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Virginia Watercraft Owner’s Guide

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Since 1960, the Department has been designated as the state boating agency, providing boat titling and registration, boating access through public boat ramps and facilities, boating education, and marine law enforcement & accident investigation.

There are endless opportunities for boaters to enjoy Virginia’s waters, from freshwater to whitewater, to saltwater and more!

Whether you are a seasoned mariner or just beginning, remember that boating does involve some risk. The choices you make when operating or paddling can either contribute to or mitigate those risks. Virginia experiences a number of drowning deaths each year due to falls overboard. Please wear a life jacket!

Be Responsible: Don’t drink and boat! Be Safe: Wear an approved life jacket, and take a boating safety course! Have Fun!

– Tom Guess
Boating Law Administrator, DGIF

Watercraft Registration, Titling & Sales Tax Requirements

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) administers all boat titling and registration of recreational boats in Virginia. All motorboats used on the public waters of Virginia must be registered and titled. If the motorboat is principally used on the public waters of Virginia it must be registered and titled in Virginia as opposed to another state.

  • A Certificate of Title and a Certificate of Number (Registration) are required for all watercraft propelled by machinery, including but not limited to, gasoline, diesel, and electric motors.
  • Sail-powered vessels (no motor) greater than 18 feet in length are only required to be titled in Virginia (no registration needed).
  • Boats used only on private waters do not require registration or titling.
  • New watercraft must be registered before they may be operated on the public waters of Virginia.
  • Used watercraft with a current, valid registration may be operated for 30 days on the previous owner’s registration if a copy of the dated bill of sale and the registration card are carried aboard the watercraft.
  • If there is no valid registration or the registration has expired, used watercraft must obtain valid registration before being operated on the public waters of Virginia.
  • An owner bringing a watercraft into Virginia from another state may operate the vessel up to 90 consecutive days on the other state’s current, valid registration before registering it in Virginia.

Watercraft registration is accomplished via:

  • Online at www.GoOutdoorsVirginia.com. Application(s) and supporting documents submitted online MUST be mailed to DGIF, Boat Section, P.O. Box 9930, Henrico, VA 23228.
  • Walk-in at DGIF Headquarters, 7870 Villa Park Drive, Suite 400, Henrico, VA 23228 (8:30 a.m.-4:45 p. m. M-F except holidays).
  • Mailing original application(s) and supporting documents to DGIF, Boat Section, P.O. Box 9930, Henrico, VA 23228.
  • Once submitted, applications are usually processed and the registration materials mailed within 60 days of receipt in Henrico.

Titling and Registering Your Watercraft

The “Application for Watercraft Certificate of Title and Certificate of Number (Registration)” form is available from DGIF offices and online at www.dgif.virginia.gov. This is a combined application for both the registration and title. The “Application for Watercraft Certificate of Title and Certificate of Number (Registration)” must include a purchase price for the boat and motor only and must also be signed by the buyer(s).

The application requires a detailed description of the watercraft that includes:

  • Boat make
  • Length
  • Model Year
  • Vessel type
  • Hull material
  • Propulsion type
  • Hull Identification Number
  • Motor make, serial number, and horsepower (if in excess of 25 horsepower)
  • Name and mailing address of lienholder (if applicable)

Most of this information will be available from the Certificate of Title and/or Certificate of Number (Registration) provided by the previous owner or the Manufacturer’s Statement (or Certificate) of Origin provided by the retail outlet where the watercraft was purchased. The following supporting documents must be submitted with an application for titling and registration as follows:

New Watercraft

  • The owner must provide the original Manufacturer’s Statement (or Certificate) of Origin or Importer’s Certificate of Origin with “First Assignment” completed and issued by dealer at the time of purchase. A copy of the sales invoice showing gross purchase price, watercraft sales tax paid, and a description of the boat must also be provided.
  • If watercraft was homemade by you, a “Statement for Registering and Titling a Motorboat not Previously Registered and/or Titled” must be provided stating this fact in lieu of a Manufacturer’s Statement (or Certificate) of Origin or Importer’s Certificate of Origin. This form is available online at www.dgif.virginia.gov. Copies of receipts for building materials and printed pictures of the watercraft from all sides must also be submitted with the “Application for Watercraft Certificate of Title and Certificate of Number (Registration)” and “Statement for Registering and Titling a Motorboat not Previously Registered and/or Titled”. Your watercraft may be subject to inspection by a law enforcement officer.

