Boat Registration in North Carolina

Congrats on your new boat! Before you cruise along North Carolina’s portion of the ICW, you’ll need to meet North Carolina’s boat registration requirements to prove that you’re the rightful owner of your boat.

Checking off the Tar Heel State’s boat registration list can be a bit choppier than a day on the water, which is why we’ve created this guide to help you navigate the process and get onto the water as soon as possible. Follow this guide for smooth sailing!

Key takeaways:

  • Every motorized vessel needs to be registered
  • Every sailboat more than 14 feet in length needs to be registered
  • Complete the Vessel Registration & Title Application
  • Boat registration certificate is valid for 1 to 3 years
  • Renewal is mailed to you 60 days before expiration

Do I need to register my boat in North Carolina?

All motorized vessels and sailboats 14 feet or more in length that will be operated on North Carolina’s public waterways must be registered and titled. 

This includes US Coast Guard Documented Vessels that will be operated within the state for over 90 consecutive days. Unlike other states, these documented vessels are required to be registered with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission.

 Registration is NOT required for the following:

  1. Sailboats less than 14 feet in length with no mechanical propulsion.
  2. Vessels exclusively powered by hand including canoes, kayaks, rowboats, and inflatables.
  3. Boats operated exclusively on private lakes or ponds.
  4. Boats that are fully registered and valid in another state and will only be operated in NC waters for up to 90 days.
  5. Vessels that are unused and exclusively kept on dry land.

If these exemptions do not apply to you, continue reading to learn how to register your boat in North Carolina.

How do I register my boat for the first time?

Let’s dive into North Carolina’s boat registration process. There are two documents you’re required to submit to register your vessel in North Carolina:

  • NC Vessel Registration & Title Application (VL-1 Form). This application will require the vessel owner’s contact information as well as details of their boat’s make, model, and technical information.
  • The original Manufacturer’s Statement of Origin (MSO) properly assigned and notarized. This may be substituted with a Dealer’s bill of sale. Whichever document you submit though must contain your boat’s 12-digit hull identification number (HIM).

You’re almost there! After assembling these two documents, gather the appropriate fees and submit your application in one of three ways:

  • Visit one of the wildlife service agent locations throughout the state. You can find the office closest to you here.
  • Mail your completed application to 
  • North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission
  •  1709 Mail Service Center
  • Raleigh NC 27699-1709
  • Head to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission’s office at 1751 Varsity Drive, NCSU Centennial Campus, Raleigh, NC 27606-2576 to drop off your application in person.

When I register my boat, do I also need to apply for a certificate of title?

Anyone who becomes an owner of a motorized vessel, a sailboat 14 feet or longer length, or a personal watercraft such as a jet ski, must title their vessel. 

Additionally, any vessel with an active lien is required to be titled. Until the lien is satisfied, the title will be held by the lienholder.

To successfully apply for a certificate of title, you will need to complete the Vessel Title Request Form and return your application to the following address:

  • North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission
  • Transaction Management
  • 1709 Mail Service Center
  • Raleigh NC 27699-1709

The good news is unlike your boat’s registration, a North Carolina Title Certificate is valid for as long as you own your boat.

What type of fees should I expect?

In North Carolina, you have the option of registering your watercraft for 1 year or 3 years. Your fees will depend upon the length of your registration term and size of your vessel:

  1. Boats less than 26ft in length that need a title: 1 year costs $70 or 3 years costs $130
  2. Boats 26 feet or greater in length that need a title: 1 year costs $90 or 3 years costs $130
  3. Boats less than 14 feet in length that don’t need a title: 1 years costs $35 and 3 years costs $95

Additional fees you may face include $15 for a duplicate title, $8 for a duplicate registration, $35 to add a title to a registered vessel, $15 to add a lien to a titled vessel, and $35 to add a title and lien to a registered vessel.

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

Once you have successfully registered your boat, you will receive

a registration card, two decals, and if applicable, a certificate of title. You’ll also be assigned a registration number.

The registration card must remain aboard the boat for which it was issued whenever the vessel is on the water. We suggest either laminating it or putting it in a waterproof sleeve and storing it in a compartment near the steering wheel.

You’ll need to display your assigned registration number on each side of the front half of your boat. While you can paint these numbers on, we suggest opting instead for vinyl stickers from places like BoatUS or WestMarine.

These numbers and letters need to be at least 3 inches in height, read left to right, and in a color that contrasts with your boat's hull color. In North Carolina, every registration number starts with NC, followed by four numbers and two capital letters. Your number will need to have either hyphens or spaces between the letters and numerals. Ex: NC 1234 AB or NC-1234-AB.

Finally, your registration decals should be placed within six inches of your registration number on both sides of your boat. It should always appear on the right side of the number sequence.

How do I renew my boat registration?

When you registered your boat, you had the option of choosing a 1- or 3-year registration. No matter which you chose, you will receive a Renewal Notification within 60 days of your registration’s expiration date.

Once you get your notification, you can renew your registration one of three ways:

Through an online form. You may also pay your renewal registration fees through this secure link.
Over the phone at 1-800-628-3773.

Mail your renewal notice or a completed Vessel Renewal-Duplicate Registration Request form to: 
  • North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission Transaction Management
  • 1709 Mail Service Center Raleigh
  • NC 27699-1709.

When you renew your boat’s registration, you will once again be able to choose between a 1- or 3-year registration. Your renewal fees will depend upon your choice, as well as your vessel’s length.

To renew a dealer registration, you will need to pay a $53 fee for a 1-year registration and $153 for a 3-year registration.

Your registration number will not change, so there’s no need to update the numbers affixed to your boat. However, you will receive new registration decals and those will need to replace the expired ones that are affixed to your boat. To do so, simply remove the expired decals and secure your new sticker in its place.

Do I have to register my boat trailer in North Carolina?

You’ll need to register your boat trailer with the North Carolina Motor Vehicle Division. You can apply for your trailer registration certificate in person at the closest North Carolina DMV.

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

Now that your boat is registered with North Carolina’s Wildlife Resources Commission, you are ready to launch your vessel. We recommend that the first thing you do is explore all the waterways that North Carolina has to offer. There’s plenty to see from Southport, NC at the bottom all the way up to Coinjock, NC at the top.

And when you need to come back to shore, dock at a marina in North Carolina. Marinas have incredible amenities and can host you for just one night or an entire season. Here’s a list of 28 North Carolina Marinas that have been used and reviewed by boaters just like you.

Additional Resources