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 2019. 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 Transferred Vessel


Purchase from a Dealer:

Upon purchase of a new or transferred vessel from a DNR-registered dealer, a "registration applied for" placard will be issued.  This allows the vessel to be used for 35 days while the application is being processed.  A dealer shall not permit the use of a "registration applied for" placard unless an application for a registration certificate has been made.  Placing a completed application for registration and required fees in the mail shall constitute making an application.

Purchase by private sale:

In order to register a vessel purchased in a private sale, you must have a registration, bill of sale and title(if it is titled).  You must be able to provide these documents 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 

Current Boat 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 visibility.
  • 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? You must have the following: 

Where do I send my registration paperwork?
New registration and renewals are sent to the county recorder in the county in which you reside. 
Iowa County Recorders

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 are unable to obtain the proper paperwork (as listed above)?
Visit our vehicle or vessel bonding page for complete instructions and how to contact the DNR to start the bonding process.

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