill of sale, title, or registration from the previous state.

·        Hull Identification Number (HIN): If your boat is new, you'll need to obtain a Hull Identification Number (HIN) from the manufacturer. If your boat is used, it should already have an HIN, which you can find on the boat's title or registration. Most boats will also have the HIN stamped on the hull in the starboard-aft (right-rear) corner of the boat.

·        Payment: Be prepared to pay the registration fees, which vary based on the type and size of your vessel. Visit the California DMV’s website for more information on the applicable registration fees.

Step 2: Complete the Application for Vessel Certificate of Number (BOAT 101) Form

Once you have all the necessary documentation and information, you need to fill out the Application for Vessel Certificate of Number (BOAT 101) Form. The BOAT 101 form is available online here or at any California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) field office.

When filling out the form, make sure to provide accurate information about your boat, including its make, model, year, length, and HIN. You'll also need to provide information about the boat's intended use, such as fishing, cruising, or racing.

Step 3: Submit the Application and Pay the Registration Fees

After completing the BOAT 101 form, you need to submit it to the DMV. You can do this by mail or in person at a local DMV field office. Be sure to include all required documentation and payment with your application. If you are submitting your BOAT 101 form and paying by mail, you can pay with check or money order made payable to California Department of Motor Vehicles. You should mail the payment along with your BOAT 101 form to the following address:

Department of Motor Vehicles

PO Box 942869

Sacramento, CA, 94269-0001

Keep in mind, if you pay by check, it may take up to 8 weeks for the DMV to process the payment, so if you haven’t seen the check clear, just be patient!

The registration fees for boats in California vary depending on the length of the vessel. Be sure to check the current fee schedule before submitting your application. Additionally, you'll need to pay a separate fee for a Certificate of Number (registration card) and validation decals.

After you submit your BOAT 101 form, you will also need to submit a Quagga sticker request form and obtain a Quagga sticker for your boat. This sticker is also known as the Mussel Fee Sticker and unless your boat is used exclusively in salt water or exempted by law, you are required to display this sticker on your boat.

Step 4: Display Your Registration Number and Validation Decal

Once you receive your Certificate of Number and validation decals, you need to display them on your boat. The registration numbers and validation decals must be displayed on both sides of the bow of the vessel in a contrasting color to the boat's hull. The numbers must be at least three inches tall, and the decals must be affixed to the boat within six inches of the registration numbers. You must also display your Quagga sticker on your boat, too.

Step 5: Renew Your Registration Every Odd-Numbered Year

Boat registration in California expires December 31st of every odd-numbered year and must be renewed biennially. You'll receive a renewal notice in the mail roughly 60 days before your registration expires, which will include instructions on how to renew your registration.


In conclusion, registering your boat in California is a simple process that requires you to gather the necessary documents, complete the BOAT 101 form, and submit it with payment to the DMV. Once you receive your Certificate of Number, validation decals, and Quagga sticker, display them correctly and renew your registration by December 31st of each odd-numbered year. By following these steps, you can enjoy the state's waterways with peace of mind knowing that your boat is registered and legal to operate.