Coast Guard Registration?

Do these homebuilt watercraft such as the Chester Yawl require a registration (and number assignment) with the US Coast Guard?

Posted question in the wrong forum first...woops! 

19 replies:

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RE: Coast Guard Registration?

I did a little research since I have easy access to this kind of information.  Mind you, what I'm listing is the regulations for the area in which I work, so you'll have to check to see if your state's laws are different.  In Vermont:

"You must have a Vermont certificate of registration and validation sticker to legally operate any vessel propelled by a motor on the public waters of Vermont.  The only exceptions are:

Non-motorized vessels

Vessels registered in other states using Vermont waters for 90 consecutive days or less

Vessels documented by the U.S. Coast Guard."


In New York it's basically the same, if you plan to operate the vessel with a motor either fully or partially, you'll need to register your boat.  Once again, the exemptions are:

vessels operation commercially with either a us or foreign document

vessels legally registered in another state


and non-mechanically propelled vessels


Just to be safe, check with your DMV and they'll tell you for sure if you're required to register your boat or not.

Another thing you can do is contact your local Coast Guard station and find out how to get the Coast Guard Auxilery to come give you a vessel safety inspection.  They'll tell you exactly what you need for your boat to safely get underway.  It won't stop the Coast Guard from boarding you if they decide they want to, but it will make things go a lot quicker.


Oh yeah, if you're wondering how I know this stuff, I'm currently stationed on Lake Champlain in the US Coast Guard.

See ya on the water.


RE: Coast Guard Registration?

>>>>>>Do these homebuilt watercraft such as the Chester Yawl require a registration (and number assignment) with the US Coast Guard?>>>>.

Nobody has to register with the Coast Guard---that'd be like registering your car with the FBI instead of the DMV.  It's a question of which state you're in.  In most states, boats without engines and shorter than a certain length (21 feet in Maryland) do not require registration at all.  Others---Ohio comes to mind---require that you register anything that floats with the Department of Natural Resources.  You see guys in Ohio with registration numbers pasted on their PFDs.  (Well, I wouldn't be surprised to see such a thing.) 

Speaking of the Coast Guard, they recently handed down a ruling that kit boat manufacturers have to issue capacity plates with boats of a certain size and girth.  In our case, that was the Chester Yawl, Eastport Pram, Passagemaker Dinghy, and Skerry.  If you haven't gotten one of those plates in the mail from us, you will.

Give us a call here at CLC if you have any questions about registering your homebuilt boat with the Department of Natural Resources in your state.

RE: Coast Guard Registration?

Guess i forgot to clarify, the Coast Guard auxilary safety inspection is just that, a safety inspection.  As John said, the registration is via the state, not the Coast Guard.  The Coast Guard is just there to make sure you're being safe out on the water and to assist you if needed. Sorry if my post made it sound like you needed to register with the Coast Guard.  I was quoting regs out of a couple state safe boating handbooks, thinking they'd give a good guideline.  Good luck with your boat.


RE: Coast Guard Registration?

By 1 in 57 chance you are in Ohio....there is the alternate registration where you don't have to put ugly #s on each side of your craft.  They will give you a sticker for the inside.


RE: Coast Guard Registration?

As regards Maryland, I was stopped by the River Police on the Patuxent River in my 14-ft pirogue  because I had a portable fish finder which from a distance bore a resemblance to an electric trolling motor. They're serious about that "non-motorized" clause. The escape hatch, in case you're caught, is that you've had the boat for less than 30 days. In that case you can probably avoid the fine, but you'll end up having to register it.


RE: Coast Guard Registration?

Here's Alabama's take on things, if it might interest anyone:

All boats other than those paddled or rowed must obtain a registration number.  So if I had chosen to only row my Passagemaker, I suppose I wouldn't need to mar its appearance with numers no less than 3" high.  But once I put the sail rig on her...  Obtaining a reg number for a homebuilt boat throws the sytem a little off balance.  I had to send off an application to the state "marine police" (a division of the state troopers) in order to obtain a "hull number", the equivalent of the serial number of commercially built craft.  I figured they would assign me one, and mail it back to me, after which I could then apply for the registration number.  But no- one afternoon while I was at work, an armed state trooper showed up at my house and asked my wife to see me.  After a flash of panic, it came out that he had to "inspect" my vessel and apply a hull number sticker.  I was in the final stages of sanding prior to paint and varnish, and luckily she persuaded him to just leave the sticker and let me put it on after finishing.

