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In most states, vehicles that drive on public highways and roads are licensed to do so by the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) or equivalent. Unfortunately, every state has its own set of laws governing precisely what needs a title and tag and when. 

Below you will find a table of resources that will link to your state’s motor vehicle bureau. Remember, state laws change frequently. So before you head over to your DMV, make sure to review exactly what paperwork you’ll need and what your state’s requirements are.

Boat trailers sometimes require title and registration

What is a Boat Trailer Title?

Most people are familiar with the tag and title they need to get when purchasing a new car or towing vehicle. The state collects some information about the car, whether it’s new from the factory or the previous owner’s title. 

Of the many bits of information that they keep tabs on, the title will include the VIN, or vehicle identification number. That number keeps all the paperwork in check. Boat trailers are marked with a VIN as well.

The title is the official document that tracks ownership of the vehicle. You keep the title until the day you sell the trailer or vehicle or until you move to another state and they provide a new one.

Boats and boat trailers have tags and titles too. In many places, the same DMV issues the tag and title for both, but some places give vessels to the Game and Wildlife Department.

The rules governing trailer titles are significantly more complicated than those involving regular cars and trucks. Trailers differ by use, design, and weight. Some states specify requirements or exceptions for boat trailers, while others lump them into a utility trailer category. 

Do Boat Trailers Have Titles?

A majority of states have some sort of titling for boat trailers. Many places draw the line at certain types or weights of trailers.

Regardless of what state you are researching, make sure to double-check the requirements before proceeding. It’s also a good idea to research the requirements of the states nearby so that you have an understanding of what is expected once you’re driving down the highway.

Boat trailer title paperwork is done by the local DMV

Boat Trailer Weight 

If the state differentiates by trailer weight, you’ll want to double-check precisely what weight they use to make the determination. Is it the empty weight, as detailed in your purchasing documents from the manufacturer? Do you need to get a trailer weight certificate? 

Of course, it matters whether or not you are carrying the boat. Since the boat is also titled and registered, some states consider it completely separate, and others take the weight of the whole package as it is driving on the highway. For example, Vermont requires title if the loaded trailer gross weight is over 6,099 pounds, or if the unloaded trailer weight is more than 1,500 pounds.

When looking at whether trailers have titles in your state, it’s essential to double-check what trailers are in question. For example, some states draw specifications for boat trailers, and others lump them in with travel trailers or toy haulers. There are nearly always distinctions for noncommercial trailers, of course, which see much less use than semi-trailers or farm trailers.

No Trailer Title States

There are also a handful of states that don’t require any boat trailers to be titled. These states also tend to provide exceptions for trailers that haul motorcycles, ATVs, or other small vehicles.

Here’s a list of states that currently do not require getting a boat trailer title. 

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Hawaii
  • Mississippi
  • Oklahoma
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee

Manufacturer’s Certificate for Boat Trailers

An MSO or MCO is included with most brand new trailers from the factory. Both are collectively called a manufacturer’s certificate.

  • MSO — Manufacturers Statement of Origin
  • MCO — Manufacturers Certificate of Origin

No matter what your trailer maker calls it, the MSO/MCO is basically a temporary title. It contains the appropriate identification specific to your trailer, including the make, model, serial number, and VIN (vehicle identification number). It also has a description of the trailer, including its empty weight and length. It is usually printed on official letterhead. 

The manufacturer’s certificate is required when applying for a title on a new trailer. You might still have to title it if you don’t have one, but it would probably be considered a homebuilt trailer.

If you buy a new trailer in a non-title state, be sure to keep the manufacturer’s certificate and give it to the buyer when you sell the trailer. This way, if the buyer moves to another state, they can prove ownership and apply for a new title.

Do You Need to Register Your Boat Trailer and Get License Plates?

Boat trailer registration requirements, or tags, are a separate issue from titling. Usually, a tag goes with a titled vehicle. But in some places, you may find that you are required to license your trailer even though you don’t have a title for it.

Even if your state requires boat trailer title and tags, the cost usually isn’t very much. This is because boat trailers are generally lightweight and not used very often. Accordingly, the fee that states collect for trailers is much lower than they are for vessels or other vehicle types. 

The trailer plates are also sometimes handled specially. Whereas you must renew many motor vehicles annually or biennially, trailer tags are more likely to be permanent or require less frequent renewals.

A few states do not require registration on your boat trailer. These states include the following. The list of states that allow a trailer with no license plate on their roads under a certain weight is even longer. 

  • Alabama
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • Tennessee

If you’re lucky enough to live in one of these states, be careful if you drive outside of your state with your trailer. Many other states have laws that require all trailers on the highway to have a tag. If this happens to you, you can be fined by the state that you’re visiting. 

