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Registration and CF Number

If it is a California vessel and you have the title, it is fairly simple to do at the local DMV in Corte Madera or online. Here’s the form for first time registrations or new titles.

When you get your stickers, here’s how to put them on...

DMV Register

Need Assistance? Money or Logistics?

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CF Number

The vessel registration number (CF number) should be displayed as follows:

  1.     Painted on or permanently attached to each side of the forward half of the vessel.

  2.     Be in plain vertical block characters of not less than three inches in height.

  3.     Be arranged so that it it reads from left to right.

  4.     Contrast with the color of the background so that it is distinctly visible and legible.

  5.     Have spaces or hyphens that are equal to the width of a letter other than "I" or a number other than "1" between the prefix and the number, and the number and the suffix. See the example below.

The following vessels do not have to be registered in California:

  1.     Vessels propelled solely by oars or paddles.

  2.     Nonmotorized sailboats that are eight feet or less in length.

  3.     Nonmotorized surfboards propelled by a sail and with a mast that the operator must hold upright.

  4.     A ship's lifeboat (a dinghy is not a lifeboat).

  5.     Vessels currently and lawfully numbered (registered) by another state that are principally used outside California.

  6.     Vessels brought into California for racing purposes only (exempted only during races and tune-ups).

Finding the owner of a vessel in times of emergency is crucial to the safety of wildlife, the anchorage community, and homes on-shore. In addition to being good seamanship practice, providing this information is also the law of the sea within US federal waters, which, whether you agree with it or not, is on the books. Failure to comply can be costly, and if you’ve ever tried pretending like fines will just go away if you ignore them, those with experience will tell you they wont.

The low hanging fruit for singling out a vessel by law enforcement for special attention, whether the Coast Guard, County, and City, is vessel registration and documentation. In order to avoid costly fines and/or hassle, your vessel will need to have an up-to-date registration with the Coast Guard as a Documented Vessel or with a CF# and yearly registration sticker provided by the California DMV.

Document or Register

USCG Documentation

From USCG boating site:

The U.S. Coast Guard Certificate of Documentation is a national form

of registration dating back to the 11th Act of the First Congress . It

serves as evidence of a vessel’s nationality for international purposes,

provides for unhindered commerce between the states, and admits

vessels to certain restricted trades, such as coastwise trade and the

fisheries . Since 1920, vessel financing has been enhanced through the

availability of preferred mortgages on documented vessels .

Recreational vessels are eligible to be documented if they are wholly

owned by a citizen or citizens of the United States and measure at least

five net tons . Net tonnage is a measure of a vessel’s volume. Most

vessels more than 25 feet in length will measure five net tons or more.

A documented vessel is not exempt from:

• Applicable state or federal taxes .

• Compliance with state or federal equipment carriage


A documented vessel may also be required to pay a registration fee and display a validation sticker from the state of principal use. Boaters should check with their state boating agency. To be in compliance with federal documentation requirements, a Certificate of Documentation must be:

• The original document (photocopy not acceptable) .

• On board the vessel .

• Current (not expired) .

• Signed by the Director of the National Vessel Documentation Center.

Documented Vessel Marking Requirements

Hull Display

A documented recreational vessel hull display must:

  1. Have the name and hailing port of the vessel together in one place on the hull (usually on the stern).

• Be in letters not less than 4 inches in height.

• Be clearly readable.

Original text © 2016

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