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How to find the registered owner of a boat

With few exceptions, all power boat owners are required to register their craft with some government agency. Depending on where you live, this may be your state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMC) or Department of Boating. You must also display your registration number on both sides of the bow. It is the nautical equivalent of your car's number plate. These numbers can be used to determine the owner of a boat. For this example, we'll assume you have accidentally collided with an unattended registered vessel while you were exiting your slip and need to locate and notify the owner.

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  1. Return to your slip and secure both your boat and the vessel you struck.

  2. Using the cell phone or telephone, immediately contact the appropriate law enforcement agency and report the accident. This may be the local or state police, or marine patrol. Furnish them with the registration number of the vessel you hit. Explain that the vessel you struck was unoccupied and you need to locate and inform the owner of the mishap.

  3. Photograph the damaged areas of both vessels. Contact your marine insurance company to report the accident. Furnish them with the registration number of the boat you struck. Explain to them that the vessel was unattended and that you need to contact the boat's owner.

  4. Remain at the scene until law enforcement arrives. Based upon the registration number you provided, they will contact the owner of the boat you struck.

  5. Wait for the owner to arrive. You should exchange insurance company information, phone numbers and any other information you think appropriate.

  6. Tip

    Following the terror attacks in 2001, many state DMV agencies have tightened their procedures relative to releasing boat ownership information over the phone or via e-mail. The police have access to the DMV ownership records and will make contact with the owner. If the accident occurred over a weekend, you may need to wait until regular business hours to contact your insurance company to file a claim, and to fill out any accident forms required by your state's DMV.


    Do not leave the scene of the accident before law enforcement arrives. An accident involving two boats in the water is the same thing as two cars colliding on the highway. There may be serious legal consequences if you leave without reporting the incident.

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Things You'll Need

  • Cell phone or access to a telephone
  • Camera (optional)


About the Author

Rich Finzer earned his boating license in 1960 and started his writing career in 1969. His writing has appeared in "Northern Breezes," "Southwinds," "Living Aboard," "Good Old Boat," "Latitudes & Attitudes," "Small Craft Advisor," "Life in the Finger Lakes," "BackHome" and "Dollar Stretcher" magazines. His maple syrup has won awards in competition. Rich has a Bachelor of Science in communications from Ithaca College.

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