Chapter 4: The Legal Requirements
Your Vessel ’s Certificate of Number and Validation Decals
Requirements for vessel registration vary from state to state. In Tennessee, you must have a Tennessee Certificate of Number and validation decals to operate your vessel legally on public waters in Tennessee. The only exceptions are:
- Vessels propelled only by paddles or oars
- Vessels registered in other states using Tennessee waters for 60 days or less
An application for the Certificate of Number is obtained after paying sales tax to the dealer or county clerk’s office. The application then is mailed to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency or dropped off at the Nashville TWRA sales office.
The Certificate of Number (pocket-sized registration card) must be on board and available for inspection by an enforcement officer whenever the vessel is operated.
The registration number and validation decals must be displayed as follows.
The Certificate of Number (pocket-sized registration card) must be carried on board the vessel whenever the vessel is operated.
- Number must be painted, applied as a decal, or otherwise affixed to both sides of the bow where no other number may be displayed.
- Number must read from left to right on both sides of the bow.
- Number must be in at least three-inch-high, plain, vertical BLOCK letters.
- Number’s color must contrast with its background.
- Letters must be separated from the numbers by a hyphen or a space: TN-3717-ZW or TN 3717 ZW.
- Decals may be placed to the left or right of the registration number on both
sides of the bow.
If your vessel requires registration, it is illegal to operate it or allow others to operate your vessel unless it is registered and numbered as described above.
PWCs also are required to display the certificate’s
number and validation decals.
About Registering Your Vessel
- The Certificate of Number is valid for one, two, or three years, at the option of the owner.
- The owner of a numbered vessel must notify TWRA within 15 days if:
- You change your address.
- The vessel is lost, stolen and/or recovered, destroyed, abandoned, or sold.
- Vessels registered in another state may operate on Tennessee waters for 60 consecutive days before Tennessee registration is required.
- If you lose or destroy your Certificate of Number or validation decals, you must apply to the TWRA for a duplicate and submit a processing fee.
- Larger recreational vessels owned by U.S. citizens may (at the option of the owner) be documented by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG). (Read
more about obtaining the U.S. Coast
of Documentation.) Call the USCG at 1-800-799-8362 for more information.
- Documented vessels must be registered in Tennessee and carry the Certificate
of Number on board, but are not required to display the registration number.
- The validation decals issued by the TWRA must be placed on both sides of
the documented vessel on the windows closest to the main operator station.
- If the vessel does not have windows, the decals must be placed in
the immediate vicinity of the operator and must be clearly visible to
- Sailboats may place the decals on both sides of the bottom of the main
The Hull Identification Number (HIN) is a unique, 12-digit or 17-digit number assigned by the manufacturer to vessels built after 1972.
Hull Identification Numbers:
- Distinguish one vessel from another—the same as serial numbers distinguish one car from another.
- Are engraved in the fiberglass or on a metal plate permanently attached to the transom.
You should write down your HIN and put it in a place separate from your vessel in case warranty problems arise or your vessel is stolen.
Both the 12-digit and 17-digit HIN provide the information shown above.
The 17-digit HIN also gives the length of the vessel, the hull material, the type of propulsion, the type of hull, and a "check digit."