Additionally, boat trailers do not require license plates in Alabama- but campers and utility trailers do.  Apparently there are some boaters with clout in the state legislature.  Finally, Alabama is the only state (as far as I know) that requires a watercraft operator's endorsement on one's drivers license.  The process is only partially convenient- an online study course and test is easy to deal with, but that only awards a certificate which must be taken to the local drivers license facility, where the hapless boater waits in line with the throngs of teenagers in order  to have another license photo taken and the coveted "V" (for vessel) added to the new license.

RE: Coast Guard Registration?

Individuals building boats for their own use and not for the purposes of sale are what are referred to as "backyard boat builders". They must obtain a 12 character HIN from their State boating agency. The Manufacturer Identification Code at the beginning of the HIN for a "home built" boat is an abbreviation for the State followed by a "Z" which indicates that it is a State identification.


Hull Identification Number - Required of "backyard built" boats according to the U. S. Coast Guard!!!!! I have downloaded the form to fill out and send to acquire a HIN for this Chester Yawl!!!! Bunch of crap!!!!


State registration is dependent on individual state policy regarding power or length. The state numbers are the 3" registration numbers. The HIN is the one that is "branded" on the transom and also inside the boat somewhere inconspicuous for identification purposes. Capacity stickers are possibly going to be required as well depending on the "boarding party" or inspecting officer. 


RE: Coast Guard Registration?

(MICs And HIN)s

New Manufacturers: Frequently Asked Questions

What do I need to do to build boats?

Call the Coast Guard,   202-372-1073  or FAX 202-372-1934.  

Ask for a Manufacturers Identification Code. They will send you a form to fill out and mail back. It's free! This will be a three character code that identifies you as the manufacturer such as:


This is a MIC. It will be the first three characters in the Hull Identification Number (HIN)you place on every boat.

What is a Hull Identification Number?:

An HIN is a unique number assigned to every boat. You assign this number. Here's how.

A HIN looks like this:


So, what does it all mean? The ABC is your MIC.

The next five characters can be anything you want to assign. It can be 12345, or 00001, or 0000A, or 32001. Whatever you want to put in there except: O, I or Q. These characters look too much like zeros or ones. Some manufacturers use a sort of code in this area. For instance, if they build a 30 footer and this is the first one then they would use 30001. Others just assign consecutive numbers, 00001, 00002, 00003, etc.

The ninth character identifies the month when the boat was certified (or built, I will explain this later) as shown in the chart below. So if it's built in May the ninth character would be an E..

It works like this:

A: January G: July
B: February H: August
C: March I: September (yes it's an I, but it's ok)
D: April J: October
E: May K: November
F: June L: December

The tenth character is last digit of the year when the boat was certified (or built), for example if the year is 1997, then the tenth character would be a 7, or if it is the year 2000, it would be a zero.

The last two characters are the model year. You can assign any model year you want but it's smarter to make it pretty close to the year the boat was built. Most manufacturers start their model year in August, but some use June or July. It's up to you. However don't say the boat was built in 1997 and it's a model year 1999 or 2000. Every time someone tries to register that boat, alarms will go off all over the place. Then cops will come around and start asking nosy questions. Also the owner will have a difficult time insuring the boat. The agent will suspect some sort of fraud if the model year is significantly different from the year built. USE COMMON SENSE!

Where do I put the HIN?

On boats with transoms it goes in the upper right hand corner of the transom. On boats without transoms, that is rounded sterns or pointed sterns (as in canoes), it goes to the right of center if you are facing the stern of the boat. It should be just a short ways down from the gunwale, no more than two inches. It must be at least one quarter inch high and (here comes the hard part) permanently affixed. What does permanent mean. Well, it's permanent until if comes off.

