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Boating Registration

Motor Boat

Boat Registration

Boat owners must register their vessel with the Department of Natural Resources. Vessels registered in Iowa, must display their current registration decals and the Iowa issued registration numbers provided by the County Recorder. In addition,the operator must carry the registration certificate on board. Registrations must be renewed every three years and are nontransferable. These can be acquired starting January 1st of the new registration cycle and are valid for three years.

All Iowa registrations expire April 30th of the renewal year. An example, the current registration expires in April of 2016. A $5.00 penalty is added to the renewal cost for an expired Iowa registration. There is no grace period.

Residents can obtain registrations and renewals from a County Recorder Office. Nonresidents can obtain registration from their home state or an Iowa registration from the County Recorder's in the County of primary use.

Registration of a New or Transfered Machine

Purchase from a Dealer:

Dealers are required to collect the registration and title fees for a vessel that is required to be registered. The dealer will issue to the purchaser a placard bearing the words "registration applied for" and space for the purchase date. The placard entitles the purchaser to operate the vessel for not more than 35 days immediately following the purchase while the registration is being processed.

Purchase by private sale:

In order to register a vessel purchased in a private sale you must have a current registration and bill of sale to provide to the county recorder for transfer. If the seller doesn't provide you with either of these things, you cannot register the vessel without going through the bonding process (this is outlined below). Otherwise, the purchaser of a vessel with a valid registration from the selling party may operate it for 30 days immediately following the purchase without having completed a transfer of registration.

Registration fees 

Additional registration information

Registration is not required for the following vessels:

  • Inflatable vessels that are 7 feet or less in length.
  • Canoes and kayaks that are 13 feet or less in length and have no motor or sail
  • Vessels properly registered in another state and using Iowa waters for 60 days or less.

Registration Decals Iowa registration numbers display:

  • The registration number must be painted, applied as a decal, or otherwise affixed to the forward half of each side of the vessel, placed for maximum visability.
  • No other numbers may be displayed on either side of the bow.
  • Number must read from left to right on both sides of the vessel.
  • Number color must contrast with the background.
  • Letters must be separated from the numbers by a space or hyphen: IA 3717 ZW or IA-3717-ZW
  • Decals must be affixed on each side of the vessel, toward the stern of registration number, 4 inches from and in line with the number.


Ready to register your vessel?

Application for Boats, Snowmobiles, ATVs and ORVs (Form #542-8067) 

Needing to store your vessel somewhere for the winter or for the season?

Boating: Affidavit to Store Registered Vessel (Form #542-8048)

Have a vessel that you don't have a registration for and you can't get a hold of the seller to get it?

Instructions for Bonding Boats, Snowmobile, ATVs and ORVs

Have a vessel that has never been registered in the state of Iowa or any other state?

Affidavit for Unregistered or Untitled (Form #542-8074)

Do you want to be a boat dealer in Iowa?

Boat Dealer or Manufacturer Special Certificates Application (Form #542-0488)
Boat Dealer or Manufacturer Special Certificates Application (Form #542-0488)

List of Iowa Boat Dealers


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