Requirements for Vessel Documentation

Vessel Registration Numbers, Documented Vessel Name & Hailing Port

Vessels may only be identified as either a Federally Documented Vessel or a State Registered Vessel

  • When a vessel becomes federally Documented, the State Registration letters and numbers must be removed.
  • The State Validation Sticker showing proof of paying sales tax may still be displayed on the vessel with the individual state’s regulations.

Requirements for State Registered Vessel

  • Letters and numbers must be read from left to right, and make sure the characters are at least three inches in height
  • Make sure the characters have a contrasting color to the color of the boat. If the background is multicolored or patterned, a block out area of a single color may be required to make it easy to read.
  • The characters must be separated by the width of one letter or number (not including the number one (1) or capital letter (I). We recommend you to use either a blank space or a hyphen. The validation sticker must be placed within six inches of the registration numbers so it can be visible. If you have to place it either in front of or behind the numbers is determined by the state regulation.

Requirements for Placement 

  • The Registration Numbers, Letters, and Sticker must be permanently attached to the forward half of the vessel.
  • Adhering registration numbers and stickers on glass or plastic windows or using placards (signboards) are not considered permanent and can no longer be used unless they are bolted or screwed in place on the hull or superstructure. 
  • Bolted signboards cannot be attached to railings.
  • Inflatable boat manufacturers should be contacted for letters and numbers made of the same material as the boat to make sure they are permanent
  • Validation stickers issued by states can be adhered to either plastic or metal plates and mounted on grab straps with nonreversible wire ties. This must be within 6 inches of the registration number and it has to be visible to law enforcement officers.
  • Make sure to contact your state for acceptability and guidance.

Federally Documented Vessel Requirements


Character Requirements:

  • You can make the characters by the use of any material.
  • The application for documentation requires a name for the vessel made out of letters of the Latin alphabet or Roman or Arabic numerals and it can’t have more than 33 characters. Also, keep in mind that the name cannot be identical to any word or phrase used to ask for any assistance at sea.
  • It cannot contain indecent, obscene, profane language, or anything offensive to any racial or ethnic epithets.
  • Must not be less than four 4 inches in height.
  • It can be on the transom or either side of the vessel.
  • The vessel must have the official number permanently in block-type Arabic numerals, and the height cannot be less than 3 inches, preceded by the letters “NO”
  • The hailing port must include a place and a state, possession or territory of the United States
  • There is no requirement for block letters or any other requirement when it comes to type, font, or color for federally documented vessels.

Placement & Additional Requirements:

  • The hailing port and name of a recreational vessel has to be marked together on some exterior part of the hull and has to be very clear and visible.
  • Many recreational vessels will place the hailing port and vessel name on the stern, and on both sides of the bow, which is a requirement for a commercial vessel. Even though it is not required for a recreational vessel, it is considered acceptable.
  • The above requirement for hailing port and vessel name to be visible may need the duplication of hailing port and name on either side of the hull.
  • When the dinghy is stored on the transom or swim platform and causes the Vessel’s name and hailing port to be obscured from view, there is no Federal requirement to place the name and hailing port anywhere elsewhere. This is an issue of Law Enforcement only. 
  • Decorating the dinghy’s bottom is not considered a permanent marking.
  • The Federal Vessel Documentation is a federal issue that is not open to interpretation or enforcement by the state.