Does A Boat With A Trolling Motor Need To Be Registered? (Explained)

UPDATED 31 JULY 2022

by Eric Bartlett

Since small vessels like inflatable boats, canoes, or kayaks don’t need to be registered in many states, this raises the following question:

Do you need to register a vessel in this category if you add a trolling motor to it?

In most cases the answer is ‘yes,’ but there are a few exceptions that are worth checking out.

In this article we’ll summarize the rules in all 50 states, so you can figure out what applies for you specifically.

Do You Have To Register A Boat With A Trolling Motor?

Most US states require all motorized boats to be registered, no matter the size of the boat, or the size of the motor.

However, boat registration laws are slightly different in every US state, and a few states offer exemptions from this requirement if the boat is operated on privately owned lakes, or on non-federal waters.

We’ll cover these exceptions in more detail below.

In addition to this, most states also provide exemptions for lifeboats, visiting boats registered in another state or country (and visiting for less than 30 to 90 days), racing boats, and boats owned by the US Coast Guard, US government, or state government.

We’ll cover these exemptions below as well. 

What states require a boat with a trolling motor to be registered?

StateRegistration required for boat with trolling motor?Exemptions
AlabamaYesBoats registered in other states staying for less than 90 days
AlaskaYesLifeboats, vessels documented by US Coast Guard, or boats registered in other states staying for less than 90 days
ArizonaYesLifeboats, vessels documented by US Coast Guard, or boats registered in other states staying for less than 90 days
ArkansasYesVessels documented by US Coast Guard, or boats registered in other states staying for less than 90 days
CaliforniaYesLifeboats, vessels documented by US Coast Guard, or boats registered in other states staying for less than 120 days
ColoradoYesVessels documented by US Coast Guard, or boats registered in other states staying for less than 60 days
ConnecticutYesVessels documented by US Coast Guard, or boats registered in other states staying for less than 60 days
DelawareYesVessels documented by US Coast Guard, or boats registered in other states staying for less than 60 days
FloridaYesVessels used exclusively in private lakes, vessels owned by US or State Government, or boats registered in other states staying for less than 90 days
GeorgiaYesVessels used exclusively in private lakes, or boats registered in other states staying for less than 60 days
HawaiiYesLifeboats, racing boats, vessels documented by US Coast Guard, vessels owned by US Government, or boats registered in other states staying for less than 60 days
IdahoYesVessels documented by US Coast Guard, or boats registered in other states staying for less than 60 days
IllinoisYesLifeboats, racing boats, vessels owned by US or State Government, or boats registered in other states staying for less than 60 days
IndianaYesLifeboats, or boats registered in other states staying for less than 60 days
IowaYesBoats registered in other states staying for less than 60 days
KansasYesBoats registered in other states staying for less than 60 days
KentuckyYesVessels documented by US Coast Guard, or boats registered in other states staying for less than 60 days
LouisianaYesVessels documented by US Coast Guard, or boats registered in other states staying for less than 90 days
MaineYesLifeboats, racing boats, vessels owned by US Government, or boats registered in other states staying for less than 60 days
MarylandYesVessels documented by US Coast Guard, or boats registered in other states staying for less than 30 days
MassachusettsYesVessels documented by US Coast Guard, or boats registered in other states staying for less than 60 days
MichiganYesVessels registered in other states staying for less than 60 days
MinnesotaYesVessels registered in other states staying for less than 90 days
MississippiYesN/A
MissouriYesLifeboats, vessels owned by US Government, or boats registered in other states staying for less than 60 days
MontanaYesVessels documented by US Coast Guard, or boats registered in other states staying for less than 90 days
NebraskaYesVessels documented by US Coast Guard, racing boats, vessels owned by US Government, or boats registered in other states staying for less than 60 days
NevadaYesLifeboats, or boats registered in other states staying for less than 60 days
New HampshireYesVessels owned by US Government, or boats registered in other states staying for less than 30 days
New JerseyYesLifeboats
New MexicoYesVessels owned by US or State Government, vessels documented by US Coast Guard, or boats registered in other states staying for less than 90 days
New YorkYesLifeboats, racing boats, or boats registered in other states staying for less than 90 days
North CarolinaYesBoats registered in other states staying for less than 90 days
North DakotaYesVessels documented by US Coast Guard, or boats registered in other states staying for less than 90 days
OhioYesLifeboats, vessels owned by US or State Government, or boats registered in other states staying for less than 60 days
OklahomaYesRacing boats, vessels documented by US Coast Guard, or boats registered in other states staying for less than 60 days
OregonYesBoats registered in other states staying for less than 60 days
PennsylvaniaYesN/A
Rhode IslandYesLifeboats, or boats registered in other states staying for less than 90 days
South CarolinaYesVessels documented by US Coast Guard
South DakotaYesVessels registered in other states staying for less than 60 days
TennesseeYesVessels registered in other states staying for less than 60 days
TexasYesVessels registered in other states staying for less than 90 days
UtahYesLifeboats, vessels owned by US or State Government, vessels documented by US Coast Guard, or boats registered in other states staying for less than 60 days
VermontYesVessels documented by US Coast Guard, or boats registered in other states staying for less than 90 days
VirginiaYesVessels documented by US Coast Guard, or boats registered in other states staying for less than 90 days
WashingtonYesVessels less than 16 ft with a motor of 10 hp or less on non-federal waters, or boats registered in other states staying for less than 90 days
West VirginiaYesVessels owned by US or State Government, or boats registered in other states staying for less than 60 days
WisconsinYesVessels registered in other states staying for less than 60 days
WyomingYesVessels documented by US Coast Guard, vessels owned by US Government, or boats registered in other states staying for less than 90 days

