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California Boat Registration Number & Sticker Information

November 28, 2022

Most recreational vessels in California need to be registered. If your vessel weighs over 5 tons, you have the option of registering it with the U.S. Coast Guard and obtaining a maritime certificate of documentation. Otherwise, you’ll need to register it with the state DMV.

Find out about the specifics of registering a recreational vessel with the California DMV in this article!

What is a CF number on a boat?

A CF number is a registration number assigned to a vessel when it is registered with the DMV. It consists of the letters CF, four numbers, and then two more letters.

If you own a sailboat over 8 ft long or a motorboat of any size that is undocumented (not registered with the U.S. Coast Guard), it must be registered with the DMV before you can operate or moor it on California waterways.

To register, you’ll need to complete a BOAT 101 form, provide proof of ownership and pay the applicable fees. You may also need a bill of sale if you bought the boat from an individual. You can register your boat at any DMV field office or send in your application by mail.

California boat registration number and sticker placement

Once your vessel is registered with the DMV, you will receive a registration number and sticker, which must be placed on the boat in a specific way.

California boat registration number placement

Here are the requirements for the registration number’s placement and design:

  • On both sides of the bow, well above the water line
  • Arranged to be read from left to right
  • Block letters and numbers at least 3 inches high in a color that contrasts with the background
  • Hyphens or spaces should separate the letters from the numbers

California boat registration sticker placement

Registration stickers must be placed on each side, in line with the registration number three inches towards the stern.

Only valid registration stickers should be affixed to the boat—expired ones should be removed. Vessel registration must be renewed every two years (by Dec. 31 of odd-numbered years). The DMV will mail a renewal reminder 60 days before the expiry date.

Comply with boating regulations and get your California boater card!

It’s important to comply with state boating regulations, and that includes getting your California boater card! The state is currently phasing in required boater education by age. Anyone aged 45 and younger who wants to operate a recreational vessel on California waterways must take a boating safety course, and everyone will be required to do so by 2025.

Drive a Boat USA offers a comprehensive online boating safety course that is approved by NASBLA. Register today to learn everything you need to know about California boating regulations!