Where To Put Numbers On A Pontoon Boat

Where To Put Numbers On A Pontoon Boat | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Jacob Collier

January 6, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • The numbers on a pontoon boat must be displayed on either side toward the bow.
  • The numbers must be above the waterline, clearly visible, and at least 3 inches tall.
  • The numbers must be printed in BLOCK lettering.
  • It is illegal to operate a boat in any waterway without registering the boat and correctly displaying the numbers.

Before you enjoy your new pontoon boat, you need to make sure that it displays the correct registration numbers, but where do you put numbers on a pontoon boat?

Boat numbers must be displayed on either side of the pontoon toward the front half of the boat. The numbers should be visible above the waterline, be at least 3 inches tall, and be written in block letters. Most states require a current validation sticker on one or both sides as well.

If you thought buying a boat would mean that you could just set it in the water, hop on board and take off to your favorite fishing spot, that is not the case. Every motorized watercraft must be registered in the state where the owner resides, and those numbers (like a car tag for your automobile) must be clearly displayed on your pontoon. The last thing you want to happen is for local law enforcement to pull up and write a citation because your boat isn’t correctly registered with the state. That is a great way to ruin an afternoon of cruising, let alone having to pay fines or penalties or have a misdemeanor charge leveled against you.


Table of contents

What Are the Numbers on the Side of a Boat?

Think of the numbers on the side of the boat as you would a car tag. When you purchase a boat with a motor, it must be registered with the state. You go to your state's bureau of fish and wildlife or your local DMV. (It varies depending on the state, but most states allow you to register online). Then the state examines, approves your application, and issues a fee. Once that fee is paid (and any applicable taxes), the state issues a registration. The registration is usually good for one year to three years, depending on the state.

On that registration paper will be a series of letters and numbers (usually two letters followed by four numbers followed by two letters, for example, MS - 1234 - AA.

Some states will issue a current sticker which needs to be displayed on one side of your boat within 6 inches of the registration numbers. Check with your state's Fish and Wildlife Department to determine which side is required.

In addition, some states require that all personal watercraft display registration numbers, including kayaks, canoes, or rowboats. It is always a good idea to check with your local Fish and Wildlife Department to be sure that you are following the laws of your state.

Where To Put the Numbers on a Pontoon Boat?

The registration numbers will be displayed on both sides of the boat, toward the bow. They can be painted or stickered but must be visible above the waterline (most pontoon owners put them at the base of the railings just above the decking).

The registration number must be at least three inches tall and written in block lettering contrasting to the boat’s exterior paint. (This means that if you ordered the blackout paint scheme, you need to use white letters for the numbers or a different contrasting solid color if allowed. Most states allow the decals to be any solid color).

The numbers must be separated by a dash or a space, such as MS-2345-AA or MS 2345 AA. The numbers must be read from left to right on either side of the bow.

The current validation sticker will be displayed before or after the numbers, usually within six inches of the display. Again, make sure that you check with your state office to find out exactly where it should go. (Some states require it on both sides).

No other decals or numbers can be displayed on the side of the boat.

How Do I Put the Numbers On?

Most pontoon boat owners use adhesive vinyl stickers rather than take the time to paint. The stickers can be found at any marine shop, hardware store, or even online. Applying the stickers is relatively easy, but you want to take your time adhering them to the boat so that it looks like a professional did the work when finished.

Make sure you clean the surface of the area where you want to apply the decal. A soap and water solution is best dried off with a microfiber towel. The idea is to have the sticker adhere directly to the painted metal of the frame.

Using a guide to keep the decals straight is always a good idea. Be sure that the adhesive makes good contact with the metal. Once you position the sticker, use a spatula to smooth out any air bubbles (this also ensures that as much of the adhesive as possible is adhering to the metal). The last thing you want is speeding over the water just to have half the numbers stripped off because of the wind.

Is the Registration Number the same as a Boat’s Hull Identification Number?

Since the Federal Boat Safety Act of 1972, all manufacturers have been required to display a Hull Identification Number on every boat. It consists of twelve characters and is found on the transom, usually on the starboard side. The twelve characters in the HIN identify the manufacturer (first three letters), followed by numbers.

The HIN is unique to your pontoon. No other boat has the exact hull identification as yours does. The HIN is valuable and needed information when registering your boat with the state, but it differs from the registration number.

The HIN and the registration number that the state issues are different. The HIN is like the VIN of an automobile, unique to that unit. The state’s registration number that is displayed would be your boat's license plate.

The HIN is stamped so that it cannot be removed, but it doesn’t appear on the engine (although engines have their own serial numbers).

Is it Illegal to Operate a Boat Without Registering it?

Just as it is illegal for you to operate a motor vehicle without registering it, you cannot operate a boat without informing the state that you own it. The penalty for not registering a boat is considered a misdemeanor in most states and comes with a $50 - $250 fine, depending on the state.

Can a Law Enforcement Officer Come on My Boat without Permission?

All states have provisions for law enforcement officers (including Fish and Wildlife Rangers) to gain access to any watercraft they feel is engaging in illegal activity. They also allow FWD officials to stop and inspect boats, which is why you should always have a copy of your registration onboard and the registration numbers and validation stickers displayed correctly. Just as a Park Ranger can ask to see your valid fishing license, so Fish and Wildlife Officers can ask to see your registration at any time. If you get pulled over on the lake, treat it just like you would any kind of traffic stop in your car. Be respectful. Comply with all requests. And have easy access to all paperwork the officer wants to see.

Where To Put Numbers On A Pontoon Boat
Jacob Collier

Jacob Collier

Born into a family of sailing enthusiasts, words like “ballast” and “jibing” were often a part of dinner conversations. These days Jacob sails a Hallberg-Rassy 44, having covered almost 6000 NM. While he’s made several voyages, his favorite one is the trip from California to Hawaii as it was his first fully independent voyage.

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