Used Watercraft

  • If titled in Virginia – The original Certificate of Title with assignment of title completed by titled owner(s). If purchased from a watercraft dealer, the dealer reassignment portion of the title must be completed. The “Application for Watercraft Certificate of Title and Certificate of Number (Registration)” must be completed and signed by the purchaser(s). A copy of the sales invoice showing gross purchase price, watercraft sales tax paid, and a description of the watercraft is required.
  • If titled by someone else in another state – The Original Certificate of Title with assignment of title completed by titled owner(s). If purchased from a dealer, the dealer reassignment portion of the title must be completed. The “Application for Watercraft Certificate of Title and Certificate of Number (Registration)” must be completed and signed by the purchaser(s). A copy of the sales invoice showing gross purchase price, watercraft sales tax paid, and a description of the watercraft is required.
  • If titled by you in another state (moving the watercraft to Virginia) – The original Certificate of Title must be submitted. The “Application for Watercraft Certificate of Title and Certificate of Number (Registration)” must be completed and signed by the purchaser(s).
  • If registered by you in another state but not titled (moving the watercraft to Virginia)
    A copy of the out-of-state registration is required. The “Application for Watercraft Certificate of Title and Certificate of Number (Registration)” must be completed and signed by the purchaser(s).
  • If registered in Virginia but never titled – A copy of the dated bill of sale or a “Notification of Change in Status of a Numbered Vessel”. This form is available online at www.dgif.virginia.gov. The “Application for Watercraft Certificate of Title and Certificate of Number (Registration)” must be completed and signed by the purchaser(s).
  • If registered by someone else in another state but not titled – A copy of the out-of-state registration and a bill of sale signed and dated by the registered owner(s). The “Application for Watercraft Certificate of Title and Certificate of Number (Registration)” must be completed and signed by the purchaser(s).
  • If never registered or titled in Virginia or any other state – A “Statement for Registering and Titling a Motorboat not Previously Registered and/or Titled” form must be submitted with printed pictures of the watercraft from all sides. The “Application for Watercraft Certificate of Title and Certificate of Number (Registration)” must be completed and signed by the purchaser(s). A bill of sale signed and dated by the seller(s) must be submitted.

Documented Watercraft

  • If documented with the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and being changed to state registration – The Certificate of Documentation, Letter of Deletion from the USCG (or Abstract of Title with proof of lien release in the documented owner’s name). A signed and dated bill of sale must be submitted.

Note: Watercraft cannot be documented by the USCG and titled at the same time. The owner must choose between documentation or titling. While a documented vessel may not be titled, it may be registered at the owner’s discretion should a registration decal be desired to show proof that sales tax was paid. The registration decals may be useful if the watercraft is operated in other states that require a registration decal or other proof that sales tax was paid.

Boat Motors

Any size, type, or horsepower of motor on a watercraft requires it to be registered. Only motors in excess of 25 horsepower are listed on titles.

Duplicate Titles, Registrations, or Decals

  • If a title, registration, or decal becomes defaced, lost or destroyed, you may obtain an “Application for a Duplicate Certificate of Number, Decal and/or Title” at all of the locations where the application is available. You may also use this form to order extra registration cards if you want more than one.

Note: only one valid title is recognized for each watercraft. If a duplicate title is issued, the duplicate title prevails over any previously issued title(s).

Expiration and Renewal of Registration

Registrations are valid for three years. Renewal notifications are emailed or mailed to the last known email address or postal address of all watercraft owners approximately 60 days in advance. A second renewal notification is sent 30 days prior to expiration date if not renewed. A final renewal notification is sent 30 days after expiration. The most common reason owners do not receive a renewal notification is because their address has changed within the three years and DGIF was not notified within 15 days as required by law. If a renewal notification was not received, the registration may be renewed by completing the Application for Watercraft Certificate of Title and Certificate of Number (Registration) and marking the Type of Transaction as “Renew Registration” at the top of the application. Renewals may also be completed online at www.GoOutdoorsVirginia.com. The information needed to renew online is your current Va. registration number and renewal PIN.

