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Boating in Tennessee

Boating Officer check

Tennessee is one of the nation's leading states offering recreational waterways, and most "Volunteer State" residents will at some time take advantage of this tremendous opportunity. 

Any Tennessee resident born after January 1, 1989 must show the TWRA-issued wallet Boating Safety Education Certificate as proof of successful completion of the TWRA Boating Safety exam.



Check out our short video on what essentials you will need when boating in Tennessee waters.

Boat Registration

Tennessee law requires that all mechanically powered vessels (including federally documented recreational vessels) and all sailboats which are principally used in Tennessee must be registered.  (Boats are not titled in Tennessee.)  Mechanical propulsion includes electric trolling motors but does not include boats powered only by oars or paddles.  Boats which require registration must be properly registered before using them upon any public water of Tennessee.

Currently registered boats from other states may use Tennessee waters unless Tennessee has become their state of principal use.  Exception: Sailboats brought into Tennessee by persons from states that do not require numbering of sailboats are exempt from registration provided that Tennessee is not the state of principal use. State of principal use means the state on whose waters a vessel is used or to be used most, whether moored or underway, during a calendar year.

Persons who wish to register a boat must complete a registration form, available through a county clerk's office or from the dealer that sold you the boat.

Because documentation requirements vary from county to county, please call your County Clerk's office prior going there to ensure that you take the proper documentation in order to register your boat.  

Initial Registration

The Tennessee Department of Revenue requires that boats which have never been registered before must show certification that their sales tax was paid when purchased. The owner needs to have the appropriate County Clerk's office or boat dealer stamp the application verifying that the tax was paid. The registration form is then mailed to or taken to the address shown on the form for processing.

Boats built after 1972 are required to have a Hull Identification Number (HIN). 

Registered Boats transferred from one individual to another

Follow the same process as described for previously unregistered boats above. If a dealer is not involved, the county clerks office will require a bill of sale from the individuals involved.

Renewing a registration that does not involve a change of ownership

Renewals can be done online. You may also renew instantly by going to any business that sells TWRA hunting and fishing licenses. You must have the boat registration TN number and it is very helpful to have your TWRA ID number with you. You will receive a temporary registration which will allow you to operate your boat until your new decals and registration card arrive by mail, in about 2 weeks.

Registration by Dealers or Manufacturers

Dealers or manufacturers may apply for registration which can be transferred from one vessel to another. A copy of the business license and sales tax number must accompany the application for a dealer or manufacturer number. Such vessels are to be used for demonstration purposes only and more than one vessel may not be operated simultaneously with the same number. In addition, vessels being demonstrated must have the Certificate of Number on board and the registration number must be correctly displayed. However, such vessels may display the number by having it attached to removable signs which can be temporarily but firmly attached to the vessel.

Renew your TN vessel registration online

Initial Boat Registration:

The Tennessee Department of Revenue requires that boats which have never been registered before must provide certification that their sales tax was paid when purchased. The owner needs to have the appropriate County Clerk's office or boat dealer stamp the application verifying that the tax was paid. The registration form can then be mailed or uploaded to the application online through this site.

Requirements to renew your registration online:

To begin you will need to locate or create your TWRA Customer Profile. You will need your date of birth and a second form of identification (TWRA Number, SSN, DL Number) so the system can check for an existing account.

*(Existing Customers will have a TWRA Number

*Current Vessel Registration Holders and TN Fishing / Hunting License Holders Will Have an Existing Customer Account 

With the Online Vessel Registration system you can:

*View & Manage Your Current Vessel Registration Records

*Renew Existing Registrations in Your Name Online Using a Debit / Credit Card (Visa, MC, or Discover)

*Upload Your Proof of Tax Payment (County Clerk Document) and finalize

*Submit & Pay for Your Application Online (Notification of Approval within 7 Days via Email)

The U.S. Coast Guard has mandated (33 C.F.R. § 181.25) that all registered vessels in the State of Tennessee provide a properly formatted Hull Identification Number (HIN) to TWRA.
The HIN is a 12 digit number generally located on the outside of the hull in the upper right corner of the boat’s transom.

