Boat Registration FAQs

Boat Registration Frequently Asked Questions

Answers to Frequently Asked questions about registering your boat or personal watercraft.

Q: Am I required to register my boat?

A:  State law requires the registration of any boat that is powered by a motor and operated on public waterways in Massachusetts. Registration is required even if the motor is not the primary means of propulsion for that boat. Some examples of boats that require registration include fishing boats with motors, recreational motorboats, canoes or sailboats that use motors (includes electric motors), and personal watercraft such as Jet Skis or wet bikes. Boats exempt from registration requirements include those that do not use motors, and documented vessels (large boats that are issued a marine document and registration through the U.S. Coast Guard). Vessels used solely by a city, county, state, or federal agency will be issued a certificate of registration and number at no charge

Q: Do I need to apply for a certificate of title?

A: All boats 14 feet or greater in length that are designed for use with a motor, or that use a motor at any time, must be titled. For example, sailboats 14 feet or longer with a backup motor in use, or sailboats designed for use with a backup motor, must be titled. Even canoes 14 feet or longer that use a motor of any type must be titled. Boats exempt from titling requirements include U.S. government-owned vessels; federally documented vessels; boats used solely for demonstration, testing, sales, or promotional purposes by a dealer or manufacturer; and boats registered in another state which are not located in the Commonwealth for more than 60 consecutive day

Q: I haven't registered or titled my boat before. What should I do?

A: In Massachusetts, initial registration and titling is done by filling out the department's registration application at any of five Registration offices. The boat owner must submit proof of ownership, a bill of sale, proof of payment of Massachusetts sales tax, and the appropriate registration and/or title fees. For new boats, an original manufacturer's statement of origin (MSO) must be provided as proof of ownership. An MSO, title, or previous registration can serve as proof of ownership for used boats.

In order to complete the application, you must provide the vessel's Hull Identification Number (HIN) and the boat's year of manufacture, make, and length. State law requires that the title application must be made and the sales tax paid within 20 days of purchasing a boat. The Division also stores information such as the engine manufacturer, serial number, and horsepower for record keeping purposes.

Q: What about registration renewal?

A: Boat, ATV and Snowmobile owners will receive a registration renewal notice at least one month prior to the expiration of their current registration.  You have the following options to renew.

  •  Return with enclosed envelope; write your registration number or renewal number on check.
  •  You may bring renewal to any one of our 5 registration offices. Keep in mind that during the boating season, lines can be long (April through August).
  •  Renew online at

Q: I made my own boat. What do I do about registration and titling?

A: The owner of a homemade boat should contact the Environmental Police (1-800-632-8075) to schedule an inspection of the vessel by an officer (EPO). Homemade boats must be inspected to establish proof of ownership and to verify the description of the vessel. The inspecting officer will provide the customer with an inspection certificate that must be presented when registering the vessel.  At the time of registration, your boat will be assigned a HIN (Hull Identification Number).  You will be given instructions on how to place this HIN on your boat.  You must provide proof, to the registration office, of the HIN placement on your boat before you will receive your registration card and decal.  In addition, the applicant must submit a completed form provided by the Department of Revenue showing that sales tax on materials used has been paid ( ST-6/6E ).

Q: What is so important about the Hull Identification Number?

A: All Massachusetts boats must have an approved Hull Identification Number (HIN) in order to be registered and/or titled. The HIN is unique to each boat, which allows the full history of the vessel to be traced from the manufacturer forward. The HIN is designed so that tampering will cause clear and permanent damage to the boat's hull, so it is critical in all stolen boat investigations. A vessel shall not operate on the State's waters unless the vessel displays the assigned HIN affixed by the manufacturer as required by the US Coast Guard, pursuant to Title 33 CFR, Part 181, Subpart C - manufacturer requirements, but OLE may issue HIN's for homemade boats and any manufactured vessel that does not have an assigned HIN. The number contains at least 12 characters and is permanently mounted or engraved on the upper right corner of the transom. Federal regulations require that the number is also placed in a second location which varies by manufacturer and model. If applicable, at the time of registration, your boat will be assigned a HIN (Hull Identification Number).  You will be given instructions on how to place this HIN on your boat.  You must provide proof, to the registration office, of the HIN placement on your boat before you will receive your registration card and decal.

Q: What if my registration has expired?

/orgs/boat-and-recreation-vehicle-registration-and-titling-bureauA: You can renew online at, by mail or visit one of our registration offices.

When registering in person, bring a copy of your old registration (if you cannot find your registration card the MS number will suffice).  You will be required to complete an application.  Please bring with you a check or money order payable to the “Commonwealth of Massachusetts.” Please include on your check the applicable registration number for our reference. Your registration will be brought up to date to reflect a two year boat, snowmobile or Off-Highway Vehicle registration. OHV/Snowmobile registrations for non-residents will reflect a one year registration.  Please note:  If your registration has been expired for 48 months or longer, you will not be able to renew it online. Please visit one of our registration offices to process your renewal.

Q: What do I do with the registration certificate, number, and decal?

A: The registration certificate is proof that the boat is registered. It also serves as proof of ownership if the boat is not titled or documented. The registration certificate should be available for inspection on board the motorboat whenever it is in operation.

The registration number is assigned when you register your boat for the first time. It should be painted or attached to each side of the forward half of the boat. It should read from left to right, be in block letters not less than three inches high, and contrast with the color of the boat's hull. The number consists of the letters MS followed by no more than four numbers and two capital letters. A two-inch space or hyphen must separate the letters and the numbers. The registration number is issued to the boat owner and not the vessel. Therefore, it can be transferred to different boats for a given owner, but it cannot be transferred to a new owner.

