View Full Version : Mandatory (?) boat titling

Captain Pre-Capsize
06-01-2003, 11:08 PM
Just as I was cracking my knuckles and preparing to put the finishing touches on my eleven foot skiff ...

I stopped by the local forest preserve lake to check out the one and only boat ramp in the county and was met by a very sober conservation police officer.

He was quite helpful but clearly stated that all boats on the water needed to be registered and titled to be legal. "What is titled?" I asked. "That would be permanently installing your title number on both sides of the bow." I explained that I was just completing my first wooden sailboat; that it would just be used for pleasure; that to put those garish, shiny block letters and numbers on the bow would... well, they would just ruin the look of a wooden boat.

Detecting a possible skirter of the law I noticed that his hand now rested upon the butt of his nine millimeter handgun. I made the mistake of asking if perhaps the numbers could just be kept on board rather than pasted outside the hull. At this he began fingering the leather strap on the holster. He allowed as how this would make it technically titled but unable to be identified by an officer when on the water.

I mentioned that any officer could easily run down a sailboat with his power boat if an ID were necessary. That is when he eased his handgun from it's holster. "There is the letter of the law and then there is the spirit of the law", he stated. I pleaded that my six months of labor would just be rendered ugly by that series of letters and numbers. Twirling his handgun on his index finger like Roy Rogers he said, "I haven't discharged my firearm since this morning when I spotted two teenagers holding hands holding hands on a stroll - DON'T make me do it again."

OK, perhaps the above was embellished a bit. Well alright, a lot but here is a quote from his official handout:

"The owner shall paint on or attach to both sides of the bow of the boat the registration number, which shall be of block characters at least three inches in height."

What do I do?!!! Certainly there is a way around this. Any suggestions? Help!

Don Z.
06-01-2003, 11:48 PM
To paraphrase Mr. Bumble, as the Law becomes more the ass, I become much more willing to become a scofflaw... Of course, what they hate more than a scofflaw is one who knows their job better than they do... it makes them actually have to work.

The last two years have been quite the eye opener for me, and I am still constantly amazed by those who are supposed to know something, but do not, and then fall back on the idea that their authority is created by their position, vice the fact that they are in their position by virtue of the authority that created it...

I know, I'm being round about, but it's becoming a pet peeve of mine. It comes from too often having to tell someone who should know better "show me the reference". And here I thought it was just a problem where I work.

I HIGHLY recommend finding out what the law actually is in your state. I don't mean "ask someone", I mean find out what the book actually says first. For example:

In Maryland, the fine socialist state which I've adopted as my homeland, pretty much every boat has to have the numbers posted clearly on the bow. I'm trying to remember the exact regulation, which is escaping me right now, but if memory serves, I couldn't find too many ways to get around it. I do know that many do not paste the letters on their bow: the law says "display", not "engrave", and in many cases they are on a piece of plastic lashed to the lifelines. I know, your 11 foot skiff does not have lifelines, so bear with me.

In New York, on the other hand, the law is different. There, the law clearly states that numbers are required by those boats with an engine. An auxilliary sailboat has an engine, and needs the numbers. A Sunfish, or a row boat, or an 11 foot skiff would not (unless you install an outboard, even an electric), which means there is no requirement.

So what I'm getting at is the "Official" you half quoted, may not have a) understood exactly what your boat is, or b) not fully understood the law or c) both of the above or d) none of the above. Best thing is to research, usually with the state DOT. If that comes up stating that you MUST display said registration numbers, creativity always trumps ugly. I think it is in one of Hervey Garrett Smith's books in which he has a chapter titled "Registration Numbers: They too can be beautiful". His recommendation, I believe (and mine to you if the members of the Illinois National Socialist party have passed such a sublimely useless piece of legislation) was to make a board similar to a name board, with the letters clearly incised/carved/gold leafed and mounted in the bow. It would look like a decorative carving, but as long as the font is clear (no old english text), it has met the letter of the law, and violates the spirit if and only if the legislation stipulates that the purpose of the registration numbers is to decrease esthetics to the lowest common denomonator.

Todd Bradshaw
06-02-2003, 12:59 AM

There is no good way around it and state agencies have neither a sense of humor or any respect for a pretty sheer line. Some people have used clamp-on type registration plates or similar, but they technically aren't legal and if the officer is in a bad mood, he can ticket you.

