How to research a boat registration number

Written by kyle mcbride
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How to research a boat registration number
State registration numbers appear on the bow of the boat. (boat image by pearlguy from

Boat registration numbers come at two levels, state and federal. Smaller recreational and commercial vessels use state registration. Owning and operating recreational and commercial vessels with larger carrying capacities require federal documentation. If you need to find a boat's owner or verify whether or not there is a lien holder, research registration and documentation numbers at the state and federal levels to discover the vessel's chain of ownership and any lien information.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • Registration or federal documentation number
  • Hull number

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  1. 1

    Locate the registration or documentation number on the exterior of the boat. State registration numbers are commonly displayed on both sides of the bow (front) with 4-inch painted numbers or stickers. Federal numbers are displayed anywhere on the boat's exterior that is visible from the water.

  2. 2

    Locate the vessel's hull number stamped or cast into the transom of the boat, and one other place such as a deck beam or other permanent structural member located in the engine room or hold. Hull numbers identify the vessel using the manufacturer's database. Use this number to confirm that the boat matches the registration number.

  3. 3

    Call the state department of marine resources or wildlife, fisheries and parks office to have the department research the numbers if the boat is state registered. State registration numbers will be configured as MS-5678-BF, or similar. The first two characters designate the state in which the boat is registered.

  4. 4

    Call the U.S. Coast Guard national vessel documentation centre or visit its website and enter the vessel's documentation number. Federal document numbers are six or seven digit numbers without dashes.

Tips and warnings

  • While state registration numbers must appear on the bow of the boat, federally documented vessels typically have the boat's name on the bow. Look elsewhere on the exterior of the boat, usually on the house, for the federal document number. Some vessels may have the document number painted on the roof so it is visible by air, but the number must also appear somewhere on the boat that is visible from the water.

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