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PA Boating Handbook
Boat Numbering & Registration
Boats propelled by machinery and electric motors must be numbered, regardless of length and type of motor. Boats excluded from numbering include unpowered kayaks, sculls and sailboards, documented vessels and vessels with a valid temporary certificate. Documented vessels must be registered. In Pennsylvania, large pleasure boats, usually called yachts, which are documented with the U.S. Coast Guard, also must be numbered in the state of principle use. These documented vessels must be registered but need only display a valid registration decal.
Example of display requirements

The letters and numbers must:

  • Read from left to right.
  • Be painted or permanently attached to each side on the forward half of the vessel where no other number may be displayed.
  • Be of bold, block letters in good proportion.
  • Be of a contrasting color to the background.
  • Be at least 3 inches high.
  • Be nearly as vertical as possible and easily observed.
  • Be separated by a hyphen or space equal to the width of any letter or number except “I” or “1.”
  • Have a current registration decal within 6 inches on the same level (before or following number).

All motorboats and boats powered by electric motors must be registered. Owners of unpowered boats (canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, rowboats, etc.) can launch their boats at Commission lakes and access areas or Pennsylvania state parks if their boats display a boat registration, Commission launch use permit, or Pennsylvania State Parks launch permit or mooring permit. Pennsylvania State Parks recognizes Commission boat registrations and launch permits. The Commission does NOT recognize launch permits from other states. A Commission launch permit can be purchased on PFBC’s website.

Registrations are renewed on a two-year cycle and expire on March 31 of the second year. Registrations are valid when issued by the Commission and online messengers. Application forms are available at county treasurer’s offices, certain boat dealerships, on the PFBC website, at the PFBC’s headquarters in Harrisburg and at PFBC regional law enforcement offices.

Boat registration fees are as follows:   Powered decal   Unpowered decal
$18 Unpowered boats    
$26 Boats less than 16 feet    
$39 Boats 16 feet to less than 20 feet    
$52 Boats over 20 feet    
Note: Boats with unpowered boat registrations may NOT be equipped with gasoline or electric motors or any other mechanical propulsion and be operated on Pennsylvania waterways.

Upon the completion of the application and the payment of the fee, a registration card and two validation decals will be issued. The certificate of boat registration is your registration card and must be on board the boat during operation. The certificate also shows the boat registration number that must be displayed on the boat. The Pennsylvania registration number, issued with the original certificate of boat registration, stays with the boat as long as it is registered in Pennsylvania. It is the boat owner’s responsibility to purchase the numbers and letters to display the registration number on the boat.

Boat displaying decalsDisplay the number and validation decal on the bow of the boat as shown above. No other number may be displayed on either side of the bow. These numbers may not be removed, altered, tampered with or defaced, except by the owner or representative. Documented vessels, as well as kayaks, sculls, sailboards and other low-volume boats of similar design, are exempt from the display of numbers, but they must display the validation decal. Inflatable boats may carry their numbers and validation decal on boards lashed to each side of the bow. Canoes are not exempt and must display the numbers and the decal.


Vessels must be registered in the state in which the boat is primarily used. If the boat is waterborne (including time at a marina slip or mooring) on Pennsylvania waters more than on waters of another state, it must be registered in Pennsylvania, regardless of where the owner lives. Reciprocal privileges are granted to boats with valid registration in other states for up to 60 days.

Note: A Pennsylvania Use Tax is charged for any boat owned by a Pennsylvania resident if that boat is at any time brought into the Commonwealth, regardless of where it is registered. There is an exception for casual sales of unpowered boats. Credit is given for tax paid to other states.


A Renewal of Registration form is mailed to boat owners prior to the expiration date. If one is not received, boat owners should write to the Licensing and Registration Section or go to the Commission’s website to renew online.

A Duplicate/Replacement Certificate of Registration can be obtained for $3 through the Licensing and Registration Section. Go to the Commission’s website to download the form (PFBC-732).

A Change of Address form (PFBC-732) must be filed within 15 days at the Division of Licensing and Registration. This office must also be notified within 15 days if a boat is lost, stolen, destroyed, abandoned or sold.

To transfer boat ownership, form REV-336 must be completed and signed by the applicant and registered owner(s). If the registered owner(s) is/are not available, a notarized bill of sale, signed by the registered owner(s), may be substituted. Sales tax payment must still be collected if applicable. It is unlawful for a person purchasing or acquiring a previously registered boat to operate that boat in Pennsylvania until the registration is transferred to the new owner.

A 60-day Temporary Registration is issued by authorized agents, so the boat can be used immediately.

Note: All powered and titled boats used for pleasure are taxable. Proof of payment of sales tax is required at the time of registration.

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