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General information on boat registration and titling

Registration required

What is required to be registered in Wisconsin:

  • All motorized vessels and boats used on waters of the state; including electric trolling motors.
  • Sailboats greater than 12 feet in length used on waters of the state.

Registration not required

What is not required to be registered in Wisconsin:

  • Nonmotorized boats (non-sailboats).
  • Nonmotorized sailboats 12 feet in length or less.
  • Boats registered in another state and using Wisconsin waters for less than 60 consecutive days.
  • Boats operated under the authority of a temporary operating receipt, no greater than 60 days from the date of application and payment. The temporary operating receipt must be carried onboard.
  • Boats from a country other than the United States temporarily using the waters of the state.
  • A military or public boat of the United States, except recreational-type public vessels.
  • A boat whose owner is a state or subdivision of a state, which is used principally for governmental purposes, and which is clearly identifiable.
  • A ships lifeboat.
  • Boats present in this state, for a period of not to exceed 10 days, for the express purpose of competing in a race conducted under a permit from a municipality or an authorized agency of the U.S. government.

“Waters of this state" means any waters within the territorial limits of this state, including the Wisconsin portion of boundary waters.

“Boat" or “vessel" means every description of watercraft (i.e. motorboat, sailboat, jet ski, pontoon, canoe, kayak etc.) used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water, except a seaplane on the water and a fishing raft.

Voluntary registration

The Wisconsin DNR encourages owners of boats who are not required to register their boats to voluntarily register their boats. Voluntary registration funds are used for the development or enhancement of programs or service which provide benefits relating directly to nonmotorized boating activities.

Wisconsin boat registration term

The Wisconsin boat registration period runs for 3 years. The registration period begins on April 1 of the year in which the registration is issued or renewed and expires on March 31 of the 3rd year after issuance or renewal.

What boats are titled in Wisconsin

Effective February 1, 1989, the owner of a boat, 16 feet in length or greater, in Wisconsin, whether or not the boat is operated on the waters of this state, is required to hold a certificate of title.

What boats are not titled in Wisconsin

Boats exempt from Wisconsin titling requirements include:

  • Boats under 16 feet.
  • Boats voluntarily registered.
  • Boats purchased by nonresidents who intend to register the boat in another state.
  • Boats exempt from registration requirements.

Liens and security interests

If a titled boat is financed, the unsatisfied lien will be indicated on the certificate of title. Before the certificate of title can be transferred into a new owner, the seller must satisfy all outstanding liens and provide the buyer with a lien release from the lender. Lien release documents must identify the lien holder listed on the title, the boat owner on account, and the boat by hull ID number or Wisconsin registration number. A lien release can include a signature from the lien holder in the lien release section of the certificate of title, a signed letter (on company letterhead) from the lien holder or the signed lien notice provided by the Department.

Wisconsin registration and titling documents

Upon receipt of boat registration and titling application, required fees, and information related to sales tax paid, the department will issue:

  • A certificate of registration. The Registration Certificate, also commonly referred to as the “certificate of number card” or “registration card,” is a small pocket-sized card made of durable water-resistant material and must be carried by the person operating the boat and available for inspection.
  • Two expiration decals. The registration expiration decals are commonly also referred to as “registration certification decals”. Wisconsin DNR Registration Decals are color coded to match the expiration year of the registration. The decals must be attached to the boat prior to operation, see What you should know before you operate your boat for more information. 
  • Wisconsin Certificate of title. The Certificate of Title is the legal document indicating boat ownership and is a full 8 ½ X 11-inch sized sheet of paper. The certificate of title is required to transfer ownership.
  • A copy of the state boating regulations.