A properly formatted HIN begins with 3 letters, followed by 5 characters (either number or letter), then one letter, then one number, and lastly, the last two digits of the year. EXAMPLE: ABC12345D313

Customers with an invalid HIN may renew their boats but only for the next three years. After the Coast Guard mandated deadline, our system will decline these renewals and any new owner applications.

It is imperative to correct these numbers in the system before that deadline.

Check your hull id here!

Contact Us

Phone: 1-800-648-8798 or 615-781-6585 | E-mail:

Mailing Address
PO Box 41729
Nashville TN 37204

Boating Safety Education

The Tennessee mandatory boating education law is similar to the driver’s license law. You acquire the study materials, study, and then take an approved boating safety exam administered by an approved representative of the TWRA.



Waterway Navigation

Tennessee uses the uniform system of buoys and markers that are standard in the United States. These buoys and markers are placed for your assistance and safety. In addition to written messages on the buoys, there are a variety of colors, shapes and symbols which aid in the recognition of a particular buoy. Take a minute to study the diagram showing how the buoys may be used.

Navigational Aids

A. Diver's Flag: Must be used any time a diver is in the water. Boats must not come closer than 50 feet of the flag and must operate at a slow, no-wake speed within 200 feet. 

B. Alpha Flag: Means a vessel is engaged in diving operations or is restricted in its ability to navigate. Boaters must use extreme caution and are advised to look for a diver's-down flag. 

C. Mooring Buoys: Means an anchor buoy. This is the only buoy to which a boat may tie or secure to. 

D. Red Channel Marker Buoy: Traveling upstream, you should pass to the left of this buoy as it marks the right side of the channel. 

E. Green (or black) Channel Marker Buoy: Traveling upstream, you should pass to the right of this buoy as it marks the left side of the channel. 

F. Junction Buoy (RED OVER GREEN): means two channels are coming together and you pass to the left of the buoy as you travel upstream. 

G. Junction Buoy (GREEN OVER RED): means two channels are coming together and you should pass to the right of the buoy as you travel upstream. 

H. Boats Keep Out Buoy: Marks a swimming area, area near a dam, or any area where boats are not allowed. 

I. Danger Buoy: Marks an obstruction, ferry cable, or any area where boats should not navigate or should use extreme caution. 

J. Information Buoy: Used to relay information. Words printed in black (usually inside the border) tell place names, distances, directional arrows, availability of supplies, gasoline, etc. 

K. Control Buoy: Marks a restricted area such as "slow no-wake," 5 MPH, no skiing or no fishing. 

L. Passing Daymark (RED): A sign mounted on poles in the water or on the bank which is used in the same manner as a channel marker buoy. In this case it marks the right side of the channel as you travel upstream. 

M. Passing Daymark (GREEN): A sign mounted on poles in the water or on the bank which is used in the same manner as a channel marker buoy. In this case it marks the left side of the channel as you travel upstream. 

N. Channel Crossing Daymark (RED): A sign mounted on poles in the water or on the bank which means the channel is crossing from the right bank to the left bank as you travel upstream. 

O. Channel Crossing Daymark (GREEN): A sign mounted on poles in the water or on the bank which means the channel is crossing from the left bank to the right bank as you travel upstream. 


Establishing Private Aids, Markers or Platforms

Permission to establish private aids, markers or buoys on public waterways by groups, individuals and municipalities other than the federal government must be obtained by written request to the Executive Director of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

Mooring or fastening watercraft to any buoy or marker other than a mooring buoy is prohibited except in case of an emergency.

Removal of any buoy or marker by any unauthorized personnel is prohibited.

Ski Jumps and slalom courses may be established on public water only through permit from the Executive Director of the Wildlife Resources Agency. 


