Gone Outdoors

How to Search for a Title for a Boat

by Dave Guilford

There are several ways to search for the title for a boat, and they depend primarily on how the boat is registered. Boats are either registered with the state in which they're domiciled (much like an automobile), or they are "documented" by the United States Coast Guard. Determining which way a boat is titled is as simple as finding the state registration sticker on its bow, or if there is no registration sticker, writing down the name of the boat and its hull number.

1. Determine if the boat is state registered. Boats 25 feet long and under are not eligible for Coast Guard documentation, so these boats will all be registered with the state in which they are domiciled. This includes personal water craft and jet skis. The registration sticker and the vessel's registration numbers will be displayed on either the port or starboard side of the vessel's bow, depending on the state. The registration number will typically be 3-inch block numbers stuck to the outboard side of the bow.

2. Determine if the boat is Coast Guard documented. Vessels over 25 feet in length are eligible for Coast Guard documentation. Be sure to check for registration stickers on the bow. If there are none, chances are the vessel is documented. In this case, write down the name and hailing port of the vessel as they appear on the transom or stern.

3. Write down the vessel's hull number. Since the mid-1970s, every vessel manufactured for use in U.S. waters must carry a standardized hull identification number (HIN). This number gives various information about the vessel, such as the manufacturer (identified by the first 3 letters known as the MIC code) and the year the vessel was manufactured (the last 2 digits indicate the year of manufacture). The hull number will be found on the starboard stern of the boat, typically right under the rub rail, though sometimes under the swim platform if the boat has one.

4. For state-registered vessels, you must call either the state Department of Motor Vehicles or the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. The registration sticker will identify who to call in most cases. You must have a valid reason for requesting titling information on a boat you don't own. For example, if you were involved in an accident with a given boat and the other boat owner sped away (and you have a police report to prove it), you will probably be given the titling information.

5. For documented vessels, the process is much easier. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) Office of Science and Technology provides a free searchable database with the titling information of every Coast Guard documented vessel. Just input the name of the vessel and the database will pull up every vessel with that name. The list can be very long with popular names, so it is important to have the hailing port, approximate length, and year of manufacture to narrow the list down. Once you've found the right boat, click on the link and the titling information will appear.

About the Author

Dave Guilford has been a freelance newspaper and magazine writer for more than 10 years. As a former stockbroker, commodities trader and life insurance agency owner, he writes on personal finance, investing, insurance and retirement planning. A former international yacht racer and yacht brokerage owner, Guilford is a frequent contributor to "BoatU.S. Magazine." His work has also appeared in "Latitudes & Attitudes Magazine."

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