Let's get to the point. The whole reason for having this number is to identify who made the boat, when it was made, and what regulations apply. Also the HIN has become a very effective tool in detecting and recovering stolen boats. So, put it where it can be seen. There is nothing that baffles me more than why a manufacturer would put the HIN under a swim platform. How in the world do they expect anyone to read it there? No, put it where a boarding officer, boarding your boat at sea can read the HIN with relative ease, not at risk of life or limb.

Is that the only number I have to put on the boat?

No. You must also put an identical HIN somewhere else on the boat in a less than obvious location. Don't hide it where no one will ever be able to find it. Put it under a seat, behind a removable panel, under an easily removed fitting. It's there so that the number can be compared to the one on the transom if the boat is suspected of being stolen, or if someone suspects that the HIN has been illegally altered. (No one would do that, would they? Don't count on it!) . This secondary HIN has to meet the same requirements as the first, 1/4 inch high or greater, and permanently affixed.

So why do I need an HIN?

Every boat (that means any kind of boat) sold in the us (yes that includes imported boats) has to have an HIN. It's so you can track who you sold the boat to, and so the states can register the boats and know that they are not stolen. When you put an HIN on a boat you are also certifying (yes that means guaranteeing) that the boat meets all the standards that the law requires it to meet. Thats why I said that the ninth and tenth characters are the certification date. Not really the date of manufacturer. This causes a lot of confusion among builders, dealers and the general public. That date can actually be from any time when you started building the boat until when you put it on the truck for delivery. For boats that are built in a short time, like production boats this can be as short as a day. For large yachts it can be more than a year.

What if I build just one boat for myself and never sell it?

The state will assign the legitimate backyard boatbuilder an HIN when you register the boat. However, if you think you can build a few boats, sell them and just tell the owner to tell the state it was a backyard built boat, think again. You may get away with it for a while but eventually they will catch you. Those computers are programmed to catch these things. And why go to all that trouble? I costs you nothing to get a MIC and it saves you and your customers a lot of trouble.

Are there any other rules I have to follow?

Imported Boats:

Imported boats have to meet the same regulations as boats made domestically. So what about the boats coming in that already have HINs. If the boat is from Canada, then the HIN is good in the USA (and vice versa). The USA has a mutual recognition agreement with Canada and is part of the MIC system. They use MICs starting with Q, Z and Y.

Boats from other countries though that have MICs are not accepted. The reason is that they have their own system of assigning mics and use the same ones the USA uses, so a boat coming in from France may have the same MIC as a boat built in the USA. So the Coast Guard requires that companies that import boats have a US agent. This can be anyone. A foreign company doesn't have to open a branch office here or send their own agent here. They just need to contract with someone to represent them. Then the Coast Guard assigns a mic to the agent and all the boats imported by that agent will have that MIC. Sound complicated? It can be because some agents import more than one brand of boat. Plus that a lot of imported boats slip through the cracks in the system and cause confusion.

So if you want to import boats from Canada, you're all set. You don't need a MIC. But if you want to import boats from anywhere else you have to have one.

Also the Coast Guard does not and will not assign a MIC to a foreign builder.

Keeping Track of HINs:

The Coast Guard requires that you keep track of who you sold your boats to. This is so you can recall them if necesary. The easiest way to do that is to keep a list of the HINs and who bought it. It also is an easy way to track how many boats you have sold. If one ever gets stolen and a cop calls you looking for the location of the hidden HIN then you can easily cross reference it to the list of HINs, or if they have found a boat they can tell you the hin and you can tell them who bought it.

Kit boats:

Kit boats are a backyard built boats, but kit boat manufacturers are still subject to the regulations. The law says a "recreational vessel manufacturer" is "a person engaged in the manufacturing construction, assembly or importation of recreational vessels, components, or associated equipment." This means that a kit boat manufacturer is subject to the same rules as any boat manufacturer and must obtain a MIC from the U.S. Coast Guard. They must assign Hull Identification Numbers and supply any required labels. Also they must supply instructions to the builder so that the boat is built in compliance with the regulations

Changing an HIN: FAQs

Who would do such a thing?  Oddly enough, a lot of people do this.  The Federal Regulations say very specifically that you cannot alter an HIN once the boat has left the factory:  Here's the words.

