How To Get & Transfer Boat Titles (Explained For Beginners)

A title is different than a registration. A title is legal proof of ownership, while registration is more like the license plate on your car, it proves you have paid the appropriate taxes and fees and the boat is legally permitted to be on local waterways. In this article, we will discuss titles.

Why Do Boats Have Titles?

A boat title is a legal document that proves ownership. Some states do not require titles for boats while others only require titles for boats of a certain length and still others require all vessels to be titled. In most states, you may voluntarily title any vessel.  

You should check with the state boat commission or department of natural resources for boat title instructions and regulations that may be applicable where you reside.

Tilting is a way of determining legal ownership and deters theft. Most lenders won’t finance a boat without a title, so make sure the seller has a clear title before agreeing to buy a boat. 

A clear title means that there are no outstanding loans or legal issues concerning the boat.  

If there is a loan on the boat, coordinate with the lender to clear the title before the purchase. 

Where Do I Get The Boat Title?

Boat titles are issued by a government office. Some states have a Fish and Boat Commission while others have a Department of Natural Resources. Unfortunately, the Department of Motor Vehicles(DMV) may also get involved in the process.  

A quick search on the internet will tell you where to go to title a boat in your area.

If you are buying or selling a boat, make sure to know the ins and outs concerning titles in your state before you start.

New boats may not have a title issued until after purchase. The Manufacturer’s Statement of Origin (MSO) or a Certificate of Origin (COO) serves as a temporary title from the manufacturer to the dealer and then to you. 

Compare the boat’s hull identification number to the numbers on the MSO or COO and have the seller sign the MSO or COO for a new boat. You must submit the original MSO or COO to complete the titling process.

How To Apply For Boat Titles For Boats With A Title

Each state has different specific requirements regarding titling applications, but there are some things you will most likely need before you can title your boat in any state.

1) Original Title. No matter if you are applying in the state of purchase or a new state, you will need the original title from the issuing state. Somewhere on the title(usually on the back), there is a place to sign the title over from buyer to seller.

Make sure when you purchase a boat that the seller signs the title over to you properly.

It is best to have the title notarized(witnessed and sealed by a Notary Public) when completing this step. Some states require all signed over titles to be notarized, while, in some situations, this may not be required.

2) Bill of Sale. This is another item that is not always required, but it is best to have a notarized original bill of sale. You will need this if you buy a boat in a non-titling state, you are titling a new boat, or you are transferring the title to a new state.  

3) Pencil Rubbing/Tracing or Photo of Hull Identification Number(HIN). The HIN is normally found on the transom of the boat and is permanently affixed or etched in the hull.

If the boat has never been titled in your state, you will need a photo or tracing of the number to go with your application.

4) Previous Registration Card. In some situations, you must present a registration card to title a boat. This is particularly important if you purchased a boat in a non-titling state and are moving it to a titling state.

Some states require the previous owner’s registration card if you purchased the boat in any other state whether it has a title or not. 

5) Paid Tax Receipt. If you buy from a dealer, they will usually provide a tax receipt and collect the taxes as part of the sale. If buying from an individual, the buyer is responsible for paying the taxes.

You will need to go to the appropriate government office(usually a Property Tax Assessor), pay the taxes, and obtain a receipt before you can title the boat.

6) Application and Application Fees. Bureaucracies run on paperwork and boat titling authorities are no different. Your state will have an application and associated fees required to obtain a title.  

Transferring a Boat Title When BUYING A Boat

If you want to operate a boat in American waters, it must be registered and/or titled in the state where you live. Part of the process of buying a boat from another individual is transferring the title into your name.

While the process is fairly straightforward, any mistakes could result in disputes over the ownership of the boat.

1) Have the seller sign the title. Before you can have the title to your newly purchased boat transferred into your name, the seller must fill out the transfer section on the back of the title and sign it. If there is more than one name on the title, make sure all parties approve of the sale.

Beware of messy domestic situations, like divorce, if there is more than one owner listed.  

Some states require the title to be signed in the presence of a Notary Public. If there is space for a notary seal on the back of the title, make sure to wait until you and the seller are in front of a notary otherwise the signature may be invalid.

If you are transferring the title to a new state it is best to have the title and bill of sale notarized in any case.

Documentation from an authorized representative:  Some sellers may have an authorized representative, such as a dealer or an attorney, complete the title transfer for them. An authorized representative should have a contract, power of attorney, or other documents that make it clear they are the legal, authorized representative of the title owner of the boat.

Make sure to obtain copies of any documents concerning the sale, including an authorized representative’s authorization documents.

Note: If the representative cannot produce legal documentation, don’t go through with the sale, it might not be legitimate. Contact the title owner of the boat if possible. When in doubt, don’t proceed.

2) Have the seller accompany you to the title office. In some areas, this is required, while in others you must mail in the application. In general, however, having the seller with you can help you avoid a horrible surprise if you find out there is some sort of problem with the title or the record of ownership for the boat.

With the seller by your side, most problems can be cleared up immediately.

3) Complete an application for a title. Gather the required documents, pay any taxes, and fill out the application for your state. In some states, you may have to do this in person with the seller. In others, you will mail in the application along with the supporting paperwork.

If you live in a state that requires a mail-in application, make sure to keep copies of everything and send it by registered mail.

5) Receive your new title. In some states, you’ll get your title immediately after you submit your application and pay the fees. However, many states will give you a temporary document and send you an official title in the mail.

If you have to wait for your official title, find out if you can still register your boat with the temporary document. You won’t be able to take the boat out on the water until it’s registered.

Transferring A Boat Title When SELLING A Boat

1) Gather required proof of ownership. In general, you’ll need your copy of the title for the boat and the title for the outboard motor. In some states, these may be two separate title documents.

If you had the boat financed and there is a lien on the title, you’ll also need documentation for the release of that lien from the finance company. In some cases, the finance company will keep the title on file with them.

Whatever the case, verify that the title is clear from any liens before transferring ownership.

2) Complete a bill of sale. An official bill of sale provides a record of the sale and the amount for which you sold the boat. Some states require the buyer to present a written bill of sale when they apply to transfer the title.

Take the bill of sale to a notary public so your signature and the buyer’s signature can be notarized. You should have two copies notarized, one for you and one for the buyer.

If the transaction is later disputed, a notarized document will more likely hold up in court.

3) Fill in the transfer section of the title. On the back of the boat title, there will be a section to record the transfer of the boat to another person. Write the buyer’s name, address, and other information required.

To complete the transfer of the title to the buyer, you must sign the back of the title below the transfer section.

If there is space for a notary seal on the back of the title, that is an indication that the signature must be notarized. If you are unsure, you can call your state’s state licensing office to find out. When in doubt, get it notarized.

5) Give the title to the buyer. Once you have completed the transfer section on the back of the title and signed it, it’s the buyer’s responsibility to take it to the title office in your state and apply for a new title.

6) Accompany the buyer to the title office. Until the buyer applies for a new title, the boat is still your name. If you go to the title office with the buyer, you can make sure the buyer gets their new title promptly. This is required in some areas.


A title is the legal proof of ownership. Whoever holds a clear title, legally owns the property. Make sure you know the local laws and rules before buying or selling a boat and always verify that title has transferred correctly.  

If you arm yourself with knowledge and pay attention to detail you will avoid any unnecessary legal entanglements.  

Happy Boating!  

Was this article helpful? Like Dislike

Click to share...

Did you find wrong information or was something missing?
We would love to hear your thoughts! (PS: We read ALL feedback)