Boating in Tennessee

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.

Email sign up link

Impaired Boat Operation PSA

Essentials for Boating in Tennessee

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 that require registration must be properly registered before using them on any public water in Tennessee.

Boats with 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 the 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 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 Clerk Requirements

What to take to the clerk’s office in order to obtain the application if the 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 the boat is in your name in another state but you 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 the fair market value of the boat as of the date it was moved to TN.

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

Initial Boat Registration:

The Tennessee Department of Revenue requires that boats that 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 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 the 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 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 watercraft, they can be found under the seat as well as on the lip of the footrest.

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:

Paddlecraft Survey

Exciting news! The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is embarking on a mission to learn more about our beautiful state's waterways and the paddlers who enjoy them. Our Fisheries Division, Wildlife and Forestry Division’s Human Dimensions Department, and the Boating and Law Enforcement Division have created a survey just for paddlers.  

Introducing the Paddlecraft User Survey – your chance to contribute to the preservation and enjoyment of Tennessee's rivers, streams, and reservoirs. Whether you're gearing up for an adventure, paddling along, or winding down after a day on the water, we want to hear from you!  What's the survey all about? It's simple! Our Survey Interview Form is designed to capture valuable insights from paddlers like yourself.

We'll be stationed at various access points across the state this summer, ready to chat with paddlers at every stage of their journey.  Your participation matters! By sharing your experiences, you're helping us understand the needs of both private and commercial paddlers. Plus, your input will shape the future of waterway management and conservation efforts in Tennessee. 

So keep an eye out for our friendly staff and volunteers equipped with the survey – they'll be easy to spot at a waterway near you.  Together, let's make waves and ensure that Tennessee's waters remain a vibrant and cherished resource for generations to come! 

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 that 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 a permit from the Executive Director of the Wildlife Resources Agency. 

Renting Motorized Boats in Tennessee

An amendment was passed in the General Assembly (Public Chapter No. 267) requiring persons that rent motorized watercraft be given an orientation for the particular kind of vessel.   The renter of that watercraft must sign off on a check sheet acknowledging this orientation and the marina, livery or any other rental entity will keep this acknowledgment on file for at least 30 days.


  • Non-motorized vessel rentals
  • Tennessee residents who have successfully completed a monitored National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) exam and hold the TWRA-issued wallet certification card
  • Any out of state visitor who holds a NASBLA-approved boating safety education certification
  • Any person who holds a United States Coast Guard operator license
  • Any person born on or before January 1, 1989

NASBLA-approved certification will have this logo on the certificate:

The TWRA-approved orientation videos and check sheets for acknowledgment can be found at   

Video DVD’s and resources can also be ordered from this website.

 2023 Boating Officer of the Year – Wildlife Officer Montana Michelson – Sumner County

Officer Michelson, assigned to Sumner County, finished 2023 out with an admirable number of accomplishments in Boating Safety.  While his most frequented patrol area is Old Hickory Lake, he is known for gladly assisting in any location or capacity.  Office Michelson was dedicated to waterway safety as shown through his 837 vessel inspections logging 136 Citations and 23 Warnings.  He additionally removed 12 impaired operators from TN waters and performed field sobriety tests on another 10 operators.  Officer Michelson worked marine events, assisted multiple boaters, responded to, and worked 8 boating incidents which 1 resulted in a BUI arrest, assisted stranded duck juvenile duck hunters, and conducted 6 boating education events.  He was awarded the 2023 Donelson Chamber of Commerce 1st Responder Award and was also district 21’s 2023 nomination for the Operation Dry Water National Award.

Officer Michelson was applauded by his command staff for having an exceptional work ethic, positive attitude, and for his commitment to boating safety through training and enforcement.

This year’s nominations were D12 WO Dalton Gooch, D41 WO Greg Julian, D42 WO Justin Pinkston, D31 WO Dylan Maynard, D32 BO David Holt, D22 WO Hailey Guffey.  Each of these officers truly did some phenomenal work to educate boaters, identify and remove impaired operators, and contribute to the safety of the citizens and visitors on our Tennessee waters.  We are exceptionally proud of their dedication and drive to reduce injuries and fatalities on our waters and hold those accountable who violate existing waterway laws.