Boat Registration in Illinois

Illinois may be known as the Prairie State, but that doesn’t mean it’s all hills and grass. It’s home to 11,000 inland lakes, 900 miles of rivers, and has a sizable share of Lake Michigan’s shoreline to boot. Not bad for a midwestern state with over 27 million acres of farmland.

Whether you dream of cruising the Chicago River, fishing on a lake, or kicking back on Lake Michigan, there are a few things you need to do to make your boating dreams a reality.

If Illinois water is calling your name and you have a boat, you need to get your watercraft registered and titled. Registering a boat in Illinois is simpler than you might think. Follow this guide to register a new or used watercraft in Illinois.

Key takeaways:

  • Any motor- or sail-powered boat needs to be registered
  • Vessels 22 feet or more in length need to be titled
  • All boat registrations expire on September 30th three years after they are issued

Do all boats need to be registered in Illinois?

If your boat is powered by a motor or sail and you plan to operate it on public water in Illinois, it needs to be registered.

Recreational watercraft that don’t require registration include kayaks, canoes, rafts, paddle boards, and kiteboards. Other types of watercraft exempt from registration requirements include:

  • Vessels used exclusively as lifeboats
  • Vessels used exclusively for racing
  • Government-owned and operated watercraft

You also don’t need an Illinois registration if you are going to use your boat primarily in another state. You may legally operate a boat in Illinois waters for up to 60 days as long as you have an out-of-state registration. Boats registered with the U.S. Coast Guard are also permitted to use Illinois water temporarily.

How does first-time boat registration work?

To register a new boat in the state of Illinois, you need to complete a Watercraft Registration/Title Application (Form IL 422-0321)

Along with this, you need:

  • Proof of purchase. Either the Manufacturer’s Statement of Origin or the previous owner’s title and registration.
  • Payment for registration fees
  • Tax forms (if required)
  • Bill of sale or purchase agreement (if required)

Tax returns are required when registering:

  • New Class 1 (jet skis/PWCs), 2, 3, or 4 watercraft purchased in Illinois
  • Any new boat purchased outside of Illinois
  • A used boat with an out-of-state registration

Use the ST-556 tax form for new boats purchased in Illinois from a dealer and the RUT-25 tax form for new boats purchased in Illinois from a retailer/in another state OR used boats registered out-of-state.

Bills of sale or purchase agreements are required when registering boats purchased outside of Illinois and boats purchased in Illinois from a retailer.

Once you have gathered everything you need, mail it to:

  • Watercraft
  • Department of Natural Resources
  • P.O. Box 19226
  • Springfield, IL 62794

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources only accepts new watercraft registration applications in the mail. You can not apply for registration in person or online.

You have 15 days to apply to get your boat registered and titled after you purchase it. Applications for registration can take up to twelve weeks to process after payment has been received. The good news is that this won’t delay your boating timeline. You can temporarily operate your watercraft for a period of 60 days from the date of application. Just be sure to carry a copy of your application on board with you during this period. You will receive a temporary registration after applying.

Is proof of title necessary for registration?

In Illinois, You need a title for boats 22 feet or more in length. Tilting is optional for all boats under 22 feet. Apply for a certificate of title when you apply for registration using the same form.

If your boat is titled in someone else’s name in the state of Illinois, mark the “Transfer Renewal” box in your application and submit the certificate of title. If your boat is titled in a different state, submit the certificate of title and registration with your application.

Duplicate titles are available for $7. There is a $7 fee for title search.

What type of fees should I expect?

Boats are separated into four classes by length and each class has its own registration/title fee:

  • Class 1: boats measuring less than 16 feet = $28
  • Class 2: boats measuring between 16 and 26 feet = $60
  • Class 3: boats measuring between 26 and 40 feet = $160
  • Class 4: boats measuring more than 40 feet = $210
  • These classes are for motor- or sail-powered watercraft only.

Depending on how you register, there might be additional processing fees as well. For instance, a duplicate title will cost you $7.

What do I do with the registration certificate, number, decal?

Once your registration has been approved, you must have your registration certificate, certificate of number, and certificate of title with you when operating your boat. Follow these guidelines for displaying your numbers and decals:

  • Affix 3-inch block type registration numbers to the bow of your boat on both sides. You can either paint these numbers on or opt for vinyl stickers. 
  • Ensure that the color of your numbers contrasts with the color of your boat.
  • Affix the expiration decals after each registration number. Leave 3 inches between your registration number and the decal stickers. 

If you lose one of your decals, a Duplicate decal can be purchased for $5.

How do I renew my boat registration?

All boat registrations expire on September 30th three years after they are issued.

The renewal fees are dependent on your boat’s class: 

  • Class 1: boats measuring less than 16 feet = $18
  • Class 2: boats measuring between 16 and 26 feet = $50
  • Class 3: boats measuring between 26 and 40 feet = $150
  • Class 4: boats measuring more than 40 feet = $200

To renew registration, you will need your registration number, hull identification number, and payment for the fee. You can renew registration online or over the phone by calling 866-867-3542. Keep in mind, that there is an additional processing fee of $2.50 for online renewals and $4 for phone renewals.

Do I have to register my boat trailer in Illinois?

If you’re going to use a boat trailer in Illinois, it needs to be registered as a recreational trailer. 

Here are the prices for registering and titling a trailer:

  • Trailers weighing less than 3,000 pounds = $162 - $168
  • Trailers weighing between 3,001 and 8,000 pounds = $165 - $180
  • Trailers weighing between 8,001 and 10,000 pounds = $167 -$188 
  • Trailers weighing more than 10,001 pounds = between $170 -$200

The price for trailer registration varies depending on when you apply with prices highest during peak boating season.

You can register your boat trailer at a Department of Motor Vehicles branch location or online.

What do I do once my boat is ready for open waters?

With your boat registered and titled, it’s time to do what you’ve probably been looking forward to: take it out! Deciding where to go is the best part.

Eventually, though, you are going to need to come back to shore and tie up. When you do, use Dockwa, the marina reservation app. Through Dockwa, you can conveniently reserve short-term or seasonal slips, find marinas with availability, and see pricing. Here are 27 Illinois marinas listed on Dockwa.