Gathering the Paperwork When it’s Time to Sell

“I love paperwork!” said no one ever, but gathering all the proper documents and receipts will add value as it de-risks your boat for potential buyers. The documents that buyers and sellers need varies by state and by size and type of boat, but the main documents you should endeavor to provide are as follows:

Boat owner gathering documents and paperwork to sell boat

Boat Title / Proof of Ownership:

The title should be handed off to the new owner at time of sale if it’s in owner possession.

And don’t forget, in order to get the new ownership documents, the buyer will first have to pay any taxes due. If the boat is still being financed, the lienholder may hold the title depending on the state, and in this case, a bill of sale is most essential until the lien is paid off by the seller and they send the title to the new owner. Legal transfer of ownerships is essential to ensure the owner is no longer liable when the buyer drives off with the boat.


Like with the title, this varies by state, but most states require any motorized vessel to be registered, as well as the trailer.

This all usually takes place at the DMV, and in some cases, you can do it online, but depending on your state and your boat’s intended use, you may be doing this through a Fisheries and Wildlife Service or the Department of Natural Resources.

Owners Manual:

This can easily be found online as well if it’s been misplaced.

Maintenance Records:

Demonstrating care and consideration positively impacts the boat’s value.

Receipts for Replacement Parts and Upgrades:

This may show added value beyond price assessment tools.

Proof of Insurance:

It’s a good idea for the buyer to show this at the time of pickup before the transfer of ownership.

Formally Documenting Your Boat:

While technically all of the above are documents when we boat owners say “boat documentation” they mean one thing—the paperwork that proves its registration with the US Coast Guard.

If your boat is over five tons, it’s required to be officially documented with a Certificate of Documentation, which is, simply, an application to register it with the US Coast Guard. If your vessel is over 26 feet you may also apply for documentation. You should also know that documentation is usually required if you use boat financing, though for those under 26 feet, proof of ownership may be enough. Additionally, some states may require both a US Coast Guard certificate and state registration to operate your boat on public waterways.