3 Types of Boat Numbers & 3 HIN Formats (Compared)

Different types of Boat Numbers

When looking at a Boat in the USA, you might see different numbering on the Bow or the Hull. If you are confused as to which one is the Hull Number or State Registration Number, then this article is for you. Knowing the difference between these boat numbers is crucial for doing the Title Paperwork in our State and looking up the Boat Alert History Report.

Different kinds of of Boat Numbers
Three types of Boat Numbers

Boat Numbers in the USA

Many people confuse the Hull identification number (HIN) with the State Registration number or the USCG Number. So, here are examples that show the differences between the three boat numbers:

  • BLBA47EKL788 is a HIN affixed to the transom by the manufacturer. (12 characters long). The first 3 characters are the manufacturer (eg. BLB is Brunswick Boat Co.). It is sometimes called boat serial number, Hull ID (HID), boat VIN, or Craft Identification Number (CIN) in Australia.
  • TX 1548 BY is a Texas State Registration Number. (6-9 characters). For Florida they will start with FL…and so on for other states. Your Title paperwork will show the State Reg. Number (and a longer Title Number if your state issues titles).
  • NO1138330 is a Coast Guard Documentation Official Number (5 or 7 digits long). Usually boats are either registered at the State or Documented at the USCG (but not both). So you will see the N.O. number inside the boat written on a plate (not on the Hull or Bow). It is sometimes referred to as the Official Number, Coast guard Number, Documentation Number, CG number, or USCG No.

When a boat is documented at the federal level (not registered as state level), then it can carry the US flag and travel into international waters. It will also have a vessel name shown on the bow. Such boats that have a USCG Number qualify for a Boat Abstract of Title on top of the Boat-Alert Report.

Canadian Boat Numbers

For those looking at a boat in Canada, you will notice that the State Registration and USCG number do not apply. Instead, you will have two other ways that a boat is registered with Transport Canada.

Canadian Licencing is similar to the U.S. boat registration at State levels. Canadian Registration on the other hand is similar to U.S. documentation at the federal level. The Boat Numbers will look different in Canada but the manufacturer Hull ID number (HIN) is the same.

  • Yama2324L788 is a HIN affixed to the transom by the manufacturer. (12 characters long). The first 3 characters are the manufacturer (eg. YAM is Yamaha Boat Co.). It is sometimes called boat serial number or Hull ID (HID).
  • 50E12345 or BC123456 is a Canadian Licensed pleasure craft (PCL). Located on the exterior of the boat. Read more about PCL here.
  • O.N.123456 is a Canadian Registered Vessel (O.N. stands for official number; not to be confused with ON for Ontario.). Usually boats are either registered or licensed in Canada (but not both). The official number will be on the interior of the boat while the exterior will show the vessel name and hailing port. Here is a handy table to tell them apart it also explains all about boat registration in Canada.

Boats that are registered in Canada (not PCL), will qualify for a Boat Transcript of Registry on top of the Boat-Alert.com History Report.

Manufacturer Code

In the above examples of HIN numbers, we showed that YAM is Yamaha and BLB is Brunswick. So you must be wondering how to lookup the Manufacturer code from the HIN itself. Simply take the first three characters from the HIN and run them on HinDecoder.com’s manufacturer directory.

Example lookups of a Boat Manufacturer on HindDecoder.com

What numbers are on a boat?

As discussed above, the different numbers on a boat mean different things. some are issued by the state when registering the boat while others are created at the time of manufacture. You may be interested to read about Does a Boat have a VIN Number?

What do the numbers mean on a boat’s Hull?

So you are wondering what do these numbers mean on the front of the boat/ship… The boat numbers on the bow or the number internal to the boat could mean that the boat is documented with the NVDC or titled with a state agency (like DMV or DNR).

Get adhesive graphic for your boat numbers or a HIN plate to comply with authorities for boat decals and boat lettering

Order engraved HIN Tag ID Plate from ebay here.

Sample HIN Tag ID Plate
Sample HIN Tag ID Plate

IMO numbers

The International maritime organization (IMO) number is a unique identifier assigned to ships and other vessels registered with the International Maritime Organization (IMO). It is a seven-digit number which is used to identify and track large ships traveling the ocean. #IMONumber

Hailing Port

Depending on whether your vessel is documented as the coast guard or not, you will probably see a vessel name and hailing port just below it.

#BoatNumbers #HIN #USCGNumber #RegistrationNumber

Assuming that you have the correct manufacturer code (first three (3) letters), the rest of the HIN is structured according to a standard format. But there are three formats:


 From Year 1984 to Present

New Format Mandatory  –  August 1, 1984
 Identification Code
or Serial Number
of Production (position 9)
of Production
    * A – January          D – April          G – July            J – October
      B – February         E – May            H – August          K – November
      C – March            F – June           I – September       L – December      

The most common mistake we see here is confusing the letter i (eye) with the number one (1) at the ninth position in the HIN. Or 8 and B at the last character…

 From Year 1972 to 1984

Straight Year Format November 1, 1972
Identification Code
or Serial Number
of Production
of Production
Model Year Format Optional – November 1, 1972
 Identification Code
or Serial Number
‘M’ Indicates Model
Year Format
    * A – August          D – November          G – February         J – May
      B – September       E – December          H – March            K – June
      C – October         F – January           I – April            L – July  

 From Year 1900 to 1972

There was no standard format before November 1, 1972. Boat-Alert.com does not search older boats.

 Longer than 12 digits?

Sometimes, the HIN is prefixed by the country code. For Example “US-” for the United states, “CN-” for Canada, and “FR-” for France. This can lead to a HIN that is 14 or 15 digits long. You can skip the country code when searching for a Boat-Alert HIN Search Report. On the other hand, if you have a 17 digits long HIN then it might be that you are looking at a Trailer VIN number.

 Shorter than 12 digits?

If the HIN you have is shorter than 12 digits and does not match the above charts, consider that it might be a State Registration Number that you are looking at or the official number from the USCG. Look for the HIN on your title and on the transom.

Infographic: types of boat numbers
Infographic: types of boat numbers


  1. Official number – Wikipedia
  2. IMO number – Wikipedia
  3. Hull number – Wikipedia
  4. ISO 10087:2006(en), Small craft — Craft identification — Coding system
  5. Manufacturers Identification (uscgboating.org)
  6. National Vessel Documentation Center – FAQ (uscg.mil)

Categories: To learn more about Boat-Alert.com History Reports for used boats and boat alert hin check visit: www.Boat-Alert.com

About Boat-Alert.com®
Boat Alert History Reports© exists to aggregate boat databases so that shoppers can search and buy a used boat safely while saving time and money researching a used boat's history. We began in 2015 and constantly adding more boat title problems check data for USA and Canada to ensure that your boat has a clean history. We are happy to offer a 60-day money back guarantee and proud to have served more than 15,000 customers with their boat HIN Search History needs. nada guides ©. Two percent of all proceeds go to charity. We value fair treatment of employees, customer satisfaction, having the most databases possible, and fast customer service at the core of our brand. View our LinkTree.

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