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.

Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Office of Law Enforcement (DNR):

The Office of Law Enforcement of the Department of Natural Resources is responsible for regulating the state boating laws of Illinois.


All vessels must have an Illinois certificate of registration and expiration decals to legally operate on public waters in Illinois. Exceptions for the boat registration requirements include:

  • A watercraft which has a valid marine document issued by the U.S. Coast Guard, EXCEPT any documented vessel used upon Illinois  waters for more than 60 days in a calendar year.
  • Vessels registered in another state and operated on Illinois waters for not more than 60 consecutive days.
  • Sailboards
  • Non-powered watercraft owned and operated on water located entirely on land belonging to the owner of the watercraft.*
  • Vessels operated on private lakes
  • Vessels owned by the federal government.
  • Non-profit organization-owned canoes or kayaks*
  • A watercraft from another country other than the United States temporarily using the waters of the State.
  • A vessel used exclusively as a ship's lifeboat.
  • Watercraft competing in a race approved by the Department of Natural Resources.

*Although canoes and kayaks that do not have a mechanical means of propulsion, and vessels that are federally documented do not have to display the registration number, they are still required to display the registration decal.


Boat owners must keep their Certificate of Ownership in a safe place. Note that on the reverse of the Certificate of Ownership there is an application for the transfer of ownership.


The certificate of registration indicates the number that must be displayed on the bow of the vessel.  The certificate must be kept on board and available for inspection by an enforcement officer whenever the boat or PWC is being operated.  
Registration information must be kept current:

  • The boats registration is valid for a period of three (3)years. All certificates expire on June 15 of the third year.
  • If you change address, you must notify the Department of Natural Resources within 15 days of the change.
  • You must report to the local Department of Natural Resources within 15 days if your boat is destroyed, or transfers ownership.
  • If you lose or destroy your certificate of registration or decal you must apply to the Department of Natural Resources for a duplicate.

Successful registration results in a Certificate of Registration, physical boat numbers and a decal.  Registration MUST be kept on board the watercraft at all times.  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;
  • Letters must be separated from the numbers by a space or a hyphen;
  • Read from left to right.

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


Decals must be affixed on both sides of the boat, preferably to the right side of and within three inches of the registration number. Decals include the month and year of expiration. Only the current decal may be displayed. Please note that non-powered canoes and kayaks are not required to display registration numbers, they are only required to display decals.

*Content provided by www.BoaterExam.com