Change in Status or Change of Mailing Address

If a registered watercraft is sold, destroyed, abandoned, or stolen, or if there is a change in your mailing address, you are required by law to report this information within 15 days in writing to the DGIF Boat Section. A change in status or change of mailing address may also be completed online at www.GoOutdoorsVirginia.com. The information needed to make this change online is your current Virginia Registration number, hull identification number, and the last name of the primary owner. A “Notification of Change in Status of a Numbered Vessel” form is available at all the locations where the application is available. The notification can be mailed to DGIF, Boat Section, P.O. Box 9930, Henrico, VA 23228 or emailed to boat-reg@dgif.virginia.gov.

Registration Must be Onboard While Operating

You must have a valid registration card on the vessel before your watercraft may legally be operated on public waters. The three-year registration card is the official document of registration for your watercraft and once it has been issued, it must be carried aboard the watercraft while in use. If you purchased a used watercraft with valid, current registration, you may operate the vessel for 30 days from the date of purchase provided you carry a dated bill of sale and the former owner’s valid registration card.

Validation Decals

Decals are furnished with each three-year registration issued by DGIF. Decals indicate the month and year of expiration, and the registration number assigned to your watercraft. Decals must be displayed within 6 inches of the registration number on each side of the watercraft for which they were issued. Only the current decal may be visible. Expired decals must be removed.

Trailers: Title, Registration, and License Plates

Title, registration, and license plates for watercraft trailers are purchased through the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Check with DMV for rules and regulations regarding trailers.

Registration and Titling Fees and Watercraft Sales and Use Tax

Most people must pay a registration fee, a titling fee, and watercraft sales and use tax when they acquire a watercraft. These fees are found on the application.

Watercraft Registration ( 3 Years)

Fee

Less than 16 feet in length

$27.00

16 feet to less than 20 feet in length

$31.00

20 feet to less than 40 feet in length

$37.00

40 feet in length and longer

$45.00

Duplicate Cards & Decals (Replacements or extra sets)

$9.00

Livery of up to 10 watercraft

$27.00

Livery of more than 10 watercraft

$21.00

Titling

Fee

Original

$7.00

Duplicate

$2.00

Change of Motor on Title (Original Title must be submitted)

$2.00

Record Supplemental Lien on Previously Titled Watercraft (Original Title must be submitted)

$7.00

Tax

FEE

Watercraft Sales and Use Tax 2% of gross purchase price of watercraft and motor (Maximum $2,000.00)

Display of registration number

The number issued to your watercraft appears on the registration and is to be displayed exactly as it appears on each side of the forward half of the vessel in block letters, at least 3 inches in height, and contrasting in color with hull or background. They may be painted or attached to the watercraft, must read from left to right, and must always be legible.

A space or hyphen must separate both the “VA” abbreviation and the letter suffix from the numerals.

On vessels so configured that a number on the hull or superstructure would not be easily visible, or the number would not remain securely attached (as on an inflatable vessel), the number may be painted on or the number and decal attached to a backing plate that is attached to the forward half of the vessel so that the number is visible from each side of the vessel.

If the watercraft already has Virginia registration numbers (used watercraft), in most instances those same numbers will be reassigned to the new owner. The Virginia registration number assigned to a watercraft should never be removed from the watercraft unless DGIF assigns new numbers to the vessel.

Motorboat and PWC Operators

A Boating Safety Course is Required to Operate PWC’s and/or Boats With Motors 10 HP or Greater.

For more information:
www.dgif.virginia.gov/boating/education/requirement/

Additional Information

Additional information and forms on watercraft registration and titling may be obtained by calling the Boat Section of DGIF at 804-367-6135 or 866-721-6911. Forms can also be downloaded from our website at www.dgif.virginia.gov/forms.