Safety Hazards

Each year, boaters are injured or killed by carbon monoxide. Most incidents occur on older boats and within the cabin or other enclosed areas. Exhaust leaks, the leading bause of death by carbon monoxide, can allow carbon monoxide to migrate throughout the boat and into enclosed areas. New areas of concern are the rear deck near the  wim platform with the generator or engines running and teak surfing or dragging behind a slow moving boat. Regular maintenance and proper boat operation can reduce he risk of injury from carbon monoxide. 

Carbon monoxide is a potentially deadly gas produced any time that a carbon-based fuel, such as gasoline, propane, charcoal, or oil, burns. Sources on your boat include gasoline engines, generators, cooking ranges, and space and water heaters. Cold or poorly tuned engines produce more carbon monoxide than warm, properly tuned engines.

Carbon monoxide is colorless, odorless, and tasteless, and mixes evenly with the air. It enters your bloodstream through the lungs and displaces the oxygen your body needs. Early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning - irritated eyes, headache, nausea, weakness, and dizziness - are often confused with seasickness or intoxication. Prolonged exposure to low concentrations or very short exposure to high concentrations can lead to death.

All carbon monoxide poisonings are preventable!

Avoid Death Zones

  • Swimming near or under the back deck or swim platform. Carbon monoxide from exhaust pipes of inboard engines, outboard engines and generators build up inside and outside the boat in areas near exhaust vents. Stay away from these exhaust vent areas and do not swim in these areas when the motor or generator is operating.
  • On calm days, wait at least 15 minutes after the motor or generator has been shut off before entering these areas.
  • Never enter an enclosed area under a swim platform where exhaust is vented, not even for a second. It only takes one or two breaths of the air in this "death chamber" for it to be fatal.
  • Teak surfing, dragging and water skiing within 20 feet of a moving watercraft can be fatal.

Did You Know?

  • Blockage of exhaust outlets can cause carbon monoxide to accumulate in the cabin and cockpit area - even when hatches, windows, portholes, and doors are closed.
  • Exhaust from another vessel that is docked, beached, or anchored alongside your boat can emit poisonous carbon monoxide gas into the cabin and cockpit of your boat. Even with properly vented exhaust, your boat should be a minimum of 20 feet from the nearest boat that is running a generator or engine.
  • Slow speeds or idling in the water can cause carbon monoxide gas to accumulate in the cabin, cockpit, bridge, and aft deck, even in an open area. A tailwind can also increase accumulation.
  • The "station wagon effect," or backdrafting can cause carbon monoxide to accumulate inside the cabin, cockpit and bridge when operating the boat at a high bow angle, with improper or heave loading or if there is an opening which draws in exhaust. This effect can also cause carbon monoxide to accumulate inside the cabin, cockpit, aft deck, and bridge when protective coverings are used and the boat is underway.

What to Do

  • Educate family and friends about carbon monoxide so they are aware of what the early poisoning signs are.
  • If your boat has rear-vented generator exhaust, check with the boat manufacturer for possible recall or reroute the exhaust to a safe area.
  • Assign an adult to watch when anyone is swimming or playing in the water.
  • Schedule regular engine and exhaust system maintenance inspections by experienced and trained technicians.
  • Keep forward-facing hatches open, even in inclement weather, to allow fresh air circulation in living spaces. When possible, run the boat so that prevailing winds will help dissipate the exhaust.
  • Do not confuse carbon monoxide poisoning with seasickness, intoxication or heat stress. If someone on board complains of irritated eyes, headache, nausea, weakness or dizziness, immediately move the person to fresh air, investigate the cause and take corrective action. Seek medical attention if necessary.
  • Install a carbon monoxide detector in each accommodation space on your boat. Test the operation of each detector before each trip.

Propeller Safety

Protect those toes, feet, legs, and lives. Be aware of your boat's "danger zone." Swim platforms, ladders, and slides are all located in the rear of the boat where the propeller is lurking right under the water. Use caution when swimming, loading, or jumping off the rear of boats. Turn the engine off when people are swimming near the boat. On larger boats, have someone to visually check the stern area for persons in the water before placing engines in reverse.

