- Q: Is state registration required for all vessels and if so what state should I register my boat in?
A: With a few exceptions, all boats must be registered in the state in which they are primarily used,
no matter what state you reside in. Each state allows out-of-state registered boats to cruise in their
waters for a certain period of time before they require re-registration in their state. If sales tax
is applicable in the new state of registration, most states will subtract the amount of tax previously
paid, and only charge the difference in taxes.
Many states, but not all, require vessels to be titled along with state registration. Boats that are
federally documented should not be titled. However, some states require documented vessels to apply
for a validation decal in the state of primary use.
The following is a chart showing how long boats (federally documented vessels included) may be kept
in each state's waters before being subject to state registration, if so required.
*Please note that state regulations change periodically, and that every state has it's own rules as to
what boats need to be registered and which ones are exempted from registration (such as canoes,
kayaks and non-motorized boats). To find specific information on your state's registration and titling
regulations and procedures, please contact the individual state's titling and registration office.
View decal requirments by state.
- Q: If my boat is federally documented, does it still need to be registered with a state?
A: Generally, yes. For those who keep their boats primarily in U.S. waters, federal documentation
in no way replaces state registration, nor does it exempt boat owners from complying with state
laws. In fact, most states require documented vessels kept in state waters for a certain period
of time to register and get a state sticker to indicate that the required state taxes have been
paid. However, a state cannot require you to carry state numbers, as a documented vessel
already has federal numbers.
Documentation is a federal (U.S. only) form of registering a boat with the U.S. Coast Guard and
is preferred by many lending institutions because it is currently the only way to get a
Preferred Ship's Mortgage. This type of mortgage for a boat loan allows the recording of a lien
against the boat (not the person). Documentation as a vessel of the U.S. is also useful for
those who plan to spend time cruising in foreign countries.
In order to qualify for documentation, a recreational vessel must be at least five net tons
(usually 25 feet or more) and be wholly owned by a U.S. citizen. Any vessel put into
commercial service in the U.S. must also be documented. In order to receive the Coast
Guard's "Coastwise" (commercial) endorsement, the vessel must also be American-built.
Within a few years, the federal Vessel Identification System (VIS) will allow participating states
to also offer Preferred Ship's Mortgages. It will be a national database of state registered
and titled boats and will be a great anti-theft mechanism for marine police, insurers and
boaters. BoatUS has supported VIS for many years.
BoatUS has a vessel documentation service to handle all the paperwork or answer more
specific questions about federal documentation. The number is 706-869-8241. Visit the Boat Finance site for additional information or call the Coast Guard's Documentation
office at 800-799-8362.
- Q: Can I take a tax deduction on the interest paid on my boat loan?
A:Yes, under certain conditions. For boats used as a "second home" and those meeting the
criteria set by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), you may deduct interest paid on a secured
boat loan. To be a qualified residence, the IRS stipulates that the boat have sleeping, cooking
and toilet facilities, i.e. a berth, galley and head. (There is no personal use time requirement
unless the boat has been rented during the tax year.)
The other criterion is that the loan on the boat be secured, that is, the boat is held as
collateral by the lending institution and could be foreclosed upon for non-payment,
i.e. a "mortgage." A line of credit does not qualify as a secured loan. Also, the deduction
applies only to pleasure (recreational) boats. If your boat is already written off as a
business expense, the "second home" tax deduction does not apply. Boat owners who use
their recreational boat for charter, must either use it personally for at least 14-days a year
or 10 percent of the total days it is chartered-whichever is greater.
To take the deduction, boat owners need to itemize their deductions and enter the interest
paid on the loan on Schedule A, Line 10 if you received a Form 1098 reporting interest paid.
If not, enter it on Line 11 and fill in the name of the person or institution to whom payments
are made, their address and tax ID number or Social Security number.
Receiving or not receiving a Form 1098 is not a "test" of deductibility. Some lending
institutions will not give them routinely for boats because they're not in a position to inspect
each one to see if it fits the criteria of a second home. But the deduction may still be
valid without the Form 1098.
