Boat types

Are Boats Considered Motor Vehicles? (Laws Per State)

In Boating by Christopher Schopf

When the average person thinks about a motor vehicle, they usually think of cars, SUVs, and trucks.  But other vehicles are also considered to be motor vehicles.

Are boats considered motor vehicles?
According to state law, boats can be considered motor vehicles.  The defining feature is whether or not they have a motor on them. However, the laws differ from state to state so be sure to check the rules in your state.

Let’s dig into the details!

Boat types

Even a sailboat will usually be considered to be a motor vehicle if it has an auxiliary motor.  Because of this, the boat will need to be registered with the state.  Just keep in mind that every state is different, so one state might consider your boat a motor vehicle while others may not.

In this post, we’ll run through all 50 states so you can determine whether or not your state considers your boat a motor vehicle. 

If it does, you’ll most likely need to get it registered.

Which Boats Are Considered Motor Vehicles by State Law

State Regulation
Alabama Any boat with a motor that is operated on public waters must have a Certificate of Number and validation decals.
Alaska All boats must be registered in Alaska.  However, the fee for non-powered boats is $14.00 less than the fee for powered boats.
Arizona Gas and electric powered boats must be registered.  However, motorized lifeboats may be exempt from registration.
Arkansas Boats with motors or sails must be registered before being used on public waters.
California Any boat with a motor or any boat over 8 feet in length with a sail must be registered.
Colorado Any boat with a motor or sail operating on public waters must be registered.
Connecticut Boats without motors that are less than 19 and a half feet do not have to be registered.
Delaware All motorboats must be registered.
Florida Boats without motors that are less than 16 feet do not have to be titled.
Georgia All mechanically powered boats, as well as sailboats over 12 feet, must be registered.
Hawaii Manually propelled boats, as well as sailboats under 8 feet, do not have to be registered.
Idaho All motorized boats must be registered and titled.  Sailboats without motors are exempt.
Illinois Non-powered watercraft do not need to be titled.
Indiana Non-powered watercraft do not need to be registered.  However, non-motorized sailboats do need valid watercraft decals.  Lifeboats are exempt.
Iowa Inflatable boats under 7 feet without motors and canoes and kayaks under 13 feet without motors or sails are exempt from registration.
Kansas All boats with motors or sails must be registered.
Kentucky Mechanically powered vessels must be registered with the state.
Louisiana All boats with motors must be registered.
Maine All motorboats other than a ship’s lifeboat must be registered.
Maryland Any boat with a mechanical propulsion system must be registered with the state.
Massachusetts Any boat with a motor must be registered with the state.
Michigan Boats with inboard engines and boats over 20 feet long must have a title.  All sailboats and motorboats must be registered.  Hand powered boats over 16 feet in length must be registered as well.
Minnesota Non-motorized boats under 10 feet in length as well as duck boats during duck season and rice boats during harvest season do not need to be registered.
Mississippi Sailboats and any other human-powered boat without an auxiliary motor do not need to be registered.
Missouri All boats with motors and any sailboats over 12 feet long need to be registered.
Montana Sailboats over 12 feet long and all motorboats need to be registered.
Nebraska All motorboats must be registered with the state.
Nevada Lifeboats and non-motorized boats do not need to be registered with the state.
New Hampshire Boats with motors and sailboats that are 12 foot long or longer need to be registered.
New Jersey Even human-powered boats over 12 feet long must be registered.  The only exemptions are lifeboats, canoes, kayaks, dinghies, and inflatable boats.
New Mexico All motorboats must be registered but boats less than 10 feet in length to not have to be titled.
New York Boats without a motor do not need to be registered.  Lifeboats with or without a motor do not need to be registered.
North Carolina Unused boats kept on dry land to not need to be registered.  Boats used on private ponds or as lifeboats or dinghies do not need to be registered.  Additionally, rowboats, canoes, kayaks, and human-powered rafts do not need to be registered.
North Dakota Sailboats without a motor as well as human-powered boats do not need to be registered.
Ohio All boats must be registered in Ohio.
Oklahoma Canoes and paddleboats do not need to be registered.  Paddleboats must be less than 8 feet in length.
Oregon All motorized boats have to be registered.  Additionally, human-powered boats over 10 feet in length will need to have an AIS prevention permit.
Pennsylvania Boats without motors do not need to be registered.  However, if you use them at state parks they will need to be registered.
Rhode Island Non-motorized boats, as well as boats under 14 feet, long do not have to be titled.  All boats must be registered, however.
South Carolina All motorized boats, as well as sailboats, need to be titled and registered.  This rule excludes human-powered vessels.
South Dakota All motor boats, as well as any boat over 12 feet in length, must register their boat with the state.  This does not include canoes, kayaks, and inflatable boats.
Tennessee All mechanically powered boats and all sailboats must be registered with the state.
Texas Sailboats over 14 feet in length, as well as all motorboats, must be registered in Texas.
Utah All sailboats and motorboats must be registered.
Vermont Human propelled boats, as well as sailboats without motors, do not need to be registered.
Virginia Boats used on private waters, human-powered boats, and sailboats do not need to be registered.
Washington Boats under 16 feet long with motors with less than 10hp do not need to be registered.  Human-powered boats do not need to be titled.
West Virginia All boats with any type of motor must be registered.  Registration fees vary depending on the length of your boat.
Wisconsin Motorized boats and sailboats longer than 12 feet in length must be registered.
Wyoming Sailboats without motors as well as human-powered boats do not need to be registered.

 

Other Things to Keep in Mind

Just because your state does not require registration for your particular boat, it doesn’t mean that your boat trailer does not.  In every state, you will need some sort of registration for your trailer.  You’ll also need to get a set of plates for the trailer as well.

Additionally, some states do not require you to register all boats, but their state parks do.  For example, in my home state of Pennsylvania, I do not have to register my kayak.

However, I do have to register it if I want to take it into Pennsylvania state parks.

Another thought to keep in mind is that not all states will require you to register your boat but they will require you to title it.  This can sometimes be a good thing because you’ll be able to use your title as proof of ownership.

You may need this one day if your boat is stolen or destroyed.

Rules and Regulations

It should also be noted that just because your boat does not technically qualify as a motor vehicle, it doesn’t mean that boating rules do not apply to you.

If it is illegal to drink alcohol while driving a motorboat it is probably illegal for you to drink alcohol while using your human-powered boat or sailboat.

Out of State Boating

Most states will give you a particular amount of time in their state before you have to register your boat.  However, this may only apply if your state has its own registration system for your particular boat.

For example, if your kayak must be registered in one state, another state that requires registration may accept your home state’s registration.

On the other hand, if your state does not require registration and the state you’re planning to boat in does require it, you may have to get it registered anyway.

It is also wise to keep in mind that there is usually a definite time frame.  In most states, the time frame for changing your registration is 60 days, but it can be anywhere from 30 to 90 days.

Also, some states may not accept your old state’s registration at all, so you may not be able to use your boat in other states without first getting it registered in that state.

Final Thoughts

In addition to federal laws, every state, county, township, and even each individual body of water may have different rules, regulations, and thoughts as to whether or not your boat is considered a motorboat.

Make sure you keep informed and if you’re not sure, it never hurts to ask.