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Register a boat: Documented vessels

What is a documented vessel?

A documented vessel is a ship with a valid marine document issued by the United States Coast Guard. The federal government uses this document to register ships of 5 net tons or more for use in times of war. Documenting your ship gives you:

  • Firm evidence of nationality for international travel.
  • The right to engage in open trade between the states.
  • Access to a preferred mortgage for financing the vessel.

Registration requirements

Unless specifically exempt, you must meet all Washington state registration requirements when using a documented vessel on Washington waters. This means you must register your boat in Washington:

  • Within 60 days of moving to Washington with the vessel.
  • Within 15 days of buying the vessel, if bought it in another state and you live in Washington.

Exempt vessels

  • Military vessels
  • Public vessels of the United States or the American Red Cross.
  • Vessels owned by a state, county, or city and used for governmental purposes.
  • Vessels with a marine document as a vessel of the United States that are primarily engaged in commerce, including:
    • Tugs
    • Barges
    • Charter vessels (bare vessel charters or timeshare vessels)
  • Vessels issued a United States Customs Service Cruising License or registered in another country.
    • Vessel is exempt from registration only for the first 60 days of use.
    • On or before the 61st day of use on Washington waters, the owner must obtain a vessel visitor permit as required under RCW 88.02.610.
  • A vessel primarily engaged in commerce that is owned by a resident of a country other than the United States.
  • Vessels registered in another state.
    • Vessel is exempt from registration only for the first 60 days of use.
    • On or before the 61st day of use on Washington state waters, the owner must obtain a nonresident vessel permit as required under RCW 88.02.620.
    • If the principal place of use changes to Washington, the vessel must be registered in Washington.
  • Canoes, kayaks, or vessels that don't have a motor or sail (strictly human powered).
  • Vessels with propulsion machinery that:
    • Draw 250 watts or less, and
    • Propel the vessel no faster than 10 miles per hour, and
    • Are not used on waters subject to the jurisdiction of the United States or the high seas beyond the territorial seas for vessels owned in the United States.
  • Vessels owned by a nonresident in Washington exclusively for repairs, alteration, or reconstruction.
    • An employee of the repair facility providing these services must be on board the vessel during any testing.
    • The owner must file an affidavit with the Department of revenue by the 61st day to verify the vessel is being serviced.
    • The affidavit must be filed every 60 days thereafter, as long as the vessel is located upon the waters.
  • Vessels less than 16 feet long with a motor of 10 horsepower or less, if used on non-federal waters only.
  • Tenders 10 HP or less used for direct transportation between a registered vessel and the shore and for no other purpose. The tender must display the number of the registered vessel followed by the suffix "1".
  • Vessels 30 ft. or longer purchased by a nonresident that has purchased a use permit issued under RCW 82.08.700 or 82.12.700.
  • Vessels held for sale by a licensed dealer.
  • Vessels used exclusively for commercial fishing must be listed with Washington State Department of Revenue.

How to register your documented vessel

To register a documented vessel in Washington:

  1. Provide all of the following:
    • A current copy of the U.S. Coast Guard Certificate of Documentation.
    • A completed Vessel Title Application.
    • A check or money order payable to the Department of Licensing to pay the fees.
  2. Submit your registration form, supporting documents, and fees:

Decals and registration

When you've registered your boat, you'll get your registration and a set of decals with the assigned registration number (WN#). You'll also get Vessel Registration Number Instructions showing how to properly display the registration number and decals on your boat

  • If you register by mail, you'll get them in the mail.
  • If you register at an office, the licensing agent will give them to you before you leave.

Titles for documented vessels

We don't issue titles for documented vessels since the federal government provides the ownership documents.

How to remove a vessel from documentation

  1. Ask the Coast Guard for a "Letter of Deletion."
  2. Visit a vehicle/boat licensing office and bring all of the following:
    • A copy of the Letter of Deletion.
    • If ownership changed, a signed, notarized Affidavit of Loss/Release of Interest from all the registered owners reflected in the Coast Guard records.
    • Payment for the $38.75 fee.
      • You may pay with cash, check, or money order. Some debit/credit cards are accepted at most offices.

Related laws and rules

Related information

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