The registration decal should be placed in line with and three inches to the stern of the registration number on the port side of the boat. The decal is issued with the initial registration and each registration renewal; it indicates the month and year that the registration expires.

Q: How long are the registration and title good for, and how much do they cost?

A: The title certificate is good for the life of the boat, or until the boat is sold or otherwise transferred, at which time the new owner must obtain a another title.  The title fee is $27.50. This is a one-time charge.

The boat registration certificate is valid for two years from the date of issuance. Cost is based on the length of the vessel.  

Q: I live in another state but sometimes boat in Massachusetts. Do I need to register and title my boat?

A: Visiting boat owners who are registered in another state are allowed to boat in Massachusetts for up to 60 consecutive days without obtaining a Massachusetts registration and title. If you plan to keep the boat in Massachusetts for more than 60 consecutive days, you must obtain a Massachusetts registration and title certificate.

Q: What should I do if I am buying or selling a boat?

A: In order to execute a boat transaction, the following items are necessary:

  •  Bill of sale
  •  12-character serial number (HIN) pencil tracing
  •  Proof of payment of Massachusetts' sales tax
  •  A completed application
  •  Appropriate fees
  •  Title from seller if applicable

Massachusetts sales tax is now payable online. For more information visit the Department of Revenue website or call (800) 392-6089.

In addition to the previous requirements, if the boat is 14 feet or greater in length and uses a motor either temporarily or permanently, or if it is designed for use with a motor, the certificate of title must be signed over from the seller to the buyer. The buyer then presents this information and documentation to the Massachusetts Environmental Police Registration Bureau to obtain a new registration card and certificate of title.

Q: I sold my boat--How do I cancel my registration?

A: You must notify the Massachusetts Environmental Police within 15 days after selling your boat.  You can download and complete our  Motorboat, Snowmobile & OHV Registration Status Change Form.  After completing and signing this form, you can mail or fax in to any one of our 5 registration offices in the state.  Please remember, if your vessel has a lien holder attached to the title of the boat, you must also submit a lien release from the lien holder before we can cancel your vessel from our registration system.

Additional Resources

Q: What should I do if I lose my registration or title?

A: If your registration or title certificate is lost, destroyed, or mutilated, you can apply for a duplicate.  Just fill out the proper form and mail to the nearest registration office along with a check for the appropriate fee.
Please note:  Customers are allowed only 3 duplicate decals during a registration cycle.

Q: What if I am in a boating accident, or my boat is stolen?

A: The operator of a vessel is required to submit a written report to the Massachusetts Environmental Police, Boating and Recreational Vehicle Safety Bureau whenever an accident results in:
• The death of a person.
• The disappearance of a person under circumstances which suggest any possibility of death or injury.
• Any injury requiring medical attention.
• Property damage exceeding $500.

Accidents resulting in death or serious injury must be reported within 48 hours. Other accident reports must be submitted within five days

If a boat is lost, stolen, abandoned, or destroyed, the owner must notify the Massachusetts Environmental Police in writing within 15 days.

Additional Resources

Q: Do I have to register my boat trailer?

A: Boat trailers are registered under the same requirements as passenger cars. Apply at any Registry of Motor Vehicles office or call 617-351-4500 for information. Some smaller trailers need not be titled only registered.

Q: My boat is pre-1972. How do I obtain a hull identification number to register my boat?

A: Boats built prior to 1972 or any vessel that does not have a 12 character hull identification number (HIN) must have the state issue one. Boat inspections are performed by the Massachusetts Environmental Police. Call 1-800-632-8075 to arrange an inspection.  The inspecting officer will provide the customer with an inspection certificate that must be presented when registering the vessel. At the time of registration, your boat will be assigned a HIN (Hull Identification Number).  You will be given instructions on how to place this HIN on your boat.  You must provide proof, to the registration office, of the HIN placement on your boat before you will receive your registration card and decal.

Q: What are the age requirements for operating a Personal Watercraft (Jet Ski)

A: You must be 16 years of age or older.  

Q: I purchased my boat from a car dealer--will I have any difficulty registering my boat?

A: Car dealers that are not registered boat dealers must first title the boat in the car dealer's name before legally selling the boat. The car dealer must also pay a sales tax to the Department of Revenue before titling the boat. Once the car dealer has applied for and received the title from the state, the sale can be made.

Q: Do I need insurance verification on my boat before I register it?

A: The state of Massachusetts does not require insurance on a boat before registering. It is entirely up to the boat owner whether or not the boat is insured.

Q: I have a small motorized tender to my Coast Guard documented or state registered vessel. Does this tender require a registration or can I label this boat "Tender To"?

A: Any boat powered by an electric or gas motor must be state registered. Only ship lifeboats are exempt from registration.

Q: Can I keep the same registration numbers that the previous owner had on the boat?

A: Each boat owner will get a new registration number assigned to their boat that is computer generated. The computer system does not allow for the same number to be utilized by two names.

Q: I am a commercial fisherman and I want to register my fishing vessel in Massachusetts. What documents will I need to register my boat commercially?

A: A copy of you valid commercial fishing license will be required along with the required documents needed to register a boat in Massachusetts; bill of sale, title or Coast Guard deletion letter, sales tax exemption form and a pencil tracing of the serial number on the transom of the boat.

Additional Resources

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