Electricity and Boats

All power cords used on boats should be rated suitable for Marine Use, or UL-Marine listed. Never use ordinary "outdoor-use" extension cords to provide electrical shore power to the boats. Never leave a shore power cord on the dock with only the plug end connected. A live cord end is dangerous, especially if it accidentally falls into the water. When AC current leaks out of the AC system and reaches any grounded item on the boat that is in contact with the water then this leakage current will spread out on the water and anyone swimming in the field will be subject to electrical shock.

Boating Infrastructure Grant (BIG) Program

The Boating Infrastructure Grant program is a nationwide competitive grant program provides funding for the construction, renovation, and maintenance of public and private boating infrastructure tie-up facilities with features for transient boaters in vessels 26 feet or more in length that are available to the public.

Boating infrastructure generally means features that provide stopover places for transient boats 26 feet or more in length to tie up. The Boating Infrastructure Grant Program expects to make available between $4 million and $5 million for Tier II projects. There are no dollar limits for Tier II projects. All Tier II projects must meet the eligibility requirements of 50 CFR 86.20. Each project will compete nationally against every other project in Tier II.

The program is designed to provide transient dockage for recreational boats 26 feet or more in length for recreational opportunities and safe harbors, as well as:

  • enhance access to recreational, historic, cultural and scenic resources;
  • strengthen community ties to the water’s edge and economic benefits;
  • promote public/private partnerships and entrepreneurial opportunities;
  • provide continuity of public access to the shore; and,
  • promote awareness of transient boating opportunities.

The Boating Infrastructure Grant funds are available to both the public and private sector. This includes all local governmental entities and private businesses that own and operate boating facilities that are open to the general public. 

Criteria For Project Funding (Scoring system based on the following)

  1. Construct and renovate tie-up facilities for transient recreational boats 26 feet or more in length;
  2. Provide for public/private and public/public partnership efforts to develop, renovate, and maintain tie-up facilities;
  3. Use innovative techniques to increase the availability of tie-up facilities for transient vessels 26 feet or more in length (includes education/information);
  4. Include private, local, or other State funds in addition to the non-Federal match described in Section 86.42
  5. Are cost efficient. (Proposals are cost efficient when the tie-up facility or access site’s features add high value compared with the funds from the proposal.);
  6. Provide a significant link to prominent destination way points such as those near metropolitan population centers, cultural or natural areas, or that provide safe harbors from storms;
  7. Provide access to recreational, historic, cultural, natural or scenic opportunities of local, regional or national significance;
  8. Provide significant positive economic impacts to a community; and,
  9. Include multi-state efforts that result in coordinating location of tie-up facilities.

Can You Apply With Projects Already Installed Or Under Construction

No. Costs incurred prior to the effective date of a grant agreement/grant award are not allowed.


Examples Of Eligible Activities

  1. Construction, renovation, and maintenance of public and private boating infrastructure tie-up facilities that:
    • are built on navigable waters with a minimum of six (6) feet of depth;
    • are reasonably available to the public (via physical access, equitable fees, and open periods);
    • are temporary use facilities (not to exceed 10 days use) for transient recreational vessels 26 feet or more in length;
    • provide security, safety, and service for these types of boats; and,
    • install a pumpout facility (if needed due to proximity of nearest pumpout facility).
  2. One-time dredging only, to give transient vessels safe channel depths between the tie-up facility and maintained channels or open water; and,
  3. Install navigational aids, limited to giving transient vessels safe passage between the tie-up facility and maintained channels or open water.

Examples Of Activities Ineligible For Funding

  1. Projects that do not provide public benefit;
  2. Involve enforcement activity;
  3. Significantly degrade or destroy valuable natural resources, or alter the cultural or historic nature of the area;
  4. Provide structures not expected to last at least 20 years;
  5. Do maintenance dredging;
  6. Fund operations or routine, custodial and janitorial maintenance of the facility;
  7. Construct, renovate, or maintain boating infrastructure tie-up facilities for non-transient vessels.

Contact Information

For questions regarding the Tennessee Boating Infrastructure Grant Program or Marine Sanitation Laws within Tennessee, please call (866) 416-4488 or e-mail