The table above lists all US states that require a boat with a trolling motor to be registered, as well as the vessels that are exempt in each state. 

Does a trolling motor count as a motorized boat?

Yes, a boat with a trolling motor counts as a motorized boat in all US states.

This means that even if you have a kayak, canoe, or inflatable boat that normally doesn’t require registration, as soon as you add a trolling motor to it, the vessel counts as a motorized boat, and needs to be registered.

So make sure to get the motorized boat registration before you start using a trolling motor, or you run the risk of being fined.

If you’re currently in the market for a budget trolling motor to add to your boat, check out our guide on the best cheap trolling motors with spot lock.

What states don’t require a boat with a trolling motor to be registered on private lakes or non-federal waters?

Only three states allow the use of an unregistered boat with a trolling motor on privately owned lakes. These are Florida, Georgia, and Washington State. Let’s look at each of these more closely:

  • Florida: boats that are exclusively used on private ponds and lakes are exempt from having to be registered (click here for more details).
  • Georgia: boats that are exclusively operated on private lakes and ponds are exempt (click here for more information). 
  • Washington: boats that are less than 16 ft in length, and powered by a motor with less than 10 horsepower are exempt when operated on non-federal waters (click here for more details). 

In the case of Washington State, make sure to check with local authorities in your area to determine what lakes are considered federal or non-federal waters.

If in doubt, it’s better to get a registration, as that will set you back much less than getting a fine.

Do you need to register a trolling motor?

While all states require you to register a boat with a trolling motor in most circumstances, you don’t need to register the actual trolling motor itself.

In general, you only need to register an outboard motor with more than 10 horsepower, and since electric trolling motors fall well below this threshold, they don’t need to be registered.

But as always, make sure to check the regulations in your state specifically.

Do you have to register a kayak with a trolling motor?

Yes, you have to register a kayak with a trolling motor in all states, no matter the size of the kayak or the motor.

The only exceptions to this are private lakes in Florida and Georgia, or non-federal waters in Washington State. 

It’s important to be careful about adding a trolling motor to your kayak without registering it, since it’s easy to forget checking about this if the kayak on its own, without a trolling motor, doesn’t need to be registered.

Do you have to register an inflatable boat with a trolling motor?

Yes, you have to register an inflatable boat with a trolling motor in all states.

Even if your inflatable boat doesn’t need to be registered without a motor, as soon as you add a trolling motor to it, it becomes a motorized vessel and needs to be registered.

Does a canoe with a trolling motor need to be registered?

Yes, a canoe with a trolling motor needs to be registered in all states. This holds true even if the canoe without a motor doesn’t need to be registered.

Once you add the motor to it, it counts as a motorized vessel that must be registered.

Again, the only exceptions to this are Florida and Georgia, which don’t require registration if you operate the canoe exclusively on a private lake, while Washington State doesn’t require registration if you use the canoe exclusively on non-federal waters. 

If you’re currently thinking about getting a trolling motor, check out our article on what is the best trolling motor with anchor mode?

Final remarks

A great way to increase the speed and range of  almost any small boat, including jon boats, inflatable boats, kayaks, or canoes is by adding an electric trolling motor to them.

But if you do, make sure to register your vessel with your local state authorities, since skipping this step can result in several hundred dollars of fines if you get caught without registration.