Frequently Asked Questions

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 requirements by state.

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 800-365-5636. Visit the Boat Finance site for additional information or call the Coast Guard's Documentation office at 800-799-8362.

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.

Review IRS Publication 936 for additional information

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.

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 communicating internationally.

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. Visit or call the FCC to get a copy of Form 605 and Form 159.

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 or person.

The FCC has a new toll-free number for assistance, 888-CALL-FCC

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

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."

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 bacteria content.

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 harbor master.

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.

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 the EPA web site: