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Harbor Legal Requirements

Before planning an outing, boat operators must be familiar with the laws and regulations for boat numbering, registration and titling, and safety equipment requirements on board. Read the following information to ensure you've met the legal requirements for boating in DC.

Related Documents for Download

This form may be completed online, but must be printed

This form may be completed online, but must be printed.  Applicants are encouraged to deliver applications to Harbor Branch in person so the information can be reviewed together.


The District of Columbia Boat Titling Act requires any registered vessel that is principally used on District waters to obtain a Certificate of Title issued by the Harbor Master, prior to issuance or renewal of a registration number. To obtain a title, you must show proof of ownership and pay an initial $2 title fee and titling tax. Boat registration is similar to license plates on a car: all boats must be registered before the registration expires on December 31 each year. The Certificate of Number issued stays with the boat as long as it is registered in the District of Columbia. The certificate itself is pocket-sized and must be on the boat and available for inspection by law enforcement personnel whenever the boat is in operation. In addition, validation stickers are issued each year that must be placed within six inches of the number. Larger boats (generally 32 feet or longer) can be documented. Check with the US Coast Guard for more information.

When the vessel is sold, traded, or transferred, the Assignment of Title section on the reverse side of the title is to be completed and given to the new owner. All taxes and fees are to be paid by the boat owner directly to:

Harbor Master
Metropolitan Police Department
550 Water Street, SW
Washington, DC 20024

Annual registration fees are as follows:

Boat with propulsion machinery  and  Fees

  • Under 16' -  $15
  • 16' to less than 26'  -  $25
  • 26' to less than 40'  -  $35
  • Over 40'  -  $60
  • Boats without propulsion machinery -   $10

Proper Display of Boat Numbers

  • The figures are to read from left to right.
  • They must be displayed on the forward half of each side of the bow of the boat.
  • Numbers must be in bold block letters of good proportion.
  • Numbers must be not less than three inches high.
  • Numbers must be of contrasting color to the boat hull or the background.
  • Numbers must be placed above the waterline as high as practically possible.
  • No number other than the number assigned can be displayed on the forward half of the vessel.
  • Letters must be separated from the numbers by spaces or hyphens.
  • Validation decals must be displayed within six inches of the number.

Hull Identification Number

Boats have a Hull Identification Number (HIN) permanently attached to the transom on the starboard side, above the waterline. This number is similar to the vehicle identification number on a car. Boats also have the HIN permanently attached in a second, unexposed location. Record your HIN number, and keep it in a safe place away from the boat. It may assist police in identifying your boat should it be stolen. Also, the HIN is required to register your boat in most states.