Boat owners who used a home equity loan to buy a boat may also deduct interest paid on
that loan with no restrictions on boat type or amenities. That interest is entered on
the line for home mortgage interest.
Those tax payers in the higher income brackets who may be "alternative minimum taxpayers"
are treated differently and the above deductions may not apply. BoatUS always recommends
that boat owners consult their own personal financial or tax adviser on specific tax questions.
- Q: Do I still have to pay a federal marine diesel fuel tax?
A: No. The federal diesel fuel tax was suspended in 1997 and permanently repealed in 1998.
Even though the federal tax on marine diesel no longer exists, boaters should know there is
still a federal tax on highway diesel for those who fill up at service stations. In addition,
most states impose a state tax on fuel. For many states, some or all of this tax goes to help
fund state boating programs. To see what tax money your state puts back into boating, view the state boating information pages.
Originally levied in 1994, the diesel fuel tax was included in the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation
Act of 1993 to offset the revenue lost from the repeal of the "luxury" tax on boats. As high as
24.4 cents per-gallon, the diesel tax was collected only from recreational diesel fuel purchases
- diesel fuel for commercial vessels was exempt. Many marinas could not afford two separate
storage tanks or sets of fuel pumps and chose to sell only to their commercial customers.
Shortages of recreational diesel fuel and the excessive tax itself created immediate havoc in
the recreational boating community.
BoatUS and NMMA (National Marine Manufacturers Association) began lobbying efforts to repeal
this burdensome tax immediately. A three-year effort finally paid off when, with the support of
several U.S. Representatives including Rep. Clay Shaw (R-FL) and Senators John Breaux (D-LA) and
John Chafee (R-RI), legislation was pushed through Congress to suspend the diesel fuel tax in
August 1997. Although the diesel tax was initially suspended for only one year, Senators Chafee,
Breaux and Rep. Shaw didn't back down, and convinced Congress to permanently repeal the diesel
fuel tax, effective January 1998.
- Q: Do I need an FCC license for my VHF radio?
A: No, in most cases. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) eliminated the ship
station licensing requirement for VHF radios in October 1996 for vessels that are not required by law
to carry a radio operating in U.S. waters. Those boaters who transmit in a foreign port or
internationally, carry VHF, single sideband (SSB), or Inmarsat equipment, have boats over 65 feet, or
are licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard to carry more than 6 passengers for hire are required to have a
Ship's Station License.
No license is needed for an EPIRB, radar unit, Loran, GPS, depth finder or CB radio. If you have a
VHF radio equipped with a DSC (Digital Selective Calling) function, you need to obtain an ID number.
Go to the question on how to obtain an MMSI and for more information on DSC.
The FCC is no longer sending out renewal notices to everyone who has had a ship station license in
the past, unless the vessel owner indicated that they would be taking international voyages or
For those who must still hold a VHF radio license, the fee has gone up to $200 (this includes a $50
processing fee). The term of the license is still 10 years. FCC forms 605 and 159 must be filled out
to obtain a new license. Call the FCC or visit the FCC Website to get a copy of Form 605 and
In addition to the Ship Station License for the vessel, a Restricted Radiotelephone Operator's Permit
is also required to be held by at least one person aboard any vessel transmitting in foreign ports or
international waters. The permit is good for life, but the operator must file FCC Form 753 and pay $50.
Neither the Ship Station License, which licenses the vessel, nor the Restricted Radiotelephone
Operator's Permit, which licenses the person operating the radio, are transferable to another boat
The FCC has a new toll-free number for assistance, 888-CALL-FCC as well as a website
- Q: Are there still rules governing the use of the VHF marine radio?
