Do You Have to Register a Boat with a Trolling Motor?

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Unpowered boats have a few advantages over their powered counterparts. One advantage is that you don’t usually have to go through the tedious process of registering it.

Yet, depending on the degree to which you customize your unpowered boat, you may have to register it.

Do you have to register a boat with a trolling motor?

In today’s guide, we’re going to take a look at whether you’ll need to register your boat if you attach a trolling motor to it.

First, let us clarify what a trolling motor is.


Trolling Motor 101

Minn Kota Endura C2 30 Freshwater Transom Mounted Trolling Motor (30' Shaft)

Trolling motors  are self-contained propulsion units with a motor, propeller, shaft, and tiller. They are like outboard motors, but have a few key differences that set them apart. Most outboard engines are gasoline-powered, but the majority of trolling motors are electric-driven.

Trolling motors also tend to be far smaller than their outboard counterparts. They produce less power and acceleration and have a limited top speed.

The goal is to maneuver a boat across the water during fishing while not disrupting the nearby fish.

Do You Have to Register a Boat with a Trolling Motor?

Trolling motors are usually swift additions to a vessel. It can be mounted on something like a kayak. Thus, many boaters assume that they don’t need to register their boat with one attached.

Unfortunately, those boaters would be wrong to assume otherwise, at least in the United States.

Every state in the country mandates that motorized boats must be registered. There is no size limit on boats that can be registered.

Theoretically, you would even have to register a surfboard if you added a trolling motor to it.

While you may have seen kayakers with trolling motors with no registration numbers before, this isn’t strictly legal. You can easily be stopped by the harbor patrol in your area if you are caught.

What Happens if I Get Caught Using a Trolling Motor on an Unregistered Vessel?

If you’re out on the water with an unregistered small vessel like a kayak, you can expect to be let off on your first offense.

Yet, we wouldn’t recommend it in the first place.

This is mainly up to the harbor patrol officer and whether they’re feeling generous on that day.

You’ll probably get off with just a warning and no citation if you are polite and explain that you didn’t know the law (which you now do).

But, if you still stay out on the water with your unregistered vessel and get caught by the same harbor patrol officer, you’ll likely incur their wrath.

The penalty for getting caught depends on the state you’re in.

On the lower end, these citations can cost you around $50 per offense. Some states will charge $80 per citation, and some will even bump up the penalty to over $100.

What Kinds of Boats Need to Be Registered With a Trolling Motor?

Whether you need to register a vessel with a trolling motor is not dependent on the type of vessel it’s mounted on. Even something like a kayak will need to be registered if you add a means of mechanical propulsion.

Sailboats under 12 feet long typically don’t need to be registered. But, the minute you add something like a trolling motor to a small sailboat, you’ll have to get a registration for it too.

The registration process isn’t dependent on the type of boat you’re using. But it hinges on whether that boat has a means of mechanical propulsion (which a trolling motor counts as).

How Do I Register a Boat With a Trolling Motor?

The exact process for registering a boat once you add a trolling motor to it depends on the state that you live in.

Each state has a different application for boat registration. And most states charge a small fee for registration.

Get in touch with your state’s Department of Natural Resources. They’ll guide you through what you need to do to have your vessel registered. Once you’ve filled out the paperwork to get your boat registration, you’ll have to pay for it.

When payment is received, your application should take about two weeks to process. But this can vary depending on your state.

Regardless, you should be able to use your vessel without the trolling motor until it’s registered. Keep in mind that you’re not done when the application has been approved.

Once approved, you’ll then have to paint or display the registration number on your vessel, even if it’s a kayak.

Typically, it should be on the side of the boat where it can be seen by other people out on the water. It should be large enough to be seen from a distance.

Is There a Way to Use a Trolling Motor Without Registering My Boat?

If you want to use your boat with a trolling motor in a public body of water, then you’ll need to get it registered. Otherwise, there’s no way around that.

But, if you’re going to take your boat out on the water on private property, then you don’t need to get it registered. Small boaters may use motorized vessels on small lakes located on their own property, without having to worry about the harbor patrol.


In the vast majority of cases, you’ll need to register your vessel if you want to use it lawfully with a trolling motor.

And, once a vessel transitions from human-powered to mechanical-powered, it must be registered.

We hope that this guide has proven helpful.

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