County recorders register new and used boats in the county where you live.
Boat owners must display current registration decals and Iowa-issued registration numbers. You need a bill of sale and the manufacturer’s certificate of origin to register a new boat. If the boat is not new, you need the boat’s registration and title (if applicable). Registrations are not transferable.
The boat operator must carry the registration certificate on board at all times.
Find your county recorder: County Recorders.pdf (iowadnr.gov).
Boat Registration Requirements
Boats registrations run for 3-year cycles. The current registration cycle is May 1, 2022 - April 30, 2025. Registrations for this cycle started January 1, 2022. They are valid through the end of the registration cycle. The fee decreases each year of the renewal cycle.
All boat registrations expire on April 30 of the current registration cycle. This date is April 30, 2025 for the current cycle. If you renew your registration late, you will pay a $5 penalty. The next 3-year registration cycle runs May 1, 2025 – April 30, 2028. Registration for this cycle begins January 1, 2028.
Forms and Documents
Take the completed Application for Boats, Snowmobiles, ATVs and ORVs form with you. In addition, you’ll need to present:
- Proof of Ownership/Bill of Sale
- Title (if applicable)
- Previous Registration
- If you are the first owner of the vessel, you will also need the manufacturer’s certificate of origin.
If you don’t live in Iowa, register the boat in the state where you live. You can use your boat for 60 non-consecutive days within a year without registering it in Iowa. If you need an Iowa registration, register the vessel in the county where you will use it.
Timing and Cost for Boat Registrations
You have 30 days after a private sale to register your vessel with your county recorder.
Some dealers handle the registration for vessels they sell. If so, you will receive a “registration applied for” placard. This placard is valid for 35 days.
Cost and Payment
The latest fee schedule is published in the Boat Registration Guide.
Cash and checks are always accepted. Call your county recorder to find out if credit cards are also accepted. Locate the phone number for your County Recorder.
Boat Registration Exemptions
The following boats are exempt from registration in Iowa:
- Inflatable boats that are 7 feet long or less.
- Any vessel powered only by oars or paddles.
- Canoes and kayaks that are under 13 feet in length and lack a motor or sail.
- Vessels with valid out-of-state registrations that are only used in Iowa for 60 days or less.
- A ship’s lifeboat. Search and rescue vessels owned by the US Government or another government agency.
Boat Registration Number Requirements
- Paint or affix the registration number on the forward half of each side of the vessel.
- The registration number must be at least 3 inches high, bold, and in block letters.
- No other numbers may be on either side of the bow.
- Numbers must read from left to right on both sides of the vessel.
- Numbers’ color must contrast with the background.
- Separate letters and numbers with a space or hyphen: IA 3717 ZW or IA-3717-ZW
- Affix decals on each side of the vessel, toward the stern. The registration decal should be 4 inches from, and in line with, the number.
Related Agency - Natural Resources
Address: Wallace State Office Building, 502 E. 9th St., Des Moines, IA 50319
Phone: (515) 725-8200