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.

Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF):  

The DGIF is responsible for regulating the state boating laws in Virginia.


All boats propelled by machinery, including gasoline, diesel and electric motors regardless of whether or not the machinery is the principal source of propulsion, and principally operated on Virginia waters must be registered and issued a Virginia Certificate of Number (Registration) by the DGIF.

Exemptions for boat registration include:

  • Vessels currently registered in another state and not kept in Virginia for more than 90 consecutive days
  • Canoes and other manually or sail powered vessels (excludes sail powered vessels less than 18 feet in length even without propulsion)
  • Vessels used only on private waters

In addition, all motorized vessels requiring registration must be issued a Certificate of Title before they can legally be operated on Virginia's waterways. This also applies to any sail-powered vessel in excess of 18 feet in length even if they do not have a motor.

Watercraft documented by the United States Coast Guard cannot be titled, however the owner of a documented watercraft may apply to DGIF for a state registration decal.

If a boat has been previously registered in Virginia, the new owner may operate the vessel for thirty days from the date of purchase with a dated bill of sale and the valid Certificate of Number of the former owner.

Title, registration, and license plates for your watercraft trailer are purchased through the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).


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

NoteOn the reverse of the Certificate of Ownership there is an application for the transfer of ownership.


Once in receipt of the application and required fees, the DGIF will issue a title, which is proof of ownership, and a Virginia Certificate of Number. This pocket-sized Certificate of Number is your registration card. Upon receipt of the Certificate of Number please note the following:

  • It must be signed and carried onboard when operating the vessel.
  • It is valid for three years and must be renewed at the end of the third year.

The number issued to a boat appears on the certificate and is to be displayed on each side of the forward half of the vessel.

Decals are furnished with each Certificate of Number and indicate the month and year of expiration and the registration number assigned to your vessel. The decal must be displayed within 6 inches of the registration number on the boat for which they were issued. Only the current decal may be visible.

Successful registration results in a certificate of number, physical boat numbers and a decal. Your registration MUST be kept on board the vessel at all times. (It is advisable to keep the registration in a dry-bag on board.) Boat numbers must:

  • Be affixed on both sides of the bow (forward half of the vessel above the waterline);
  • 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 (the separation must be greater than the width of the letter I or the number 1).

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

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

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

*Content provided by www.BoaterExam.com