How to Transfer the Ownership of a Boat in Tennessee

While transferring a boat in Tennessee is straightforward, it involves more than a financial transaction between the seller and the buyer. It also includes a series of discreet transactions between the buyer and the county, and the buyer and the state. One transaction ensures the buyer is paying the full sales tax due the state and county. The other transaction is the registration -- Tennessee registers boats, but does not title them. Once the state processes the registration, it provides the registration document and the decals for the boat.

Tell the seller to write a bill of sale that includes the seller's name, purchaser's name, the boat's hull identification number found the starboard stern -- the right rear corner -- of the boat, and the price paid for the boat by the purchaser.

Take the bill of sale to the county clerk of the county where you are a resident and request a "Tennessee Application for Boat Certificate of Number." Complete the application and return it to the county clerk. The county clerk may require the seller to provide a signed "Affidavit of Non-Dealer Transfers of Motor Vehicles and Boats," showing the fair market value of the boat, the sale price of the boat and, if the sale price is lower than the value of the boat, the reason for the difference.

Provide documentary evidence that you are a resident of the state of Tennessee. Common proofs of residency include your Tennessee driver's license and a voter's registration card, or a driver's license and a current monthly utility bill.

Complete and sign an "Application for Boat Certificate of Number" at the county clerk's office. Purchase documentary stamps from the clerk equal to the amount of state and county sales tax. The clerk will affix the documentary stamps to the application for number, attesting that you have paid the sales taxes related to the transfer.

Purchase a money order or write a personal check to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency for the registration fees. As of 2011, the registration fees are based on the length of the boat. A single year fee for boats less than 16 feet long is $13. For boats more than 16 feet long but less than 26 feet in length, the fee is $25. For boats from 26 to 39 feet in length, the fee is $38. For boats 40 feet or more in length, the fee is $51.

Mail or deliver the completed, signed, stamped application for number and a check or money order for the registration fee to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. The agency address is located on the bottom of the application.

Apply the registration decals to your boat when you receive them in the mail. Don King, Chief of Information and Education at the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, says that once the agency completes the registration process, "The boater gets a registration packet with his certificate of number and the decals for his boat." King urged all first-time boat owners to "make sure that they take advantage of the boating safety classes," referring to the state's boating safety education courses. All boaters born after January 1, 1989, must have a Tennessee boating safety education certificate.


  • Be aware that "$1.00 and other valuable consideration" draws the attention of county personnel. On July 1, 2000, the state of Tennessee authorized county clerks to question "low-ball" prices for automobiles and boats. Clerks may, at their discretion, use the NADA Guide "book value" of the boat to determine the amount of sales tax due. Even if the price is documented on the state's Affidavit of Transfer, the matter will be reviewed by the state Department of Revenue for additional action, if necessary.

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