Don't fret about the registration numbers though, because you may well have a bigger problem. Essentially, you need a serial number and possibly a statement of origin before they'll even think about giving you a registration number.

I totally rebuilt my Avon Sportboat when I lived in Illinois. It had been in Florida and was trashed when I got it with the capacity and serial number plates missing. The state issued me a new serial number and I got a cappy. plate from Avon. As I remember, it was basically just another form to fill out and a small fee to pay, but they wouldn't even talk about registration numbers until I got the serial number. I believe the same still goes for home-builts as well.

As far as the stickers and numbers go, I always cut the white background square down to just a little white border around the Illinois-shaped center section of the stickers on all my boats and never had a problem. It looks cleaner than a big white square. I also usually move the numbers back from the end of the bow a little bit. It fights less, visually, with the stem profile and to my eye is a bit less ugly. They're still on the forward part of the boat but aren't right at the end.

06-02-2003, 01:52 AM
Here in good old South Oz, we don't need no stinkin' number for a sail boat :D ... but bung a motor in the thing, even be it a twisted rubber band, and you need numbers and identity plates and all sorts of cute stuff. :mad:

However, at the last Goolwa wooden boat festival, there was an immaculate wooden boat, with it's registration number as required, mounted to its bow in highly polished brass letters. Man, it ADDED to the boat, not detracted from it. :D So fear not the legal tattoo.

At the other end of the scale, my tinny has the generic stick on numbers which now aren't (sticking) and look suitably dreadful. tongue.gif

My Torch, having no more motive power than mother nature and fond thoughts, is unsullied. :D

My f*&^%%# dinghy, which is such a fragile state of repair that even the above mentioned twisted rubber band would be too much, proudly bears a registration number which leads me to suspect that some time in its murky past, it's transom groaned under the weight of one of those smelly outboards. :eek:

Seriously for a moment though, check with your local boating authorities and do it by the book. Not having a properly registered anything can have serious consequences come liability time and if it's your little eleven foot skiff sticking out the side of that millionaire's speed boat ... :eek:


[ 06-02-2003, 02:54 AM: Message edited by: daddles ]

Keith Wilson
06-02-2003, 08:45 AM
If you carved the registration numbers into a board which was then attached "permanently" to the bow planking by a couple of inconspicuous little screws, even your officious friend with the gun probably couldn't object. 3" numbers can look awfully big on an 11' boat, but at least this way you could make them not so ugly.

As far as the serial number goes, just make one up (in the correct format, of course). The clerks at the registration office will neither know nor care.

[ 06-02-2003, 09:46 AM: Message edited by: Keith Wilson ]

06-02-2003, 08:52 AM
Nebraska requires 3" high block letters visible for ? distance if the boat has an engine. I wrestled with the font selection for months. I think I got it wrong but is sure isn't the standard stuff one sees on plastic boats. The other day I saw a boat with nice numbers of the proper height but very narrow strokes, a serif font but I wouldn't know which. I like them better than what I did and may change.

Also saw a picture of a boat recently which and a number plate hung under the bow sprit against the stem with the state numbers on it. It might be a stretch to say they were affixed to the hull, though.

The numbers on the boat are the license numbers. The registration number, like the vehicle number on a car, is a little strip of embosed alum tape, $30, required to be permanently mounted on the transom and in a "secret" location.

I guess this blather is just a way of sympathizing since there is probably no way around the requirement.

Paul Scheuer
06-02-2003, 09:35 AM
By all means, check the statutes. If you find one that supports your cause, carry a xerox copy of the page with you to present to the officer in a friendly manner. (The DNR does have the upper hand, but will cooperate if approached properly).

I believe that Illinois does not require numbers for non-powered craft, but they do require registration. My canoes have only stickers, which do have the numbers printed in small print.
I got titles for the homebuilts as part of the registration process.

Before I put the numbers on my skiff, I made it a point to carry an "applicant's copy" of an executed application form, which "prooved" that I had applied for registration, and was waiting for the state to send the sticker. I did a new form every year for many years, but was never challenged.

See the pic in the "Painter" thread, for my attempt to make a set of numbers that fit the craft.

Edited to add Pic.


