How to obtain a HIN number on a boat? (State-assigned Hull ID)

Every boat must have a Hull Identification Number (HIN), easily identifiable on the hull.

A HIN is usually created by the manufacturer of the boat and is synonymous with the VIN of a motor vehicle and is used to identify one boat from another and prevent theft. If your boat seems to be missing this number, don’t worry.

This article explains how to get a HIN to get your boat’s registration details and paperwork in order. If you are planning to sell your boat, a missing HIN can raise many eyebrows, which is why we are here to help. If you want to learn more about hull ID numbers, consider reading our blog.    

Why do I need a HIN?

  • You will need a Hull Identification Number when registering or titling your boat for the first time.
  • You also need a HIN during the transfer of registration and for registering second-hand vessels for the first time.
  • You will need to provide a HIN when selling your boat since it is one the first things that buyers ask for to perform a HIN lookup.
  • Having a HIN can also be very beneficial if you are trying to do a background check related to your vessel. For example, you may wish to learn more about its past owners or see if it has been involved in any accidents or theft.
  • Homemade vessels need one too!

Who assigns HIN numbers? | Who issues Hull Identification Numbers?

1.      Manufacturer HIN

A HIN is a serial number primarily assigned by the manufacturer that uniquely differentiates one watercraft from another, including boats, ships, and personal watercraft. Federal regulations that became effective on 1st November 1972 require all vessel manufacturers to provide a unique HIN to each vessel it builds. The US Coast Guard investigates non-complying manufacturers.

Current Manufacturer HIN Format

Since 1984, the prescribed format of a manufacturer’s HIN contains 12 characters: The first three characteristics consist of the Manufacturer Identification Code (MIC), which the Coast Guard or the importing party assigns.

Characters four to eight are the serial number given by the manufacturer. The next alphabet normally shows the month during which construction started. The alphabets A through L represent the 12 months. For example, “D” means April.

The next number represents the year of certification, and the last two characters represent the boat’s model year. Here are steps how to read a HIN.

2.      State-Assigned HIN

In general, the manufacturer assigns a HIN to the boat, which is then affixed to its hull. But there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, in cases where the boat was importedUfrom a foreign country, is too old, is homemade, or has an invalid format, the state will step in and assign a Hull ID.

A state-issued Registration number is Not the HIN. The reg no. is generally 6 to 9 characters in length, where the first two letters contain the state’s abbreviation, while the following numbers and letters are unique to the boat. For example, “TX 1548 BY” is Texas’s state reg number.

When do I need to obtain a State-Issued Hull ID?

You might need to obtain a state-issued HIN if it was imported, homemade, or manufactured before 1972. You may also need to apply for a new HIN if your current boat has a missing HIN. A boat might lack a HIN if it was salvaged, stolen, or involved in an accident before the purchase.

  • Imported boats. A boat imported by an individual for personal use requires a HIN from the state where it will be principally operated. This is because the boat previously had the HIN format of the importing country and needs to be issued in the new format that is relevant to your country of residence.
  • Old boats. Boats manufactured before 1972 often do not have a HIN since it wasn’t a federal requirement. Similarly, boats manufactured before 1984 may have the HIN in the old format.
  • Homemade boats. A homemade boat is made for personal use and not made for sale. Such boats do not have a HIN and need to be registered with the state.
  • Stolen, salvaged, or tainted boats. Thieves and scammers tend to remove the HIN of watercraft before selling them so the authorities cannot track them down. 

How Do You Get a Hull ID On a Homemade Boat?

For a homemade boat, the State assigns HIN using the New Format, where the last 4 characters show the month and year in which the HIN was issued. It primarily provides two options.

  • Option 1 –The State sends a “Certification of Placement” specifying a HIN that must be affixed to the individual’s vessel.
  • Option 2 – The State provides a metal plate containing the HIN, which needs to be affixed to the vessel.

With both options, you will need to submit a photo to the state after attaching the HIN to the boat to complete the registration process. You may also submit an affidavit confirming that the HIN is permanently affixed to the vessel’s hull.

Can you sell a homemade boat?

Yes, you can sell homemade boats under certain conditions. Federal regulations generally aim to prevent the sale of homemade recreational vessels that might not meet safety standards. However, the US Coast Guard (USCG) recognizes that there are situations where selling homemade boats might be acceptable. To sell a homemade recreational vessel, it must:

  1. Meet the requirements outlined in 33 CFR Subchapter S, which are safety standards for recreational vessels.
  2. Have undergone inspection by an independent marine surveyor who holds a nationally accredited certification from organizations like the National Association of Marine Surveyors (NAMS) or the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors (SAMS). A report from this surveyor should be provided to the state when selling the vessel.
  3. Not be sold within 10 years of the state assigning a Hull Identification Number (HIN) to the boat.

