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Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin. 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

Wisconsin issues both registrations and titles for all non-exempt boats operating within its jurisdiction. These are administered by the Department of Natural Resources in Madison. This state does not title or register outboard motors. Boat trailer registration and titling are required for those weighing over 3,000 lbs. They are optional for trailers weighing less.

Wisconsin registers and titles all non-exempt boats operating within its jurisdiction. Exemptions include sailboats 12 feet and under without a motor, and manually propelled boats not equipped with a motor or sail. Coast guard documented vessels are subject to registration unless used for commercial fishing. A complete list of requirements and exemptions may be found by visiting the DNR website.

Wisconsin does not have provisions for bonded boat titles or conditional boat registrations when there is insufficient proof of ownership. Under these circumstances it will be necessary to petition a district court for an award of ownership. However, the Department of Natural resources does have provisions for gaining title to an abandoned boat in Wisconsin.

There are approximately 620,812 boats registered in the State of Wisconsin. This accounts for 5.2% of all nationwide registrations.

Numbering and Marking

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

Recording Methods

Wisconsin issues titles on all registered boats except for those which are Coast Guard documented. Wisconsin 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. This state has procedures for acquiring titles on abandoned boats.

Security interests in state titled boats are recorded with the Division of Motor vehicles. 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 Financial Institutions 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. T

 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.

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

Record Searches

Boat title and registration records in Wisconsin are maintained by the Department of Natural Resources. This agency does not facilitate online searches for the general public. However, record printouts may be obtained by submitting a boat record request form. It is also reported that the DNR office will check for hull numbers by telephone or verify information shown on boat title or registration certificates in hand.

Uniform Commercial Code searches are available online from the Department of Financing Institutions. 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 Wisconsin. Visit the Department of Revenue website link in WikiTags for more information.

Wisconsin does not require insurance for boats operating in its waters.

Operating and Safety

Boat operator licensing is required in Wisconsin. Anyone born on or after January 1, 1989, must pass a boater safety course and to carry a boater education card.

The sale, transfer, abandonment, or destruction of a Wisconsin registered boat must be reported to the Department of Natural resources within 15 days.


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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