In California, most boats, or vessels that use any of California’s waterways need to be registered through the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Without this registration, rangers or police patrolling the waters may pull you over and cite you as they would with a car that is not registered. Therefore, before heading to the river or lakes anywhere in California with your new boat, make sure you have a current CA DMV boat registration.

Boats that Must be Registered

According to the California DMV, boats longer than eight feet require registration. Also, boats with a motor, even if they are shorter than eight feet in length required registration. This means if your short paddle canoe has a motor you sometimes use, you will need to register your canoe.

ExceptionsBest Camping Norther California Lake BrittonCredit: Flickr: Vicki and Chuck Rogers

Any boat less than eight feet and that does not have a motor does not require registration in California. This includes kayaks, canoes, and small fishing boats and rafts where only oars are used. Houseboats that do not move and are hooked up to utility services are also exempt.

Also if you are visiting from another state for a boating or camping trip and your boat is registered in your home state, then you are probably exempt from registration in CA as long as you are only here for a few days.

How to Register a Boat in CA

The form for getting a new boat registered is available online at the California DMV’s website. Once filled out, you can mail it directly to the main DMV office in Sacramento or take it to your nearest DMV office.

Registration Number

Once registered, the California DMV will issue you a boat registration number, or CF number. California specifies that this boat registration number be prominently and permanently displayed on the boat. The number must be located on each side of the forward half of the boat, at least three inches tall, and easy to read. You are also required to have spaces or hyphens between groups of letters and numbers.


For more information about California DMV boat registration, visit the official DMV website.

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