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What are the licensing and registration requirements for a dinghy in Washington State?

Posted by on January 3, 2013

I am going to buy a new dinghy for my 42′ sailboat.  I am thinking it will be about 10′ long and I will use a 9.9hp engine.  What are the licensing and registration requirements for a dinghy in Washington State?

This is a good question that is coming up more frequently because of increased law enforcement and inspections in Washington State, especially by local authorities at marinas in cities around Puget Sound.  The answer is a little complex but here are the basic requirements.

1.    In Washington State, “no person may own or operate any vessel on the waters of this state unless the vessel has been registered and displays a registration number and a valid decal…”.   RCW 88.02.020.  That’s the law.  Then come the exceptions stated in RCW 88.02.030.

    A.    A USCG documented vessel does not have to display a registration number.  A documented vessel must still be registered but it only needs to display a valid decal.  

    B.    A vessel equipped with less than 10 horsepower is not required to be registered if:   The non-registered vessel is owned by the owner of a vessel for which a valid number has been issued, and the non-registered vessel displays the number of that numbered vessel followed by the suffix “1”, and the non-registered vessel is used as a tender for direct transportation between the numbered vessel and the shore and for no other purpose.

If your dinghy has more than 10 hp you need to register it.  If your dinghy has less than 10 horsepower you do not have to register it with the state of Washington so long as you only use it to go back and forth to shore.  If you use it for sightseeing, fishing for finfish, or crabbing (for example) you need to register the dinghy.

2.    Whether it’s registered or not your dinghy needs to have numbers.  (3′ high letters clearly visible along the bow.)  If the parent vessel has Washington numbers displayed then use those numbers followed by “1” (or “2” or “3”, etc. if you have more than one dinghy).  If the parent vessel is USCG documented then you still use the Washington registration numbers (not shown on the parent vessel) followed by “1” (or “2” or “3” etc.).  (Note:  Even if your vessel is USCG documented it still must be “registered” in Washington State.  However, if it is a USCG documented vessel you will not have a Washington State title and you will not be required to display the Washington numbers on the side of the documented vessel.)

Note to persons visiting Washington:  If you are a non-resident of Washington boating in Washington for less than 6 months in any continuous 12 month period (and your vessel is USCG documented or registered in another state) you are not subject to any Washington registration for up to 60 days.  If you will be in Washington for more than 60 days, before the 61st day you must get an ID document from the Washington Department of Licensing, valid for 2 months.  A second ID document can be purchased on or before the 121st day of your visit, valid for another 2 months.  (Thus, six months total.)  (See the Washington Administrative Code, WAC 308-93-055).

One last point:  If you register your dinghy (whether it is required or not) you will receive a title certificate and a state number for the dinghy.  You will then put the state number on the bow.  The good news about this is that if your dinghy is lost (breaks loose at night or during rough weather) you are much more likely to get it back.  Any law enforcement officer can easily identify you as the rightful owner as can any honest person who finds it.  This fact alone may be good reason to go through the registration process.

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