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Michigan Boating Requirements


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This summary is designed to inform the boating public about title options, registration requirements, recording methods, record searches, tax rules, and operational guidelines for the State of Michigan. The data is maintained as an open wiki forum where readers are encouraged to participate by sharing knowledge and experiences with this particular jurisdiction. Simply click on the above WikiShare link to contribute further details or suggest a revision.

Registration and Titling

Michigan issues both registrations and titles for all boats operating within its jurisdiction. These are administered through the Department of State. This state does not issue title or registration certificates for outboard motors. Registration is required for boat trailers and titles are required on those weighing over 3,000 lbs. Sales tax applies to boat transactions.  

Unless otherwise exempt, all boats must be registered in Michigan including USCG documented vessels. Exemptions include those 16 feet or shorter, propelled by oars or paddles, and not used for rental or commercial purposes; non-motorized canoes and kayaks not used for rental or commercial purposes, rafts, surfboards, sailboards, and swim floats, regardless of length; and Watercraft registered in another state and used only temporarily in Michigan. Visit the Department of State website for more requirements and exemptions.

There are approximately 785,993 boats registered in the State of Michigan. This accounts for 6.6% of all nationwide registrations.

Numbering and Marking

Michigan boat registration numbers begin with an "MC" designation which is followed by four numbers and then two letters. These must be displayed on all non-documented boats along with registration sticker tabs. Coast Guard documented vessels may not display the state registration numbers. However they must display the state registration tabs, an owner designated vessel name, and a hailing port. An official documentation number must also be affixed to a visible interior location in the hull itself or an integral part of the hull.

All vessels manufactured after 1972 are required to have a 12 digit hull identification number affixed to the vessel by the manufacturer. State assigned hull numbers prefixed with the letters "MCZ" are available for home made boats and those without factory designations. Hull identification numbers must be verified by a state official if there is a discrepancy.

Recording Methods

Michigan issues titles on all registered boats 20' and over or those on any length with a permanently affixed engine. Coast Guard documented vessels are exempt from titling. Other non-documented boats may be titled as an option. Bonded titles are available when there is no sufficient proof of ownership.

Security interests in state titled boats are recorded with the Department of State. These will be shown on both the registration and title certificates when applicable. All titles with active security interests are sent directly to the secured party. Security interests in boats that are neither titled or USCG documented are recorded with the Secretary of State as Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) filings. Tax liens may be flagged on boat registration records, recorded as UCC filings, shown on state revenue records, or filed with a county clerk's office.

If the vessel is USCG documented, a lender's security interest must be perfected by filing a preferred vessel mortgage. These are recorded with the National Vessel Documentation Center and priority is attained according to the date filed. Other maritime liens can be filed in the same manner although they function as notifications only. All mortgage and lien filings are indexed on the vessel's underlying abstract of title.

Record Searches

Michigan boat title, registration, and lien records are maintained in a database administered by the Department of State. Insights on how to go about conducting database search lookups and obtaining current or historical record copies can be found in WikiTags.

Uniform Commercial Code searches are available online from the Secretary of State. However, if there are any suspected state or federal tax liens, it may be advisable to use a public record vendor as they have a much broader access to such filings.

Ownership, mortgage, and lien search recordings for USCG documented vessels can be obtained by ordering an abstract of title and a copy of the certificate of documentation from the National Vessel Documentation Center. However, these are encoded and can be difficult to interpret, especially on older vessels with numerous recordings. It may be worthwhile to contact a professional vessel title company for assistance in this regard

Taxes and Insurance

Sales and use taxes apply to boat transactions in Michigan. Visit the Department of Treasury link in WikiTags for more information.

Liability insurance is not required for boats operating in Michigan waters.

Operating and Safety

Changes in ownership, abandonments, destructions, or theft must be reported to the Secretary of State within 15 days.

Michigan requires any motorized boat operator born after June 30, 1996, to pass a boater safety course and to carry a boater education card. Boater education is also required for all PWC operators born after December 31, 1978.


The information contained herein is subject to change without notice and may contain errors or omissions. Be sure to check with the respective government agency before taking action on any such data. More detailed information about all of these topics can be found in the above WikiTags.

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3/29/2022 - Page initiated by Team BoatWiki.



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