[ 06-02-2003, 10:39 AM: Message edited by: Paul Scheuer ]

06-02-2003, 10:16 AM
Along the lines of what Richard suggested, rather than attaching brass numbers & letters, you might find a local sign painter hand-letter the registration number in an appropriate color.

Still haven't decided what I'll do when it's time to register the 12' catboat I'm building--here in Ala. anything with a sail or "mechanical propulsion" requires registration numbers on the bow.

Tidmarsh Major
Tuscaloosa, Ala.

George Roberts
06-02-2003, 11:35 AM
Captain Pre-Capsize ---

For registering:

If you read the statutes carefully, you will find a list of exempt craft. Perhaps the easiest exemption for me is "racing craft". There is no need to be competitive (you can even stop and fish). There are other exceptions.

For Hull Ids:

Several states place a large yellow sheet of very sticky paper on your hull. Ask if you can simply make a copy of (stamp or carve) the assigned Hull Id number on your boat and get it reinspected.

Todd Bradshaw
06-02-2003, 12:42 PM
Racing craft in Illinois have to be actually participating or preparing to participate in a real race and the Department of Conservation must be notified of the race beforehand. If you just claim your boat is a racing boat and try to slide by the regulations for registering, you can be sure that you will get a ticket. I don't know whether it's still current down there, but it used to be that the serial number had to be molded, engraved, or carved into the hull or engraved on a metal plate and riveted permanently to it. Stickers wouldn't do. When I was a dealer, I used to sell Old Town wood/canvas or wood/clear composite-skinned canoes and they would come in with aluminum serial number plates pop-riveted through skin and the cedar planking on the sterns. What a crime!

Ed Neal
06-02-2003, 12:46 PM
I had the same issues you do. If I put the numbers directly on the boat they would have to straddle two planks. An add-on numbers board seemed like it would draw even more attention to the numbers.

I got a piece of 4" X 27" extra thin plexiglass and stuck the numbers and registration decal on it. I then screwed the plexi onto the boat. It looks pretty good and is easily removable. The boat has classic aesthetics and suprisingly the plexi number board merges into the look quite well.

Todd Bradshaw
06-02-2003, 01:22 PM
The other thing that you need to consider is the annoyance factor. If you try to find a loop-hole and get by with some sort of non-permanent-looking system of mounting the numbers, you can expect to get "pulled over" just about any time you're out on a lake with active conservation officers. Even if your system meets all the regulations, if it looks different, they'll stop you to check it out. While they are there, they're also going to check other stuff- PFD's, fire extinguishers (where applicable), they may ask to see the registration card that you are supposed to have aboard and anything else that they think you are supposed to have.

We used to have "dealer plates" for test runs of new sailboats. They were strips of plexiglass with the stickers and numbers on them which you hang off the boom. They were perfectly legal and being used properly by real dealers (us) to demo new, available for purchase, boats. I don't even know how many times we got pulled over and I can't remember ever running into an officer who was aware that the state even had the program available for legitimate dealers.

You can slide a little bit on the font - use something skinny like Helvetica Light and you may even be able to go to almost a script as long as it's readable and not too fancy. They generally won't call you on that. I have had them actually measure the spaces between the stickers and numbers and the numeral heights to be sure they're kosher.

It's quite possible to go a whole season in Illinois without getting pulled over. I think I've even done it once or twice, but anything that looks unusual is a pretty good formula for getting stopped on a weekly basis.

So you work and work and paint and varnish and nearly have fits about having to put a bunch of state registration crap on your beautiful, gloss-varnished mahogany topsides, but in the end and considering all the aspects, the best solution may just be to bite the bullet and do it.

[ 06-02-2003, 02:23 PM: Message edited by: Todd Bradshaw ]

Captain Pre-Capsize
06-02-2003, 01:33 PM
Paul, you have a great point about always having "just applied for my registration" but what if it is the same officer month after month? Worth a try and it appeals to the Libertarian streak in me. Todd thanks for posting the regs so all can see that only kayaks and canoes can get around it in IL. Perhaps this is yet another use for velcro...