Sec. 181.35 Removal of numbers. No person may remove or alter a number required by this subpart unless authorized by the Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard

So where does it say I can't do it once it's left the factory?  In the original act, now in the US Code, it says that a boat must be in compliance when it is sold offered for sale, or introduced into interstate commerce.  That has been interpreted to mean that as soon as that boat leaves the factory it is in interstate commerce.  From that point the HIN cannot be changed.  Here is the actual wording.

A person may not-- (1) manufacture, construct, assemble, sell or offer for sale, introduce or deliver for introduction into interstate commerce, or import into the United States, a recreational vessel, associated equipment, or component of the vessel or equipment unless-- (A)(i) it conforms with this chapter or a regulation prescribed under this chapter

Q. What if I made a mistake? 

A. You can write, e-mail or phone the Coast Guard, explain the problem and ask for permission to make the change.   They will send you a letter which you should keep in your files, authorizing the change.

When will they not authorize it?  Almost never under any circumstances other than a bonafide mistake in putting the HIN on the boat.  Here are some examples that have arisen.

Q. A dealer has brand new unsold boats sitting in inventory from last year.  They look like this year's models in every respect except the HIN.   Can they change them?

A. NO.

Q. Can they send them back to the factory, have them upgraded to this years models, and the factory change the HIN?


Q. A marine repairer or a builder has a boat that has seen a lot of wear and tear. They strip it down to a bare hull and replace everything. Can they put a new HIN on it?

A. NO. Putting new parts in it doesn't make it a new boat.

There are unscrupulous people who do change HINs.  This is a violation of Federal Regulations and they can be fined. How much? $2200.00 per violation. Each boat is a violation. 

Don't do it.  If you think you have a valid reason call the Coast Guard and ask them. The phone numbers are at the top of this page.

Q. A 2006 boat has left the factory and is sitting on the dealer show room floor. A salesman looking at the HIN realizes that the last two digits in the HIN are 60 rather than 06. Change they change it?

A. Yes, but only after getting permission.

Here is an actual series of e-mails with names removed to protect the parties.

This took place in Nov, 2006

From: a Boat builder

I got your email from a prior time that you answered a USCG regulations question for me, I could not find another point of contact for the USCG regarding recreational boating.  My question for you today is what are the regulations regarding changing hull identification numbers?  I know according to sec. 181.35 numbers are not to be altered w/o consent of the Commandant.  What stipulations must be met to allow changes authorized by the Commandant?  Also, is there any truth to the statement that HIN numbers may be altered prior to the boat leaving the factory?  Any help that you can give me on this would be appreciated.



You're right.  Once assigned, a HIN cannot be changed without specific approval from the Commandant of the Coast Guard.  If you give me the details of the particular situation that you're asking about, I can give you my assessment of the likelihood of receiving approval, and tell you how to proceed.

 If a new (previously unsold, untitled, and not delivered to a dealer or buyer) boat in your factory is determined to have a HIN problem, you can change it; e.g. to correct a format problem.

Boat Builder

So here is the situation that I was referring to yesterday.  I think that I know the answer but I need to cover all the bases.  We have supplied a particular dealer with an over abundance of a certain model of boats.  In the last year they have not been able to sell any of these to consumers.  We have proposed to them that we would bring the boats back to factory and update/upgrade these boats to MY07 standards to help move the product (engines and trailers will stay the same as what is in the boats currently).  The dealership also wants us to change the HIN number to reflect the current model year to help in the process.  We have not agreed to change the HIN number as we interpret the USCG rules different than the dealership.  As I read the USCG regulations, this is not possible but I am obligated to this dealership to get a final ruling from the USCG.  Any clarification that you could give me would be appreciated.  Thanks for your help.  


 You're right, again.   Once a boat leaves the factory we do not generally grant permission to change its HIN.  In no case would I expect to see a model year change request granted.  As one of my former colleagues used to say,  "Even if you replace every part in your 57 Chevy with a brand new part, it's still a 57 Chevy.

 Please feel free to contact me should you have further questions."

