Handbook of Illinois Boating Laws and Responsibilities Illinois Department of Natural Resources

It's the Law: Before Going Out

All operators are required to obey laws that regulate your vessel’s registration, titling and operation.

Registering and Titling (625 ILCS 45/3)

You must have an Illinois Certificate of Number (registration), expiration decals, and Certificate of Title to operate your vessel legally. The only exceptions are:

  • Sailboards
  • A canoe or kayak owned by a nonprofit organization
  • An unpowered vessel operated on a private lake (this does not apply to waters controlled by a club or association)
  • A vessel owned by the federal or state government
  • Vessels properly registered in another state and using Illinois waters for less than 60 consecutive days
  • Vessels documented with the U.S. Coast Guard and using Illinois waters for less than 60 consecutive days

Registration is valid for three years. All certificates expire on June 30 at the end of the three-year period.

Illinois Certificate of Number (Registration)

The Certificate of Number (registration card) must be on board and available for inspection by an enforcement officer whenever the vessel is being operated.

The registration number and expiration decals must be displayed as follows.

  • Number must be placed on each side of the forward half of the vessel.
  • Number must read from left to right on one line, starting with two capital letters—IL—followed by a space and four digits followed by a space and two capital letters, for example: IL 1234 AB.
  • Number must be in at least three-inch-high BLOCK letters.
  • Number's color must contrast sharply with its background.
  • Decals must be placed on both sides of the bow after a space at the end of the number.

Proper placement of registration number and expiration decal on a boat

Placement of expiration decal on a PWC

Unpowered canoes or kayaks are not required to display registration numbers but must display expiration decals.

Larger recreational vessels owned by U.S. citizens may (at the option of the owner) be documented by the U.S. Coast Guard. These vessels are required to display the expiration decal on either side of the documented vessel name.

The owner of a vessel requiring registration and titling must file a watercraft application with the Department of Natural Resources. The application must be signed by the owner and must be accompanied by the required documents and appropriate fee. The required documents are as follows.

  • New vessels: the original properly endorsed Manufacturer’s Certificate of Origin
  • Vessels previously registered or titled in another state: the owner’s registration certificate and/or title
  • Illinois titled vessels: the owner’s Illinois title

Warning: Vessels purchased new or used from out-of-state dealers, manufacturers, or lending institutions are subject to tax. Contact the Illinois Department of Revenue at 1-800-732-8866 for instructions before submitting an application.

Where To Title and Register

Watercraft registration application forms are available from Illinois Department of Natural Resources regional offices, conservation officers, and boat dealers. Boaters may renew their vessel registrations by calling 1-866-867-3542 or 1-800-867-3542, or on the internet at

Illinois Department
of Natural Resources
State Information
It's the Law!

Handbook of Illinois Boating Laws and Responsibilities
Printable PDF Version
of Handbook

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Online boating safety handbook last modified: April 22, 2008
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