Chapter 20, Section A:
Vessels - General Information

Revised August 27, 2008


The Boat Act (66-12-1 through 66-12-24)

The portion of the Motor Vehicle Code that deals with vessels is Chapter 66, Article 12 NMSA 1978 - the "Boat Act."

The Boat Act assigns very specific meanings to three categories of what most of us would think of as "boats." They are vessels, motorboats and boats, and they are defined as follows:

  • Vessel
    every description of watercraft, other than a seaplane on the water, used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water
    (Note: If it floats on water, can be used as transportation, and is not a seaplane, it's a vessel.)
  • Motorboat
    any vessel propelled by machinery, whether or not machinery is the principal source of propulsion, but does not include a vessel that has a valid marine document issued by the bureau of customs of the United States government or any federal agency successor thereto; "motorboat" includes any vessel propelled or designed to be propelled by sail and that does not have a valid document issued by a federal agency, but does not include a sailboard or windsurf board
    (Note: A sailboat, other that a sailboard or windsurfer, is by this definition a motorboat.)
  • Boat
    a motorboat that is 10 feet in length or longer
    (Note: If it's less than 10 feet long, or if it's not propelled by motor/engine or sail, it may look like a boat to you, but as boat is defined by the Boat Act, it is not!)

Title and Registration (66-12-4)

  • Every motorboat operating on the waters of New Mexico must be numbered (registered), with the number displayed on each side of the bow of the motorboat. A motorboat need not be registered in New Mexico if it is numbered in accordance with federal law or another state's numbering system.
  • Every boat operating on the waters of New Mexico and owned by a New Mexico resident must be titled.

    Exception: A United States Coast Guard (USGC) boat title is a “national title” (Certificate of Ownership, form CG-1330) provided by the Coast Guard that supersedes state titles. The USCG-issued title is a legal title for operation in New Mexico waters and does not require process to a New Mexico title.
  • A non-resident who operates a boat on the waters of  New Mexico may elect to register the boat in New Mexico.

(Note: a motorboat must be registered and numbered, but only a boat is required to be titled.)

Registration and Numbering of Motorboats (18.17.2.8 NMAC)

The Motor Vehicle Division registers motorboats for a three-year period, to expire December 31 of the third calendar year. Example: registered anytime in 2008 - registration expires December 31, 2010.

Refunds shall not be made for any unused period of a certificate of number due to non-use of a vessel or change in ownership

A motorboat's registration number shall be painted on or permanently affixed to each side of the motorboat’s forward half, and no other number shall be displayed on that part of the motorboat. Numbers shall:

  • read from left to right;
  • be in plain vertical block characters;
  • be of a color contrasting with the background;
  • be distinctly visible and legible;
  • be not less than three inches in height; and
  • have spaces or hyphens that are equal to the width of a letter between the letter and number groupings. Example: NM 0000 AA or NM--0000--AA.

No person shall transfer or authorize the transfer of a registration validation decal from one vessel to another. The motorboat's certificate of number shall be available for inspection at all times when the motorboat is in operation.