So, while it’s possible to sell homemade boats, there are specific criteria and steps that need to be followed to ensure they meet safety standards and regulations.

Homebuilt vessels that are gifted at any time to another person are acceptable. The gifting of a homebuilt vessel does not hold the builder that is doing the gifting to the safety standards that a professional boat builder would need to uphold if they were selling for profit.

How to Obtain a HIN?

If you are wondering, “How do I get a HIN?” here’s what you need to do.

Step 1

Contact your local boat registration agency, such as DMV, game and wildlife agency, or another agency for detailed instructions. They will normally provide you with a form that you will need to fill out.

Step 2

Attach at least 2 pictures of the boat, clearly showing the registration number if it has one. The photos can be taken on water or land.

Step 3

Review the details, sign the application, and make sure to put the correct date.

Step 4

Send the application to your relevant boating application agency. Do not attach any money or proof of ownership.

Step 5

Once your application has been received and reviewed, your boat will be given an appointment date for further inspection. The place of inspection can be anywhere the vessel is located.

Step 6

Any other proof of ownership will also be reviewed on the same day. Gather all the important documents that can help prove your ownership. These include the bill of sale, boat title, maintenance records, etc.

Step 7

If the inspector doesn’t find any major flaws or red flags with your boat, it will successfully pass the inspection. After that, a hull identification number will be given, which can be affixed to the boat. You may need to provide proof of affixing the HIN to the boat.

Where Should the HIN be Placed?

Legally, all watercraft, including boats, ships, and PWCs, are required to have the HIN located on the transom.

Primary Location

The primary HIN on a boat is federally required to be attached as follows:

  • On boats that have transoms: The transom’s starboard side within two inches of the top, gunwale, or hull/deck joint, the one which is the lowest.
  • On boats where the transom is inaccessible or with no transoms: To the hull’s starboard outboard side, one foot within the stern and within two inches of the hull side’s top, gunwale, or hull/deck, the one which is the lowest.
  • On boats where the HIN will be difficult to see owing to rails, fittings, or other accessories: The ID number must be fixed at the back of the boat in a visible manner
  • On pontoon boats and catamarans with replaceable hulls: to the aft crossbeam within starboard hull attachment’s one foot.

Secondary Location                                                                   

Unlike primary HIN, secondary HIN can be located in a hidden area, such as the boat’s interior or under its hardware items. The HIN must never be attached to any removable boat parts. The number can also be permanently written on the engine.

Finally, you may be able to find the HIN on documents such as the bill of sale, title certificate, or maintenance and inspection records. If you are unable to find the HIN in all these places, you could try contacting the manufacturer to get more information.

USCG Assigned HINs

The following two USCG Commands are authorized to issue a HIN:

  1. Office of Auxiliary & Boating Safety (CG-BSX) issues HQZ as the MIC.
  2. National Vessel Documentation Center (NVDC) issues USZ as the MIC.

Do an Online Hull Lookup with

Once you have obtained your state-assigned hull identification number, a good safety measure is to perform a online HIN lookup using Doing so will allow you to instantly check all the important information about your boat, including its HIN and registration numbers.

Register your Boat

After receiving your HIN from the state, you can apply for the boat’s registration to secure your status as its owner.

  • Look for the state’s exact boat registration requirements
  • Fill out a boat registration form – either online, in person, or via mail
  • Show proof of ownership – a title, bill of sale, and/or seller’s details
  • Pay the registration fee – this will differ based on the state

Imported Boats and their MIC

With respect to foreign builders, the USCG requires a USA-based importer before it will assign a MIC. The USCG will not assign a MIC to a foreign boat builder. If an imported boat has a foreign assigned HIN, the importer must add a second proper HIN. The USA based importer is the responsible party for defect notifications and correction campaigns. The one exception to this rule is that the USCG recognizes the builder codes issued by Canada.

Why does my boat have two HIN plates?

If the vessel has a non-compliant manufacturer-affixed HIN, the state will assign a new valid HIN which shall be affixed directly above, below, or next to the original non-compliant HIN to preserve the historical integrity of the original HIN. Any other HIN present on a vessel with a state assigned HIN is considered a “legacy HIN,” should be documented in the vessel’s record as such, and not used for any purpose.

It could also be that a Foreign-built vessel imported by a private owner for personal use or a Foreign-built vessel imported by a U.S. importer for sale.


In this article, we talked about getting a HIN if your current boat lacks one. Follow the steps mentioned above, and make sure to perform a HIN lookup afterward with Once your boat has a valid HIN, take immediate steps to register and/or title it with the state.


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