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Washington 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 Washington. 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

Washington issues both registrations and titles for all non-exempt boats operating within its jurisdiction. These are administered by the Department of Licensing. This state does not issue titles or registrations for outboard motors. Boat trailer registration and titling are required in Washington.

Washington registers all non-exempt power and sailboats. Coast Guard documented vessels are also subject to registration. Exceptions include canoes, kayaks, etc. and sailboats under 16 feet in length without a motor. A complete listing or requirements and exemptions can be found by visiting the Boat Registration website link in WikiTags.

Washington has provisions for bonded boat titles and conditional registrations when there is insufficient proof of ownership.

There are approximately 254,280 boats registered in the State of Washington. This accounts for 2.1% of all nationwide registrations.

Numbering and Marking

Washington boat registration numbers begin with a "WN" 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 "WNZ" are available for home made boats and those without factory designations. Hull number inspections are not required in Washington unless there is a discrepancy.

Recording Methods

Washington issues titles on all registered boats except for those which are Coast Guard documented. This state also has provisions for establishing boat titles without sufficient evidence of ownership when the registration remains uncontested after three years and there are no undisclosed security interests. Washington has procedures for acquiring titles on abandoned boats.

Security interests in state titled boats are recorded with the Department of Licensing. 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. However electronic titles are available at the lender's option. 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. 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 title and registration records in Washington State are maintained by the Department of Licensing. Insights on how to conduct boat title and registration searches 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 or use tax is required on all first time registrations and transfers of ownership. The rates vary by county. Visit the Department of Revenue website link in WikiTags for more information.

Washington has no insurance requirements for boats operating on their waters.

Operating and Safety

A boat operator license is required in Washington for anyone operating a powered watercraft of 15 hp or more. Individuals must pass a boater safety course and to carry a boater education card.

Transfers of ownership, abandonments, thefts, and destructions must be reported within 5 days, excluding weekends and holidays.


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

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



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