Outdoor recreation can play a vital role in protecting our natural resources. When you register your boat, you do your part in sustaining resources that promote safe and responsible use of our nation's waters. Your registration dollars also help pay for marinas, boat ramps, lake clean up and much more.


In Iowa, the owner of each vessel must display and maintain, in a legible manner and in a prominent spot on the exterior of such vessel, other than the bow, the passenger capacity of the vessel which must conform with the passenger capacity designated on the registration certificate.


The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) is responsible for regulating the state boating laws in Iowa.


All vessels propelled by machinery, including gasoline, diesel and electric motors, and principally operated on Iowa waters must be registered and issued an Iowa Certificate of Number(Registration) by the IDNR. However, there does exist some exceptions to this requirement. The following vessels do NOT need to be registered:

  • Canoes and kayak type vessels, thirteen (13) feet or less in length
  • Inflatable vessels, seven (7) feet or less in length.
  • A ship's lifeboat.
  • Vessels registered in another state operating on Iowa's waters for no more than sixty (60) days in one calendar year.


Boat owners must keep their Certificate of Ownership in a safe place.

NOTE: On the reverse of the Certificate of Ownership there is an application for the transfer of ownership.


This can be obtained by filling out the proper form and forfeiting the proper fee at the County Recorder in the boater's home county. Boat owners must have at least a temporary Certificate of Number before they can operate in state waters. Upon receipt of the Certificate of Number please note the following:

  • It must be signed and carried on board when operating the vessel.
  • It is valid for three years and expires on April 30th of the last calendar year of the registration period.
  • The county recorder must be notified within 10 days if the boater changes residences.

Also note that in the case of vessels seventeen (17) feet in length or greater which are required to be registered the boat owner must first apply for their Certificate of Title. This must be done before they can obtain their Certificate of Number.

Successful registration results in a Certificate of number,physical boat numbers and a decal. Boat numbers must:

  • Be affixed on both sides of the bow;
  • Be block letters, three inches high and contrasting with the color of your boat;
  • Numbers and letters have to be separated by a hyphen or a space;

For example: IA 1234 BX or IA-1234-BX.This is a federal and state requirement.


Lack of the correct documentation will result in delays and fines.

Make sure all boats are properly marked and documented. It's important to keep your papers with the boat - be particularly aware when transferring ownership of your vessel.

*Content provided by www.BoaterExam.com