Had an amusing experience this morning that I know you all will enjoy. I stopped at the local Currency Exchange to apply for the boat registration. Never been in one before and it struck me as a similar environment as the DMV building where I got my trailer license. Very similar even down to the employees. To whit:

After standing in line and reading a magazine (always be prepared - Boy Scout motto) there was a booming, "NEXT!" Startled, I scooted right to the bullet proof window and was confronted with... well a young lady that appeared to frequent Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. For every meal. To say she was "husky" would be kind, but misleading. Somewhere under there she was propped on a long-suffering stool. Let me draw a word picture for you: imagine a king size bean bag chair. Now, pick it up and set it down on the top of a standard broom handle. There, now you have the picture of what was before me.

I slipped the partially completed DNR paperwork to her for review. She began scanning all the blanks and squinting at those that had been filled in.

"I need the name of the manufacurer", she commented.

I replied, "Well, there is the guy who designed it and I bought the plans from - is that what you need?"

"No, the company who made the boat; and the name of the model" she said.

"Actually, I built the boat" I replied.

At this she looked up and fixed me with a vacant gaze as if to look through me. A few seconds go by. She blinks. Then, clearing her throat and pulling up closer to the glass her glazed eyes looked closer at me and blinked. Very slowly this time. "You built a boat." It came out as a monotone statement.

"Yes, I built it". (I've been waiting six months to say those words but somehow I thought the first person I said it to, if female, might be... more slender and in a swimsuit.)

Her head turned and she fixed that vacant gaze on her monitor. She blinked. Slowly. Her mind could be read by anyone. "Why oh why do I always get these guys." I knew what was next. Time for a committee meeting. Conference time with the boss.

After much back and forth accompanied by an inspection of me that would rival O'hare airport she relented. There was much date stamping of papers, printers began printing and she even heaved herself off the stool once. Careful to avert my eyes at the sight, I waited until the stool groaned ominously thus assuring me she had returned. All the while there were sideward glances of suspicion and doubt cast my way with occasional utterances. But I had my papers.

[ 06-02-2003, 02:38 PM: Message edited by: Captain Pre-Capsize ]

John Bell
06-02-2003, 01:47 PM
Illinois is apparently a real stickler for numbers on one's bow.

I have a 15' rowboat which is exempt from registration here in my home state of Georgia. I can use this boat all I want on my home waters and not be bothered by gun-toting bureaucrats demanding to see my papers. I took it to Illinois once, never thinking about registration requirements. It turns out that Illinios has a statute that says they will recognize other states' registration for short visits, but if the owner's home state does not require registration then the boat must be registered in accordance with Illinois law for it to be lawfully used in Illinois. Which is terribly inconvenient for a weekend trip! Fortunately the one weekend I hauled my rowboat up to Illinois I never saw a conservation officer. I was warned by some of my local companions that would have been very unlikely to get any sympathy from them if I had been caught with my dangerous, unregistered, untaxed boat on Illinois waters.

Georgia is thankfully very easy to deal with on registering home made boats. You send them a form with "home made" checked off and $36 and they send you a set of stickers for the bow (good for three years) and a registration card and new serial number.

My boat has a serifed typeface for the registration numbers which doesn't look too objectionable.

Nicholas Carey
06-02-2003, 02:32 PM
Washington State has the same sorts of requirements:
The registration number must be permanently placed on both sides of the bow in block letters not less than three inches in height in a color distinctly contrasting with the background. The number must read from left to right and include spaces or hyphens the width of the letters (other than "I") between the three segments of the registration number. The decals must be placed on both sides of the bow aft of and directly in line with the registration number as shown.It seems like, that 'round these parts anyway, the wasser-polizei aren't too picky about the 'block letter' portion of the requirements. They seem fairly tolerant of serif typefaces and other...err...liberal interpretations of the rules, so long as the end result is readily readable from a distance.

Carve a nice looking numberboard and fasten that to the bows.

But...I was just perusing the Illinois Compiled Codes (Gawd ain't the 'net great!) and you might be able to weasel out of it

(625 ILCS 45 (http://www.legis.state.il.us/legislation/ilcs/ch625/ch625act45articles/ch625act45artstoc.htm), Article III) is entitled 'ARTICLE III.REGISTRATION OF MOTORBOATS AND SAILBOATS OVER 12 FEET IN LENGTH', but nowhere does it specifically exempt vessels less then 12 feet. The act provides that 'Every watercraft other than sailboards, on waters within the jurisdiction of this State shall be numbered. No person may operate or give permission for the operation of any such watercraft on such waters unless the watercraft is numbered in accordance with this Act...'

