CACalifornia Vessel Title Transfer Online
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How To Transfer a Vessel or Boat Title in California
Examples of boats/vessel which require California registration:
- Sail-powered boat/vessel that is over eight (8) feet long
- Vessel/boat with a motor (regardless of engine size/hp)
- Houseboats that have a motor
- Rowboats, canoes, or any boat or vessel that use paddles or oars
- Sailboats that are shorter than eight (8) feet (Check your Certificate of Number or Certificate of Title for exact boat length)
- Parasails or sailboards
- Lifeboats which is strictly used on a ships
- Boats which are used at amusement parks and connected to rails
- Floating structures that are tied to land and use on-shore power, water, and a sewage system
Commercial boats/vessels that weigh more than five net tons and are longer than 30 feet must be registered (documented) by the U.S. Coast Guard. Do not apply for registration with the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
Certificate of Title - You'll need the vessel's Certificate of Title, showing that the seller is the boat's true owner. Their name must be on the document. The certificate of title is in essence proof of ownership and is needed to register the vessel in your name. You must ensure there is no second name on the title. If there are two names which are separated by an "AND" or "/" you will need to obtain signatures from both owners before the transfer can be made legal. Two names separated by an "OR" allows either owner (seller) to sell the vessel and either owner may sign the title's "release of ownership/interest" section.
A certificate of title is often referred to as a pink slip. Both terms mean the same thing and we refer to them both as simply a vessel title. Assuming the seller gave you a title when you bought the boat or watercraft, ensure they signed on line one (1). Line one (1) indicates "Release of Ownership". The seller must sign line one (1) or line one (1) and line two (2); in the case of two owners. The DMV will not transfer the vessel title without these signature(s).
Bill of Sale - Next, you should have a Bill of Sale (REG 135). A bill-of-sale is not required by the DMV in order to transfer a vessel's title but is highly recommended for the purpose of "proof of purchase" and record keeping. Complete a detailed bill of sale and have the seller sign it, for your protection. A Bill-of-Sale can be written by you or the seller but must be signed by both. You may draft a bill of sale yourself or download one prepared by the State of California DMV from our download forms page.
I have my documents. What's next? Once you have these documents in order and are ready to pay title transfer fees you may begin the title transfer process. Start the process online through NeedTags.com® or by visiting a local DMV service provider or DMV branch office. Unless your transfer has special circumstance(s), the two documents above will suffice in getting the vessel's title transferred to your name. We discuss family and out-of-state title transfers later. The process is similar except an additional document or two is required. For DMV in-person service, please make a DMV appointment.
- Date of purchase.
- Seller name and address.
- Buyer name and address.
- Vessel description, including make, model, year, hull identification number (HIN), and CF number. You may also want to notate the vessel's color and any distinguishing marks and/or features.
- Sale condition, i.e. sold "as-is", sold with warranty and indicating the time-period, sold with damage to motor or hull, and so on.
- If the seller purchased the vessel but never registered it in their name, the bill of sale should include the previous owner(s) information.
- The amount paid for the vessel, including any payments made in installments or down payment.
- How payment(s) were made, i.e. cash, check, credit card or direct deposit.
- Most importantly, ensure the bill-of-sale is signed by both you and the seller.
Give a copy of the bill of sale to the seller and keep the original for yourself. If you don't have access to a copy machine, complete two bill of sales and have the seller sign them both. Should the need arise this information in writing will be invaluable.
- Use Tax – Between 7.5% - 10%. Tax collected by the county in which you indent to register your vessel.
- Transfer Fee – $15.00 DMV fee charge to perform a title transfer.
- Registration Fee – Does not apply in all cases. Read about registration fees in the paragraph below.
Registration fees may be due if the vessel you purchased or have acquired has expired registration or registration which is about to expire (75 days or less). If renewal fees or initial registration fees are due for the vessel, the DMV will require you to pay registration fees alongside the use tax and transfer fee. Vessel registration fees are indicated below:
- On-water towing and labor
For the seller - Your requirement is to complete and submit either in person, online, or by mail a Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability (REG 138) to the DMV within 5 days of the sale/gift/trade date. Your name will be on DMV record until the new owner pays transfer fees and completes the title transfer process however REG 138 will relieve you of responsibility for civil or criminal actions involving the vessel after you've sold, gifted, or traded it.