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It's the Law

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

Registering Your Vessel

You must have an Iowa Registration Certificate and registration decals to operate a vessel on Iowa’s public waters legally. Exceptions to registration are:

  • Inflatable vessels, except canoes and kayaks, that are 7 feet or less in length and have no motor or sail
  • Canoes and kayaks that are 13 feet or less in length and have no motor or sail
  • Vessels properly registered in another state and using Iowa waters for 60 or fewer days within one calendar year

The Registration Certificate (pocket-sized registration certificate) must be on board and available for inspection by an enforcement officer whenever the vessel is operated.

The Iowa Registration Card
Iowa Registration Certificate

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

  • Number must be painted, applied as a decal, or otherwise affixed to the forward half of each side of the vessel, placed for maximum visibility.
  • No other numbers may be displayed on either side of the bow.
  • Number must read from left to right on both sides of the vessel.
  • Number must be in at least 3-inch-high, bold, BLOCK letters.
  • Number’s color must contrast with its background.
  • Letters must be separated from the numbers by a space or hyphen: IA 3717 ZW or IA-3717-ZW.
  • Decals must be affixed on each side of the vessel, toward the stern of the registration number, 4 inches from and in line with the number.
Iowa Validation Decal
Iowa vessel capacity and registration numbers

If a vessel is propelled by sail alone, the registration number may be placed in a position to provide maximum visibility, including placement on the mast.

A sailboard is not required to display the registration number, but the decal must be placed on the bottom surface of the bow of the sailboard.

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.

Where to Register

The Registration Certificate and registration decals are obtained by presenting the proper application form and fee to the County Recorder. Application should be made in the county of residence of the owner, or the county where the vessel is principally used if the owner is a non-resident.

Registration Questions?

Call the Iowa Department of Natural Resources at 515-725-8200.

Registration Fees*

(Renewals valid for a three-year cycle)

Type and Length of Vessel Fee
No Motor or Sail, any length $12.00
Motorboat or Sailboat
     Less than 16 ft. long (Class I) $22.50
     16 ft. to less than 26 ft. long (Class II) $36.00
     26 ft. to less than 40 ft. long (Class III) $75.00
     40 ft. long or longer (Class IV) $150.00
Personal Watercraft $45.00
Documented Vessel, any length $25.00
Note: An additional $1.25 writing fee is charged by the County Recorder for each privilege, and a fee of $3.65 per registration is paid to our contractor for the implementation and data management of the web-based Recreational Vehicle & Vessel Registration System (RVVRS).
*Fees shall be prorated during the second and third years of the three-year registration cycle.