You could, conceivable, get the ticket for running without numbers, take it to court and contest it on the grounds that the definition of 'watercraft', given the title of Article III, is constrained by context to motorboats and sailboats 12 feet and over.

It's a long shot, especially since Article III covers canoes and kayaks, but if you won, you might carve yourself out and exemption.

Just remember...I'm no lawyer and this advice is worth exactly what you're paying for it.

Dan Lindberg
06-02-2003, 05:25 PM

Just to confuse the matter and because I didn't see anybody address it.

Here in MN, basically all boats have to be "registered" if they are on the water. If they are canoes and possibly other small UN-motorized craft, only the "small" 3x3 sticker has to be applied. If motorized, then the 3" numbers also. There is an exemption for antiques that allows the use of a temperary board to display the sticker and/or numbers.

If the boat is larger, 16' (or more, don't know) then they prefer/recomend that you also "title" the boat in addition to the "registration". The "title" is a proof of ownership document similer to your car title.

Here there are so many stripper canoes built that they don't batt an eye when you say it's homebuilt, and if I remember corrently, even have a "homebuilt" line under manufacturer to check for it.

Currently, they also don't hold up a registration if there is no hull ID number ie, S/N, or whether it complies with the Coast Guard guidelines or not.


Mike Dawson
06-02-2003, 07:08 PM
I live in Ohio and have been sailing on the local state park lakes (approx. 600-800 acres in size) since the early 1960's. Only once in all that time have I been stopped for a registration or safety check. Indeed to was rare to see park officers check anyone unless they were obviously drunk etc. In the last 5 or so years the police presence has grown rapidly, most notably by young recruits. A friend became paranoid about bringing his 15' sailboat from nearby KY after another KY sailor was threaten with arrest for not having reg numbers on his sailboat (not required by KY). Tension receded only after the officer's supervisor was called to the scene and verified the sailors legality and even then they tried to find something to get on the sailor. The last couple of seasons "officers" were a fixture at the launching ramp and on the water. Usually 2-4 armed "officers" driving a $40k 4wd pickup pulling a $50k boat with a 200hp engine all for a 2 mile x 1/2 mile lake with a 10 hp motor limit, maybe 30 sailboats and a couple dozen fishing boats out on it. Everyone and everything is closely watched and the ticket books are always at hand. What was a relaxing day on the lake has become quite stressful.

Let's face it, law enforcement is BIG BUSINESS and revenue from boaters helps make it profitable. If you don't display the reg #'s then you didn't pay the tax that pays their salary and that might mean the end of a lucrative career.

Todd Bradshaw
06-02-2003, 08:39 PM
Nicholas, I wondered about the 12' thing as well. Back when I lived in Illinois I didn't even have to register the Mini-12 Meter since it was just under 12' long. From what I can tell from stuff on the net, the regulations seem to have been changed. Everything I seem to pull-up now just says "All watercraft must be registered". The exemption used to be pretty obvious when you read the regulations and now seems to be missing. Canoes and kayaks are still only required to have the sticker, not the numerals, but no such luck on dinghies.

Actually, selling and registering the boats in Illinois was pretty easy. What we really used to dread was the incredible pile of B.S. paperwork that had to be filled out for selling the trailer under the boat.

06-02-2003, 09:07 PM
My suggestion(s) are: 1.) Paint the numbers so big that they take up the entire sides of the boat. This way they become not only "graphic art" but also a statment on the absurdity of the law.
2.) Do nothing. If deputy dawg wants to pull you over, fine... If he wants to do it multiple times, tell him that you realy think he ought to call you in advance for an appointment...
I have no tollerance for narrow minded weenies with nothing better to do than try to enforce mundane regulations.

06-03-2003, 11:01 AM
Cap, All the previous suggestions are great. My understanding of skiffs, that they are flat bottomed, open,and undecked aft of the breashook. At the small harbors at Santa Catalina, some of the "skiffs" have their CF numbers in the "forward part of the vessel's hull", but on the inside of the flared hull, much more visible and readable from a larger boat or from the pier. With the skiff on a trailer, a dimentionally challenged cop, on tiptoes, may not go for this, if not looking down from a big black and white SUV. If your skiff is decked over much forward,this, probably won't work, but it's another thought. Now what your local "Water Police" will think of this, Quien Sabe? Good Fishin', cbob