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It's the Law

Buying or Selling a Vessel


Illustration of a for sale sign

The steps for transferring ownership of a vessel are essentially the same whether the “seller” is a marine dealer or the “buyer” is an individual purchasing a pre-owned vessel from an individual “seller.”

The “seller” must complete the form on the back of the Registration Certificate and deliver it to the “buyer” at the same time the vessel is delivered. If the vessel is titled, the “seller” also must sign the back of the certificate of title and deliver it to the “buyer,” with an assignment on it showing the title in the buyer’s name.

The “buyer” must apply for the transfer of registration, or for original registration of a new vessel, within 30 days of the purchase. In the case of a new vessel, the “buyer” may operate the vessel without displaying a registration number for a period of not more than 35 days after the purchase date, provided the vessel has attached a sign available from the dealer bearing the words “Registration Applied For,” the special certificate number of the dealer, and the date of purchase. Vessels may not be on Iowa waters without a current Registration Certificate and decals.

No vessel will be registered by the County Recorder until receipts, bills of sale, and the seller’s current registration and title have been presented to the Recorder.

  • If the vessel is purchased new from a dealer, the M.S.O. or M.C.O. and a bill of sale are required.
  • If the vessel is already titled, the original title is required.
  • If the vessel has an expired registration from another state, an additional $5.00 penalty fee is required.