Boat Registration in Wisconsin

Home to 15,000 lakes, Wisconsin is one of the best states in the nation for boating. With all these options, choosing where to take your new boat will be a challenge. While Lake Superior and Lake Michigan, two of the largest lakes in the US, might seem like the obvious choices, don’t overlook your inland options. 

Lake Winnebago, Lake Geneva, and Lake Monona are so scenic and charming that many Wisconsinites actually prefer these waters. 

But before you decide which Wisconsin lake is right for you, you should first register your boat with the Badger State. Lucky for you, registration will be a piece of cake thanks to this comprehensive guide on registering your boat in Wisconsin.

Key takeaways:

  • All motorized boats, including boats with electric trolling motors, need to be registered
  • Sailboats measuring greater than 12 feet in length need to be registered
  • Most boats required to be registered in Wisconsin are also required to be titled

Do I need to register my boat in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin requires registration for most boats, specifically: 

  • All motorized boats, including boats with electric trolling motors
  • Sailboats measuring greater than 12 feet in length

These requirements are for boats operated on Wisconsin waters. If your boat is registered in another state, you can use it in Wisconsin for up to 60 consecutive days without obtaining a Wisconsin registration. 

Non-motorized boats, sailboats 12 feet or less in length, lifeboats, non-recreational public or military boats, and boats owned by the state of Wisconsin are not required to be registered. However, you are still allowed to voluntarily register these types of exempted boats. Some boaters opt to do so because the funds help the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) conserve and protect Wisconsin’s waters.

How do I register my boat for the first time?

You can register a boat for the first time in Wisconsin electronically or by mail. The state requires all boat owners to register within 10 days of purchasing their boat.

The first thing you’ll need to do is fill out the Boat Registration and Titling Application

Then, you’ll need to gather the documents that prove you’re the boat’s rightful owner. Here are the different documents you will need to present depending on how you purchased your boat:

  • New boats should provide the Manufacturer’s Statement or Certificate of Origin
  • Used boats should provide the original certificate of title signed by all previous owners and if applicable, a signed lien release form if there is an outstanding lien on the title.
  • Used boats purchased from out-of-state should provide either the original certificate of title or registration

Note: A bill of sale is not required for registration, but you may need one when paying taxes.

To register by mail, send the completed boat registration and titling application, The document that shows your proof of purchase, and payment to: 

  • DNR Processing Center
  • PO BOX 78701 
  • Milwaukee, WI 53278-0701

To register online, go to and fill out the electronic application. Note that if you go the online route, you will still need to submit your proof of purchase and transfer of ownership documents by mail. After submitting the electronic application, you will be granted a 60-day temporary operating receipt that allows you to legally start operating your boat. The rest of your registration materials must be mailed to Wisconsin’s DNR office within this window for your permanent application to be processed.

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

Most of the boats required to be registered in Wisconsin are also required to have a certificate of title. However, there are a few exceptions. 

The following types of boats are exempt from titling requirements:

  • Boats measuring less than 16 feet
  • Boats registered voluntarily
  • Boats purchased in Wisconsin by non-residents who intend to obtain registration and operate in another state

You can apply for your certificate of title within the same form used to register your boat. The title fee will only cost you $5. You will receive a certificate of title after your registration application and supporting documents have been processed successfully.

What type of fees should I expect?

Fees are due at the time of registration. These registration fees are determined by the length and type of your boat. These fees cover your boat registration for 3 years.

Motorized Boats 

  • Under 16ft: $22
  • Between 16ft and <26ft: $32
  • Between 26ft and <40ft: $60
  • 40ft or more: $100

Non-motorized Sailboats

  • Between 12ft and <16ft: $17
  • 16ft or more: $17

U.S. Coast Guard Documented Boats

  • 16 to 26 feet: $32
  • 26 to 40 feet: $60
  • 40 or more feet: $100

If you choose to voluntarily register a boat that is not actually required to be, you should submit a payment of $11.

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

After you have successfully registered your boat with Wisconsin DNR, you will receive your registration certificate, registration expiration decals, and if applicable, your certificate of title in the mail. You will also be assigned a registration number that you will have to affix to your boat. 

Both certificates should be with you at all times while operating your boat. We suggest putting them in a waterproof sleeve and then storing them in a compartment somewhere near your helm. 

You will then need to display your registration number on both sides of your boat's bow. While you can paint these numbers on, we suggest opting instead for vinyl stickers from places like BoatUS or WestMarine. Your numbers should be at least 3 inches tall in block-type font and in a color that contrasts with the color of your boat. 

Finally, you will need to affix the registration expiration decal stickers three inches next to the registration numbers. The stickers should be placed on the side closest to the stern. Never on the side closest to the bow.

How do I renew my boat registration?

All Wisconsin boat registrations begin on April 1st in the year it was issued and expire on March 31st of the 3rd year after issuance. Before your boat registration expires, you should either renew it online, in-person wherever a DNR license is sold, or by mail. We recommend renewing online because it is by far the quickest.

The fees are the same for renewal as they are for initial registration.

Do I have to register my boat trailer in Wisconsin?

In Wisconsin, boat trailers weighing greater than 3,000 pounds (trailer + boat) must be registered and titled. This applies to personal trailers that have been purchased or made. If a trailer is rented out, registration is required regardless of gross weight.

Trailers weighing less than 3,000 do not legally require registration. However, if you plan to take a trailer outside of Wisconsin, getting it registered and titled is recommended in order to comply with other state laws.

Submit Form MV1 to apply for a title and license plate for a boat trailer. See a complete table of fees for trailers.

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

Once you receive your official certificate of registration and title, your boat is ready for open waters!

And if you’re looking for a place to store your boat, use Dockwa to find the right Wisconsin Marina for you. All of these 19 marinas have been used and reviewed by boaters just like you.

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