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Pennsylvania Boating Requirements


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Jul 31, 2023 - Pennsylvania boating requirements summary provides everything you should know about boat registration, title options, recording methods, database search lookups, tax rules, and operational rules for the State of Pennsylvania.

Registration and Titling

Pennsylvania issues registrations and titles for all non-exempt boats operating within its jurisdiction. These are administered by the Fish and Boat Commission in Harrisburg. Outboard motors are neither titled or registered in this  state. However, such information can be listed on the boat registration and title records. Boat trailer registration and titling are both required in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania registration is required on all non-exempt boats powered by a gasoline, diesel or electric motors. This includes sailboats and other watercraft with auxiliary power. Coast Guard documented boats are subject to registration.

There are no provisions for conditional boat registrations when there is insufficient proof of ownership. However, consideration may be given to a special declaration of ownership under certain circumstances.  

This state has procedures for registering and titling abandoned boats.

There are approximately 301,450 boats registered in the State of Pennsylvania. This accounts for 2.5% of all nationwide registrations.

Numbering and Marking

Pennsylvania boat registration numbers begin with a "PA" 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 boats 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 "PA" are available for home made boats and those without factory designations. Boats must be inspected by a Pennsylvania law enforcement official if there is a discrepancy with the hull identification number.

Recording Methods

Pennsylvania issues titles on all on power-driven boats with a model year of 1997 or newer, except boats less than 14 feet in length that are powered by an outboard motor. Titling is optional on all other boats. Coast Guard documented boats are excluded from titling. There are no provisions in this state for bonded titles when there is insufficient proof of ownership. In this case a petition must be filed with a local court of law for an award of ownership.

Security interests in state titled boats are recorded with the Fish and Game commission. 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 Department 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.

There are no provisions for recording mechanic's liens or other non-secured claims against state titled boats.

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

Boat registration and title records in Pennsylvania are maintained in a database which is administered by the Pennsylvania Fish and Game Commission (PFGC). Such information is accessible to boat owners, entitled parties and the general public. Insights on how to go about searching for boat registration, title, lien and historical data or how to obtain record printouts can be found in WikiLinks.

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

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.

Taxes and Insurance

Sales tax applies to boat transactions in Pennsylvania. Visit the Department of Revenue website link in WikiTags for additional information.

Liability insurance is not required for boats operating on Pennsylvania waters.

Operating and Safety

Transfers of ownership, abandonments, destructions, and thefts must be reported within 15 days.

All PWC operators in Pennsylvania must have boater education and to carry a boater education card. In addition, those operating a boat over 25 hp must pass a boater safety course and to carry a boater education card.


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.

Credits and References

Jul 31, 2023 - Page revised.
Contributor - Vessel Title Services



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