Boat owners must comply with numbering law

Boat owners must comply with numbering law State Game, Fish and Parks officials say proactive steps are in motion to help boat owners comply with legal boat numbering requirements.

"The department is taking multiple steps to inform boat owners that the U.S. Coast Guard's boat numbering requirements will be strictly enforced this summer," said Law Enforcement Specialist Dave McCrea. "Nearly 47,000 letters were recently sent to South Dakota's registered boat owners, and numerous announcements are being broadcast by both electronic and print media. The goal is to get all boats uniform with the state law."

The requirements are straightforward and are very important for safety, vessel identification and law enforcement.

"Much like license plates for your car or pickup, the system provides accurate and prompt boat identification," McCrea said. "Prompt identification is critical in dealing with enforcement of boating laws such as reckless operation, boating in swimming zones, boating under the influence, boat accidents and numerous other situations, which require quick and accurate identification. It is not intended to be decorative."

Years ago, a uniform boat numbering system was developed and adopted by the U.S. Coast Guard. The system provided a nationwide plan for consistently numbering boats. Like other states, South Dakota incorporated that system into state law.

Since the 1980s, when the State of South Dakota discontinued the distribution of boat numbers, there has been a gradual decline in the readability of boat numbers. Beginning Jan. 1, 2000, the Department of Game, Fish and Parks began to strictly enforce the Coast Guard's boat numbering system, which includes number placement, size, font and color.

Below are guidelines that must be followed.

Federal and state law requires that boat numbers must include the letters "SD" followed by a space, a group of three numbers, a space and two additional letters. The owner must permanently and securely display the numbers on each side of the forward part of the motorboat, so that the numbers are clearly visible and readable at a distance of 100 feet. The numbers displayed must be a plain block design, upper case and measure at least three inches in height.

Boat owners should ensure the letters contrast with the color of the vessel and their placement must read from left to right. Annual or three-year license decals must be displayed adjacent to the numbers on motorized vessels or on each side of the forward part of the vessel on non-motorized vessels and must be readily visible. No numbers or letters other than the assigned identification numbers may appear on the forward part of the vessel. An example of proper boat number: (License Decal) SD 123 BC.

Information on boat numbering requirements is available at most Game, Fish and Parks offices, their website at or by contacting the Department of Game, Fish and Parks in Pierre.

After May 1, 2000, a violation of the boat numbering requirement could result in a citation and fine. Boat licenses and examples of proper boat numbering are available at the county treasurer's office.

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