California Boat Bill of Sale Form


A California boat bill of sale form guides a buyer and seller through the process of changing vessel ownership. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) provides a document containing the required information fields to residents. Individuals must use this form when carrying out a watercraft transaction as the state does not accept a handwritten or homemade bill of sale.

  • Statutes: § 9840 to 9928
  • Signing Requirements: The seller must sign to verify the form.

What is a California Vessel Bill of Sale?

A California vessel bill of sale ascertains an owner’s lawful boat possession. After agreeing with a seller on the price and transfer of watercraft, they obtain the form. Both parties fill out the document in tandem while ensuring thorough and truthful responses.

The buyer and seller must fill out each section of the form and sign. Failing to follow this procedure can result in an invalid bill of sale. As a result, neither party would be able to prove the sale or change in possession with the document. In addition, the buyer could have trouble registering and titling the boat or tending to other relevant matters.

Did You Know?

In-state dwellers younger than forty-five (45) years of age need a California Boater Card (CBC) to operate a vessel. By 2025, all residents will need a license, no matter their age. Individuals obtain a card by taking an approved course, then passing the exam. The CBC does not expire, but the vessel operator must have it on their person when driving the watercraft. Residents sixteen (16) and older can operate a boat with their cards.

How to Register a Boat in California (6 Steps)

The DMV mandates registration for all motorized boats and sailboats over eight (8) feet long. The law includes vessels operating in both public and private waterways.

Non-residents can use their vessel for up to ninety (90) consecutive days in the state before they need a California registration. Owners also have one hundred and twenty (120) days to transfer vessels from out-of-state to in-state (§ 9854).

Step 1 – Obtain Boater Card

While residents can legally buy and sell vessels without a California Boater Card (CBC), they need one to operate it. The card, once distributed, lasts for the individual’s entire life. Owners do not need a CBC to register or title the boat; however, it prevents them from operating the vessel, even after receiving state certification.

To obtain a card, the person must take an approved boating safety course. The classes range from three (3) to eight (8) hours and include an exam. If the student passes, the state provides them with an official CBC, which they must have when operating watercraft.

Step 2 – Register Boat

Vessel registration can occur at a DMV office or by mail. In-person appointments require the owner to book in advance. On their scheduled day, they must bring the necessary documents and payment for the state to consider their application. In most cases, the individual receives their vessel registration number (vessel CF number) during their appointment. However, if the state denies them, they need to make corrections or reschedule the meeting.

Bring the Following:

Step 3 – Obtain Quagga Zebra Mussel Infestation Sticker

Boats used in California freshwaters must have a Quagga Zebra Mussel Infestation Sticker. On the other hand, vessels operated in saltwater do not need to apply. Boat patrol can ticket individuals using a boat without a sticker.

Residents must apply for a sticker yearly as it expires on the same day as their annual boat registration. The operator must have their vessel’s CF number and a form of payment to settle the $16 fee.

Step 4 – Register Boat Trailer

Trailer registration occurs separately from boat registration in California.

Boat and utility trailers require registration (but not titling) in California. The vessel operator must hand in the requested forms to the DMV to receive a sticker. In addition, the vehicle that the individual uses to tow the trailer must have a valid registration, title, and insurance policy.

The Permanent Trailer Identification (PTI) Program allows applicants to obtain a registration that does not expire. The owner must attach the PTI license plate (with the PTI sticker attached) to their boat trailer. They also receive a PTI card, which they must store safely. When the card reaches its expiration date (after five (5) years), the individual must pay a service fee to the state.

Step 5 – Apply California Number + Decals

Federal law requires the boat to have a hull identification number (HIN), a twelve (12) digit number assigned by the manufacturer. If the vessel does not have a HIN, the owner must apply for one through the DMV, then have it professionally affixed to the boat.

Following registration, the owner will receive a registration number and sticker. The number begins with CF with four (4) digits and two (2) letters following it (i.e., CF-4758-TF). The registrar must permanently attach the information on the boat while meeting the following requirements:

  • Printed on both sides of the boat’s front end;
  • Displayed in a generic, easy-to-read font at least three (3) inches in height;
  • Written in a color that stands out against the boat’s paint; and
  • Properly spaced with each set of letters and numbers divided by spaces or a hyphen.

The registration sticker (or decal) should appear three (3) inches from the registration number towards the back of the boat. Other letters and text cannot interfere with the sticker or printed number to remain highly visible. The only exception to this rule is boats operated in freshwater, as they must display their “Mussel Fee Paid” sticker next to the decal (towards the stern).

Step 6 – Renew Every Odd Year

After registering the boat in California for the first time, the watercraft owner must renew biannually. The sticker expires every odd year on December 31st (e.g., 2015, 2017, 2019, etc.).

The DMV alerts the owner by mail sixty (60) days before expiration. Renewal can occur online, through the mail, or at a local DMV office.

If the sticker and documentation become damaged, lost, or stolen during the active period, the registration holder must contact the DMV. In addition, they need to provide a certificate of ownership (Form REG 227). and/or an application (Form REG 156).

Mailing Address:
Department of Motor Vehicles
PO Box 942869
Sacramento, CA 94269-0001