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What you should know before you operate your boat

You may operate your boat when you receive your certificate of registration and have current decals. Any temporary operating receipt you received at time of application is valid for only 60 days.

Requirements to operate on Wisconsin Waters

Wisconsin state law states that no person may operate, and no owner may give permission for the operation of, any boat on the waters of this state unless the boat is covered by a certificate of number, a registration certificate, registration expiration decals, and if the vessel is a motorized boat or sail boat 16 feet or greater, a Wisconsin issued certificate of title or a Federal Coast Guard Certificate of Documentation.

In order to operate you must have the assigned registration number and expiration decals displayed on the side of the boat. In addition, the certificate of number must be carried onboard and available for inspection at all times. In Wisconsin, the certificate of number and the certificate of registration are combined into the same waterproof card. Boat owners may also operate on the authority of a 60-day temporary operating receipt if boat was recently registered and owner has not received registration materials in the mail.

Exceptions to the requirement to register a boat include:

  • Sailboats 12 feet in length or less and not equipped with a motor, and sailboards.
  • Manually propelled boats that are not equipped with a motor or sail.
  • Boats registered in another state and using Wisconsin waters for less than 60 consecutive days.

Wisconsin Registration Certificate


Wisconsin registration expiration decals


Displaying assigned registration number

The registration number (found on the certificate of number card) must be displayed on the boat as follows:

  • Numbers must be placed on each side of the forward half of the boat.
  • Number must be read from left to right.
  • Number must be at least 3” high BLOCK letters.
  • Number must contrast with the color of the boat and be clearly visible and legible.
  • Letters must be separated from the numbers by a space at least two inches wide.
  • Two-toned and camouflage numbers are not legal and should not be used.

See exemptions for US Coast Guard documented boats

Display of expiration decals


Check equipment requirements and rules

Read the boating regulations for equipment requirements and other rules and regulations.

Boater safety requirements

Wisconsin boating safety certification or out of state equivalent certification is required for operators born on or after January 1, 1989. Safety certification is required to operate at age 16. Read the boating regulations for full details on age and operating restrictions.