Q.  What if I get a junk boat or an old used boat that has a sound hull and completely strip it out and install all new structure, electrical, engines, fuel systems and so on.  Can I put a new HIN on it or get a new home built boat HIN?

A. No.  It's not a new boat.  The HIN put on the boat when it was manufactured goes with it for the rest of it's life. Just because you put all new equipment in it, it's not a new boat. See the last paragraph of the Coast Guard quote above.

Country Codes:  The International Standards Organization (ISO) has accepted the format of the US HIN< except they have added two additional characters as a code for the country of origin. The code for the USA is US.  For Canada it is CA.

So the complete HIN would look like this: 

US - ABC12345L495

You must leave a space, a hyphen and a space between the Country Code and the 12 character HIN. Below is a Canadian HIN.

RE: Coast Guard Registration?

One more!!!!!!!! 


Play the Numbers Game- What's a HIN? Hull ID Number

Did you ever wonder what that strange series of letters and numbers on the transom of your boat are. Well, if you have taken the Nautical Know How course you know they are Hull Identification Numbers (HIN) and that they are required. But, what do they mean? 

All boats manufactured or imported on or after November 1, 1972 must bear a HIN. The HIN is a 12 character serial number that uniquely identifies your boat. The HIN has an important safety purpose. It enables manufacturers to clearly identify for boat owners the boats that are involved in a defect notification and recall campaign. A HIN is not the same as a State registration number, which may be required to be displayed on the bow of your boat. The HIN is a Federal requirement; your boat�s registration number is a State requirement similar to the license plate on your car. The HIN, however, is required to be shown on the State certificate of registration.


*Key to Month of Model Year

Figure 1 - HIN Formats Before August 1, 1984

The boat manufacturer must display two identical hull identification numbers, no less than one-fourth of an inch high, on each boat hull. The primary HIN must be permanently affixed (so that it can be seen from outside the boat) to the starboard side of the transom within two inches of the top of the transom, gunwale, or hull/deck joint, whichever is lowest. On boats without transoms or on boats on which it would be impractical to the transom, the HIN must be affixed to the starboard outboard side of the hull, aft within one foot of the stern and within two inches of the top of hull side, gunwale, or hull/deck joint, whichever is lowest. The starboard outboard side of the hull aft is the preferred HIN location for many manufacturers. On catamarans and pontoon boats the HIN must be affixed on the aft crossbeam within one foot of the starboard hull attachment.

Figure 2 - HIN Format After August 1, 1984

Boats manufactured or imported on or after August 1, 1984, also have a duplicate secondary HIN affixed somewhere on an unexposed location inside the boat or beneath a fitting or item of hardware. The purpose is to help authorities identify your boat if a thief or vandals remove or damage the primary HIN on the transom. It is illegal for anyone (manufacturer, dealer, distributor, or owner) to alter or remove a HIN without the express written authorization of the Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard.

The regulations prescribe the format of the HIN. The first three characters are a MIC (Manufacturer Identification Code) assigned by the Coast Guard to the manufacturer or the person importing the boat; characters four through eight are a serial number assigned by the manufacturer; the last four characters indicate the month and year the boat was built, and the model year. Prior to August 1, 1984, the manufacturer had the option of expressing this in the form of a model year designation. 

The Coast Guard maintains a searchable database of MICs if you want to check yours out click here.

Individuals building boats for their own use and not for the purposes of sale are what are referred to as "backyard boat builders". They must obtain a 12 character HIN from their State boating agency. The Manufacturer Identification Code at the beginning of the HIN for a "home built" boat is an abbreviation for the State followed by a "Z" which indicates that it is a State identification.

RE: Coast Guard Registration?

Also just found out that this Chester Yawl will need a title. The Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries requires a title for ALL watercraft and ALL watercraft must have a HIN in order to acquire a title. An "affidavid" stating that it is homebuilt is also required and the receipts for the materials that it was constructed with.

Since I asked the initial question, I wanted to pass along what I found out about this registration business and the more I found out the more I needed to 'share'. 


Free country? How long ago was that? Must have been back in history before government employees decided that what they do will also require a 'fee'. Apparently the main function of these laws is to generate fees for the state to ingest to "operate". What about state taxes?

