The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission is legally responsible for Vessel Registration in North Carolina. Vessel Registration is a system of record-keeping and identification for all motorized vessels and large sailboats operated on North Carolina public waters. Registration helps the Commission's Enforcement Division protect vessel owners against theft and against irresponsible actions by other vessel operators.
- Registration puts a vessel owner's name, address, and vessel description into the records of the Wildlife Commission. In turn, the Commission issues a Registration Number to identify the vessel; a Registration Decal to indicate when the term of registration expires; and a Registration Card which names the owner and describes the vessel.
- There are three categories of vessel registrations – "civilian", "dealer", and "public agency". Approximately 98% of registrations are civilian, 1% are dealer, and 1% are public agencies.
- Registration Numbers always have three parts. The first part is two letters that identify the state, for example, "NC" for North Carolina. The second part is four digits. The third part is one or two letters. An example civilian Registration Number is "NC-0000-AB".
- Special Registration Numbers are set aside for boat dealers and public agencies. Dealers are issued numbers of form "NC-0000-X", where the third part is always the letter "X". Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, and rescue squads, are issued Registration Numbers of form "NC-0000-P", where the third part is always the letter "P".
- The wallet-size Registration Card must always be carried aboard the vessel when operating it, and shown to Wildlife Enforcement Officers when they request it.
- The stick-on Registration Decal is affixed on the starboard bow of the vessel to the right of the Registration Number and shows the month and year when the registration expires. See How to Affix a Decal.
- Once a Registration Number is associated with a vessel, it normally remains with that vessel across multiple owners. Even if the vessel is moved and registered out-of-state, the original North Carolina Registration Number is reserved, and is re-assigned to that same vessel if it should ever be moved back to North Carolina.
- For civilian and dealer vessels, the term of registration is either one year or three years. Two months before the expiration of the term, the Wildlife Commission mails a Renewal Notification to the vessel owner at the latest known address. The vessel owner can obtain one-year or three-year vessel registrations by mail, by visiting the NCWRC office located at 1751 Varsity Drive, NCSU Centennial Campus, Raleigh, NC 27606-2576 (see map and directions - pdf), OR by using a Visa or MasterCard online with information from your renewal notice. Three-year registrations can also be obtained by visiting a Wildlife Service Agent. Upon renewal, a new Registration Card and Decal are issued to the owner [Note: If the renewal is done at an agent, the owner will receive a temporary registration. The temporary registration can be used to operate the vessel until the registration card and decal are mailed from the Raleigh Office after all paperwork has been received from the Agent and verified for accuracy. This applies to renewals, duplicates, new registrations and transfer registrations.].