If you’re from a no-tag trailer state, consider getting a tag anyway. While they won’t issue a title, many will issue an identification tag for use outside the state for a nominal fee. Getting a tag is a no-brainer if you live near the border with a tag-requiring state.

Boat trailers need license plate registrations too

Which States Require Boat Trailer Titles?

So, do boat trailers have titles in your state? Here’s a list of each US state and the applicable rules. Be sure to click the link and check each DMV website, though. Rules change often.

Unfortunately, many states do not spell out their trailer title and registration requirements on their websites. To prevent confusion, if you can’t find the answer spelled out, your best course of action is to ask your local DMV office for guidance on the title and registration process.

State NameBoat Trailer Title Notes and State RequirementsLink to State Site
AlabamaNo title of tag required for utility trailersAlabama Dept of Revenue
AlaskaBoat trailers may require title and tagAlaska Dept of Administration
ArizonaTrailers need tagsArizona DOT
ArkansasNo title but tag requiredArkansas Office of Motor Vehicles
CaliforniaMay be eligible for permanent registrationCalifornia DMV
ColoradoRequires both title and tagColorado Dept of Revenue
ConnecticutTag requiredConnecticut DMV
DelawareRequires both title and tagDelaware DMV
FloridaTitle required if over 2,000 lbs–all require tagsFL Dept of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles
GeorgiaNo title but tags requiredGeorgia Dept of Revenue
HawaiiInspection and tags requiredHawaii Dept of Finance
IdahoTitle and registration requiredIdaho DMV
IllinoisTag requiredIllinois Secretary of State
IndianaTag requiredIndiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles
IowaTitle if over 2,000 lbs, tags requiredIowa DOT
KansasTitle/tag for trailers under 2,000 lbs optional, required on anything largerKansas Treasurer
KentuckyTitle and tag requiredDrive KY
LouisianaTag requiredLouisiana Dept of Motor Vehicles
MaineTitle required if the net weight is more than 3,000 lbs–tags always requiredBureau of Motor Vehicles
MarylandInspections, title, and tags requiredMaryland DOT
MassachusettsTitles required if trailer weight is over 3,000 lbs–tags always requiredMass.Gov
MichiganTitle required if the trailer is over 2,500 lbs, tags requiredMichigan Secretary of State
MinnesotaNo title on boat trailers under 4,500 lbs unless there is a lien–tag requiredMinnesota Driver and Vehicle Services
MississippiBoat trailers less than 5,000 lbs may be voluntarily titled, required if over 5,000 lbs–tags requiredMS Dept of Revenue
MissouriTitle and tag requiredMO Dept of Revenue
MontanaTitle and tag requiredMontana Dept of Justice
NebraskaTitle not required on utility trailers under 9,000 lbs, but tag requiredNebraska DMV
NevadaTitle and tag requiredNevada DMV
New HampshireTitles not required on trailers under 3,001 lbs–tags requiredNH DMV
New JerseyTitle required if trailer over 2,500 lbs–tags always requiredState of New Jersey
New MexicoTitle and tag requiredNM MVD
New YorkTitle and tag requiredNY DMV
North CarolinaTitle and tag requiredNC DOT
North DakotaBoat trailers exempt from title and tag requirementsND DOT
OhioTrailers over 4,000 lbs require titles, all require tagsOhio BMV
OklahomaPrivate boat trailers exempt from title and tag requirementsOklahoma Tax Commission
OregonTitle and tag required if the total weight is over 1,800 lbsOregon State Marine Board
PennsylvaniaTitle and tag requiredPA DMV
Rhode IslandTrailers over 3,001 lbs require titles–all require a tag—safety inspections are required on all trailers over 1,000 lbs.RI DMV
South CarolinaTitles and tags only if trailer empty weight is over 2,500 lbs or going out of stateSCDMV
South DakotaTitle and tag requiredSouth Dakota Dept of Revenue
TennesseeTags not requiredTN Dept of Revenue
TexasTitles required on all trailers over 4,000 lbs–tags required on allTexas DMV
UtahAll trailers over 750 lbs require a tag and title UT DMV
VermontTitle not needed for trailer with weight less than 6,099 lbs loaded or 1,500 lbs unloaded–tag always required VT DMV
VirginiaTitle and tag requiredDMV Virginia
WashingtonTag requiredWA State Dept of Licensing
West VirginiaTitle and tag requiredWVDMV
WisconsinTitle and tag required when the trailer is over 3,000 lbsWisconsin DOT
WyomingTitle and tag requiredWY DOT

Tag and Title? Check!

Boat paperwork can be confusing, and it’s easy to overlook the boat trailer until the last moment. So if you’re buying and selling on your, do yourself a favor and reach out to your local DMV. It’s a lot easier to ask what you need in advance and show up ready to hit the road.