Sorry for the rant....just a little bit disgruntled this morning about having to burn numbers into my beautiful Chester Yawl's transom! 

RE: Coast Guard Registration?

Just in case this was missed:

Kit boats:

Kit boats are a backyard built boats, but kit boat manufacturers are still subject to the regulations. The law says a "recreational vessel manufacturer" is "a person engaged in the manufacturing construction, assembly or importation of recreational vessels, components, or associated equipment." This means that a kit boat manufacturer is subject to the same rules as any boat manufacturer and must obtain a MIC from the U.S. Coast Guard. They must assign Hull Identification Numbers and supply any required labels. Also they must supply instructions to the builder so that the boat is built in compliance with the regulations.


Could someone with CLC clarify this please.... 


RE: Coast Guard Registration?

Important thing to remember is the the local Bureau of Motor Vehicles are mostly ignorant on water related issues.  Better to go to a Watercraft Bureau for the best info.  Best is to call the State. 


I haven't been to my local BMV since I was tossed out arguing a point which later saved me several hundred dollars.

RE: Coast Guard Registration?

Don't the understaffed, underfunded Coasties have anything better to do, say like checking all those cargo containers for drugs, nukes and other nasties? Or how about making sure that those cargo ships don't empty their polluted and infested ballast into our rivers? Or verifying the integrity of 3rd world shippers' fuel tanks?

Does it really matter whether a homebuilt kayak has a HIN? Are they even going to ever check? Talk about a tempest in a teacup.



RE: Coast Guard Registration?

Ain't that the truth!!!!


It's all for the fee.... Who cares if this little wooden boat has an 'official' Government Number assigned to it?! If I routinely paddle around on a log, does the log need a title too or the tree that it used to be? Silly....

RE: Coast Guard Registration?


CLC is registered properly with the Coast Guard as a manufacturer.  If your state requires a HIN (most don't), don't freak out, just send an email to 

We argued with the Coast Guard over the need for capacity plates.  After years of skirmishes they won, and we've mailed thousands of capacity plates out to smallcraft builders. (Only Chester Yawl, Passagemaker Dinghy, Eastport Pram, Skerry, and Jimmy Skiff builders need them---kayaks and narrow rowing craft are exempt.)


RE: Coast Guard Registration?

Didn't "freaking out" cease somewhere around the mid eighties? Anyhow, I haven't received this 'capacity' mailout....and Virginia requires this boat to have a title through the Department of IGF - so as you already know - it then requires a HIN from the 'manufacturer' with a MIC.... all requiring another FEE no doubt.

What a bunch of red tape, fees and bother! John, keep the 'capacity' plate since I will not fasten it to the boat anyhow and I totally refuse to carve a freaking number into this boats transom.

Businesses are carrying the ball for the government now with paperwork and compliance with every bureau in the world. Now, if a Democrat gets in as President, businesses will be providing healthcare for its employees too. Free country alright, just don't try to persue a dream.... Those who attempt to do something and attempt to build a business must have a very good sense of humor or very deep pockets - and it is going to get worse!

RE: Coast Guard Registration?

As the Afro-American gentleman said: "don't worry, be happy"  :*) 

RE: Coast Guard Registration?

Does anyone have a line on a supplier for a nice HIN tag, e.g. brass, that we could have made to spec. for our boats?

RE: Coast Guard Registration?

You can etch a brass plack of your own design with ferric chloride available from Radio Shack for etching circuit boards. Marking pens used as the 'resist' allows you to draw your own and then etch it too. Ferric chloride is some nasty stuff though!

I spoke with a Coast Guard officer with the Coast Guard training command in Yorktown, VA.about this 'Registration' process. The impression that I get from this officer is that the Coast Guard is assigned some of these duties to enforce HINs and certifications when all they are actually interested in is personal safty of boaters. Somehow, these duties are written into state laws that imply that the US Coast Guard will oversee and enforce these compliances - which they connot do. Their mission is not as a police force and currently their budget and manpower are neither capable of enforcing laws attempting to govern an individual who wishes to build a small boat in his back yard.

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