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Boating in Tennessee

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Boating Education In TN

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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..

Out of State Boaters
If you were born after January 1, 1989, TWRA will accept any NASBLA approved boating safety certificate.

Boat Registration

(Note to boat owners: temporary registration allows you to immediately use your boat up to 60 days after you receive your certification)

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.

Boats with a current registration in 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 certified Application for Boat Certificate of Number, acquired through a Tennessee county court clerk's office or from the dealer that sold you the boat.  This will include a yellow temporary registration that is valid for 60 days from the date of certification to allow for processing.      

County Court Clerk Requirements

What to take to the clerk’s office in order to obtain the application if boat was purchased from an individual:

·         Complete Bill of Sale that includes:

o   Date of Sale

o   Price

o   Full description of vessel including – year, make, model and HIN

o   Name, Address, telephone number and signature of both buyer and seller.

·         If your vessel is built after 1972 and the HIN is no longer affixed to the vessel or not in the proper US Coast Guard Format, photos will be required.  Please see below for instructions on where to locate your                  HIN.

What to take to the clerk’s office in order to obtain the application if boat is in my name in another state but I would like to register it in Tennessee:

·         Documents to prove the vessel was registered to you in another state.

·         If applicable, proof that sales tax was paid in another state in order to receive credit for all previous taxes paid.

·         Taxable basis is fair market value of the boat as of the date it was moved to TN.

For questions regarding TN County Court Clerk requirements, please contact your local County Court Clerk.

Tennessee water vessel registration example
Tennessee water vessel registration example

Initial Boat Registration:

The Tennessee Department of Revenue requires that boats which have never been registered to you before must provide certification that the sales tax was paid when purchased. The owner needs to have the appropriate County Clerk's office or boat dealer certify the application verifying that the tax was paid (Please see above “County Court Clerk Requirements” for details). The registration form can be uploaded to our online registration portal by clicking here or taken to your local TWRA Regional office in Jackson, Nashville, Crossville or Morristown.  Boats built after 1972 are required to have a Hull Identification Number (HIN).   If you are unable to locate your HIN via the guidelines below, please provide a photo of that location of your vessel during the application process.


Requirements to initially register or renew your registration online:

To begin you will need to locate your TWRA Customer Profile. You will need your date of birth, last name and a second form of identification (TWRA Number, Last 4 of SSN or DL Number) so the system can check for an existing account.  If you have never had a boat registered or hunting/fishing license in Tennessee you will not have a profile and can start by creating an account.  An email address and phone number are required to complete any online transaction. 


With the Online Vessel Registration system you can:

  • View/Manage Your Current Vessel Registration Records and Check the Status of Pending Vessel Applications.
  • Renew Existing Registrations in Your Name Online Using a Debit / Credit Card (Visa, MC, or Discover).
  • Upload Your completed Application for Boat Certificate of Number certified by a TN County Court Clerk or TN boat dealer to complete your first time registration.
  • Submit & Pay for Your Application Online (Notification of Approval or request for additional information within 7 Days via Email).


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 or any of the TWRA Regional Offices in Jackson, Nashville, Crossville or Morristown. You must have the boat registration TN number and the license agent will ask for your last name, date of birth and last 4 of your SSN. 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.


Auto Renew for Vessels

When you sign up for vessel auto renew, the auto renew job will add an additional year to the vessel registration every year.  Example:  If you register your vessel for 3 years on March 1, 2017, the auto renew will add an additional year to your registration on March 1, 2018.  This keeps your registration at the maximum selected term at all times.  If you sell your boat or no longer wish to be enrolled in the auto renew program, you may opt out of the auto renew process at any time.  You will receive an email 10 days prior to the auto renew process, so please make sure your email address is up to date on your TWRA Customer Profile.


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.  Both original and renewal dealer/manufacture registrations must come to the central office in Nashville and can’t be renewed online.


Hull Number Correction Information

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 Hull Identification Number (HIN) is a 12 character serial number that uniquely identifies a boat and is formatted according to US Coast Guard standards. The HIN is similar to the VIN on a car. Vessels manufactured or imported before 1973 are EXEMPT because they often do not have a HIN. All boats manufactured or imported after 1972, must have a HIN, and this HIN must be identified during the boat registration process. HIN numbers are typically located:

  • On sport and fishing boats, they can be found on the back right outside corner.
  • On pontoons, they can be found on the right side of the frame above the pontoon, but below the deck.
  • On personal watercrafts, they can be found under the seat as well as on the lip of the foot rest.

If you are unable to locate the HIN number in any of these locations, photos of these areas of the vessel will be required.

Customers with an invalid HIN may renew their boats but within the next three years, our system may decline these renewals and any new owner applications in order to comply with the Agency’s Coast Guard deadline.

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

Check your hull id here!

Contact Us

Phone: 615-781-5270 | E-mail:

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.


Boating Safety Courses
Click on the image to find a boating safety course near you.

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. 

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