A: Yes! Although the license has been eliminated, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) radio
operating rules still apply and violators can be subject to fines up to $10,000. The marine band
is monitored by both the FCC and the U.S. Coast Guard and both agencies have sensitive radio
direction finders that can track a violator, for instance a hoax "mayday" caller. Boats no
longer licensed do not have assigned call signs, so boaters may use the name of their vessel
for identification when transmitting.
Channel 9 has been designated as a calling channel nationwide, and it has helped relieve
congestion on Channel 16. The Coast Guard, however, does not monitor Channel 9. Channel 16 is
always the first choice for emergencies or to hear official safety alerts.
Requesting a radio check from the Coast Guard on Channel 16 is prohibited. It is also not
proper procedure to issue a call to "any vessel, any vessel" and request a radio check. What
members may do is hail "TowBoatUS" on Channel 16 or 9, and when you receive a reply, switch to
a working channel and continue your call.
Click Here for General Radio Operating Rules
- Q: Do I need a Coast Guard operators license if my friends help share the expenses when I take them
out on my boat?
A: Recreational boaters who take their friends out in their boats and receive "voluntary" gifts or sharing
of expenses such as food, drink, fuel, bait and other supplies, are not being "paid" and therefore do
not have to be licensed. This includes an employer taking employees or clients out on his/her boat for
entertainment purposes. A passenger for hire is defined by the Coast Guard as someone who has
contributed "consideration," or money, to the owner, operator or agent of the vessel as a
condition of being taken out on the boat. In this case, one would need an operator's license.
The Passenger Vessel Act of 1993 helped to clarify the confusion over who is considered a
"guest" and who is considered a "passenger." It also clarifies the law for "six-pack"
operators-those licensed by the Coast Guard to take up to six paying passengers out on a
boat. A vessel of less than 100 gross tons that carries up to six passengers for hire, also
called an "un-inspected small passenger vessel," does not need to be inspected by the Coast
Guard. A vessel that is over 100 gross tons that carries up to 12 passengers is considered
an "un-inspected passenger vessel."
- Q: What are the rules for heads and MSDs on boats?
A: It is illegal to discharge untreated sewage from a vessel anywhere in U.S. waters up to 3 miles off
any U.S. coastline.
Recreational boats are not required to be outfitted with a toilet, however, if a flow-through toilet is
installed, it must be equipped with an operable Marine Sanitation Device (MSD) that is approved by the
U.S. Coast Guard. Vessels 65 feet or under may install a Type I, Type II or Type III MSD and vessels
over 65 feet must install a Type II or Type III MSD.
MSD types are as follows:
Type I - Treats sewage with disinfectant chemicals before discharging it into the water. The treated
discharge must not show any visible floating solids and must meet certain health standards for
Type II - Provides a higher level of disinfection of sewage than Type I. Larger in size than Type I,
Type IIs are usually installed in larger recreational vessels.
Type III - Includes recirculating and incinerating MSDs and holding tanks - devices that do not
allow the discharge of sewage. Holding tanks, the most widely used MSD, store sewage until the
holding tank can either be pumped out to an onshore facility or at sea beyond the U.S. boundary
waters (3 miles offshore).
Any waste should be properly disposed of in a pumpout station. There are four types of pumpout
facilities: stationary; mobile; portable and remote operated multi-station. To find the one nearest
your location, you can refer to a cruising guide or boating almanac, or contact your local
Porta-Potties are not installed equipment and are not included in these regulations. However, waste
from Porta-Potties must also be disposed of legally at pumpout stations or other facilities.
Refer to the next question for a list of No Discharge Zones in The US.
- Q: Where are the No-Discharge areas?
A: NO DISCHARGE AREAS
Vessels equipped with a Type I or II MSD travelling in a No-Discharge area are prohibited from
discharging treated sewage. In fact, the MSD must be secured properly to ensure that sewage
discharge will be prevented (ie, close seacock and padlock). Under federal law, completely
enclosed freshwater lakes or bodies of water are by definition "No-Discharge" areas. Other EPA
approved No-Discharge areas are listed on this EPA web site: