Michigan offers no way to search for a boat owner online, but the secretary of state's office allows owners and other qualified entities to request that information by filling out a record lookup request form. Applicants send the completed form and search fee to the secretary of state. Vessels in Michigan must display a registration decal if they are over 20 feet long or have a permanent motor.
Michigan Boat Registration Requirements
Vessel owners must register their boat with the Michigan Department of State if the boat has a permanent motor or exceeds 20 feet in length. Its registration stickers must be visible once on the boat. Owners cannot transfer their number to another watercraft. The registration fee for boats is based on the vessel's length. Registration is valid for three years and expires on March 31 of the third year.
Some boats are exempt from state registration. They are:
- Vessels 16 feet or less, propelled by paddles or oars, not for commercial or rental use.
- Canoes and kayaks without motors, not for commercial or rental use.
- Rafts, sailboards, surfboards and swim floats, regardless of length.
- Watercraft registered out-of-state and used temporarily in Michigan.
Searching Records for Michigan Vessels
The general public cannot search for boat titles and registration certificate information online due to the state's strict privacy laws. The Michigan Department of State maintains these records, and owners or other qualified entities can request them by submitting a BDVR-154 Record Lookup Request form. The form is designed primarily for motor vehicles, but also applies to vessels.
The Michigan Department of State provides verifications by phone on the information shown on a vessel title or registration. Uniform Commercial Code (which governs the sale and purchase of goods) searches are also available online through the secretary of state.
If state or federal tax liens are recorded on a vessel, public record vendors may have additional information. U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) vessel ownership, mortgage and lien search recordings can be procured through the National Vessel Documentation Center.
Filling Out a Record Lookup Request Form
When filling out a lookup request form, applicants put their personal information in the first section then skip to the third section to add whatever information they have about the boat, such as the boat's registration number ("License Plate or Registration Number"), the watercraft's model and make, and the hull identification number from the vessel's manufacturer.
Next, to find the vessel's present owner, they'll check off the "Current Vehicle Owner" box in Section 3. They also have the option of selecting other searches regarding the boat.
In Section 4, the applicant will add a "Permissible Purpose for Obtaining Records," such as a criminal investigation, business purpose and research – they cannot skip this section. Payment information goes in the fifth section of the form, and in the last section, they explain why they need the record search and then sign the document.
Payment of Fees and Submission of Forms
Once the request form is complete, they must include the $7 search fee and send it with the form to the Michigan Department of State Record Lookup Unit at 704 Crowner Drive, Lansing, MI 48918-1540. Record certification costs an additional dollar.
- Call the Michigan Department of State help line at 517-322-1624 for assistance with your information request.
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.