Do Boats Have VIN Numbers – What Exactly are VINs?

Boat Hull Identification Number

Over the course of years, I have owned a considerable number of boats, which means I also had to register and verify a lot of boats’ identification numbers. This article will give you more information about these numbers, where they are located on your boat, and how to understand what the characters mean.

As you might already know, boats will use a Hull Identification Number, also called a HIN, made of a number of identification numbers. This isn’t a number reserved for boats; all cars, trailers, motorcycles, and so on will use a Vehicle Identification Number, or VIN, as an extra identification system. The HIN of the boat should be written on the boat’s Starboard Aft. This means it will be situated on the right side of the transom, somewhere on the rear of the boat.

Using the HIN, you will be able to tell who made the boat and the date when it was built. The number will also tell you the unique serial number of your boat. Below we go into details regarding precisely what the HIN can tell you about a particular boat.

The HIN Explained

Boat Hull IdentificationA VIN won’t be all that different from a HIN, both giving out almost the same data about the vehicles they are written on. Talking about the individual case of the next image, you can see that the first three characters will be letters. These three letters will give you information about the boat’s manufacturer and are called the manufacturer code.

The next five characters that you can see on the VIN make up your boat’s individual serial number.

  • The first three characters are “ABC.” This depicts the manufacture of the boat as “U.S. COAST GUARD HEADQUARTERS.”
  • The next five characters are “67689”. This is the serial number of the boat.
  • The next character is “B.” The letter “B” is the second letter of the alphabet, which means that the boat was built in the second month of the year, which would be February.
  • Next is the number “6”. This notes that the build year is “2006”.
  • The last two characters are “06”. This shows that the model year of the boat is 2006.

Finding Boat Manufacturer Codes

There are over 16,000 manufacturer codes currently registered. This means that it’s pretty hard to know what each code stands for. But is there any way to find out what each code will actually mean? You can search for a full list of codes, or you could Google each individual code and find exactly who does it refer to. Doing a search on google for “Boat HIN ABC” will give you the name of the manufacturer owning that code.

You can expect to find out exactly who built the boat if you search by manufacturer code. The internet also offers free HIN decoders to make your job easier, one of them being You can also access a full list of available manufacturers with their addresses; you can browse on USCG Boating.

If you own a boat that was made after 1, 1972, then it will surely have a HIN number on it, as all boats after that date were required to have a HIN written on them. You will usually find this code stamped on the back of the boat (transom) directly. This isn’t always the case, as from time to time, I noticed a boat or two having it as a riveted plate.

Can You Find the HIN In More Locations?

You can usually find a second location for the HIN code. This is usually harder to find, and it isn’t made public very often. This is usually a security measure; in case the boat ever gets stolen, and the HIM is modified, law enforcement will be able to verify the HIN by reading it from the secondary location. This will help them check the real identity of the boat.

Till now, all HIN codes I came across were unaltered and clear. If you have any reason to look for a secondary location, you should be prepared to face some difficulties. It isn’t far-fetched to say that some manufacturers won’t disclose the second location even if you contact them as a seller. It happened to people very close to me. Manufacturers would release this information only when required in writing by law enforcement.

If you’re a great detective, you might be able to find the secondary location yourself. There have been instances where people have found this location themselves either by accident or through extensive searches. Even if someone found this code in someplace on their boat, it doesn’t mean you will find that code in the same place. It all depends on how the manufacturer thought it would be best to hide it.

What If The HIN Looks Altered?

If a boat you want to buy has the HIN altered in any way, then the best decision would probably be just to move on. Even so, if you want to take the risk, there are a few things you can do to be a little safer when moving forward with the buy. Here is what you can do to at least feel safer when buying a boat with an altered HIN:

  • The first thing you can do is to compare the HIN with the title to make sure that they are the same
  • You should also check for how long was the boat titled. Of course, it would be better if it was registered way back in the past. A boat that has been registered a long time ago and is still used with no problems is probably OK to be bought.
  • You could try to someone in law enforcement to take a look at the HIN if the buyer is ok with doing so. If the buyer has anything against this, then it doesn’t necessarily mean that something illegal is happening, but it should be a red flag for you. Most of the time, law enforcement won’t be able to help you, but this will be so you can get a feel of the buyer’s honesty based on their reaction.
  • One of the harder methods that are worth it, in the end, is to try to locate the hidden HIN and check if it matches the damaged one. The first step in doing so is actually asking the owner if they ever came across the hidden HIN. Then, you could try to call the manufacturer and ask them, but they will usually refuse you. You could explain why you are calling and tell them about the damaged HIN, to ask if this is something normal and if other buyers had similar issues.

None of the listed ideas won’t be guaranteed if you can’t find the hidden HIN location, so be very careful! You shouldn’t risk getting a boat stolen or with registration issues when there are probably tens of other boats that you can buy.

Buying a boat should be easy and overall a fun experience. It shouldn’t be stressful, and you shouldn’t think whether or not at some point a police officer might come to take it away from you. Why would you risk getting a vehicle that isn’t 100% safe? It will only be unnecessary stress to deal with.

What If The HIN On The Title Is Different From The One on The Boat?

If it happened to me, I wouldn’t spend a minute thinking about it and would just walk away with my money. You might end up spending a lot more on fixing the issues behind the different HINs than it would cost just to get a better boat.

It might just be a printing or registration mistake, but even so, this would make the owner of the boat unable to sell it. A wrong number on the title would mean that their boat is registered under a different boat’s Hull Identification Number. If you’re really interested in buying this boat, you could ask the seller to fix the issue before you give them your money.

This type of due diligence should be made regarding any acquisition that requires a considerable amount of money to be spent. I, for one, wouldn’t buy a house, for example, without making sure that all papers are in order.

Can I Paint Over a Boat’s HIN?

The answer is short, simple, and straightforward: NO.

If you’re set on painting over it, it will be at your own risk. Laws all around the US state very clearly that you are not allowed to paint over your HIN. Even so, there are a lot of instances when people have painted over this number without having any issues. If the boat is suspected to be stolen, police can always check the hidden HIN.

Can You Wrap Over The Boat HIN?

If you’re thinking of wrapping your boat, don’t wrap over the HIN and print it on the wrap material because this won’t be OK. The original HIN of the boat should be visible at all times.

The HIN of your boat is just like any other vehicle’s VIN. This means that just like the VIN, it will have to be unaltered and original on your boat. Having wrap material over the boat’s HIN is against the law.

In the end, you will need the HIN number to identify the boat when you title it. But does your state require you to title your boat? Check out whether the boat will have to get titled in your state by reading this article.

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