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State of California Proposes 300% Increase in Boat Registration Fees

Yes, you read that headline correctly. (No, this is not satire or an April Fool’s joke.)

After proposing a 250% increase in boat-registration fees two years ago, the State of California has upped the ante, suggesting instead a 300% increase in fees. This calculates into the current $20 biannual fee’s rising to $80 every two years to register a boat. (Fees have not been raised in 18 years.)

At a time of nagging inflation, arbitrarily increasing property-tax assessments on boats, decreasing numbers of marinas and boatyards, and well-intentioned but onerous environmental regulations, the proposed 300% fee hike is yet another example of California sailors “being made to pay more for less,” according to boating advocates.

Warning of declining numbers of registered boats in California, the Recreational Boaters of California (RBOC) is urging boaters to contact their state senators and assembly members and request that their representatives reject Governor Newsom’s proposed registration-fee increase. The RBOC said they’re “frustrated and concerned” that governor Gavin Newsom’s budget revision, submitted on May 15, was “rushed through with minimal notification to the boating community who had engaged in good faith to discuss fees over the past two years,” a press release read.

The RBOC also said that the state is effectively “ignoring” the $107 million-per-year contribution boaters pay in the state fuel tax. The RBOC called for the state to dedicate “a minimum of $20 million annually in fuel tax dollars, directly attributable to boaters, to the HWRF,” referring to the Harbors and Watercraft Revolving Fund.

When the California State Parks merged with the Division of Boating and Waterways, a fund dedicated to boating interests was used for other government projects, creating a shortfall and the need to raise revenue.
© 2023

When the State of California proposed a 250% hike in fees in 2021, the increase was designed to shore up the HWRF, which finances boating infrastructure such as launch ramps, boater education, the boater certification card, aquatic centers, local boating law enforcement, and invasive species prevention and control. The HWRF was facing a $52 million annual deficit, according to The Log, because the Department of Parks and Recreation, which recently absorbed the Department of Boating and Waterways (DBW), was dipping into the fund. (It was estimated that the 250% fee increase would have put another $22 million into the HWRF each year.)

In other words, boaters paying into the HWRF are now financing many non-boating-related expenditures, such as beach restoration — a worthy cause, but one not directly tied to boating interests and fees.

The RBOC said that the proposed increase does not address the “inappropriate uses” of registration fees, such as the DMV cost of administering and collecting the fees, “as well as the depletion of the fund by re-direction of significant vessel registration fees to [the California Air Resources Board.]” The RBOC also called for transferring boat registration functions from DMV to DBW in an effort to increase efficiency, and warned that registration fees can be increased again without legislation.

At least some portion of boating law enforcement is paid for through the Harbors and Watercraft Revolving Fund.
© 2023 Department of Boating and Waterways

The net effect of increasing fees by 300%, the RBOC argued, “will create a financial barrier to healthy on-the-water opportunities for the average California boatowner, whose boat is under 25-ft in length, and even more so for individuals in disadvantaged communities or on fixed incomes. The average boat owner in California has an income of less than $70,000 per year, among those who are least able to afford the significant 300% increases in their registration fees. It will essentially make boating an activity that the average Californian family cannot afford.”

The number of registered boats in California has been decreasing, according to the RBOC, citing a number of familiar culprits. “A few years ago, California ranked third in the number of registered boats by state; today the state is fifth. Local assessors have been drastically increasing the assessed value of vessels for local property tax purposes, regardless of their age. New marina developments are reducing the number of slips available for small boats. [And] boaters are being required to spend more money on less effective hull paints.”

8 Comments

  1. Orlando Duran 9 months ago

    And yet, the minions continue to think that California is a great place to live….money is always so well spent here…

  2. Joseph DiMatteo 9 months ago

    Lots to dislike about California’s government but, in fairness, the fee hasn’t been raised in 18 years. Lots to like about boating in CA though but possibly a stepped fee structure would be more appropriate. $40/year too little for a big yacht but too much for a Cal 20?

    • Don Durant 9 months ago

      Big yachts (over 5 net tons) are usually registered with the Coast Guard & pay a different fee structure.

  3. Marl 9 months ago

    they took our gas tax that was to be used to repair roads only and put it in the general fund. The problem isnt the amount its the direction the money is sent. Pensions of city, county and state workers is where all this money ends up. They are turning us into their cash cows. The fees and permit fees and everything will continue to rise until we send a clear meesage that 17,000 a month pension payments ar un acceptable

  4. Sailorette 9 months ago

    If you have a boat in the Downtown Shoreline Marina, Long Beach absorbed the tax monies into Parks & Recreation decades ago. What happened after that? The marina wasn’t being maintained. Security was laid off. Crime increased. BUT the news showed a some very nice parks that were built in troubled neighborhoods with the money. These were destroyed/trashed within weeks by the very people for whom they were built.

  5. Kirk Denebeim 9 months ago

    Workaround: USCG documentation. But in any case, this is a example of why this native San Franciscan and life-long sailor just relocated to North Carolina and wow has it been a great move. Per the comment above on Shoreline Marina in Long Beach- can I relate! Last summer, I was bringing my boat back up from San Diego, and decided to stay for a week in Long Beach. I’d stayed at Shoreline Marina for several weeks in 2017, prior to the Transpac race and really enjoyed it. On my return, post-pandemic, it seemed a different place: dirtier, lots of vagrants and outdoorsmen encampments, many businesses shuttered including a favorite breakfast place….it was an entirely different vibe. Early (0230) on a Sunday morning, sound asleep in my bunk, I was awakened to the unmistakable sound of someone climbing aboard the boat. I sprung out of my bed and looked out the companionway to see the silhouette of a person sitting in the cockpit. “What are you doing on my boat?” I sputtered. “I needed a place to sleep.” she answered. “Well this isn’t a place for you. Scram!” She slithered under the lifelines like a crab, back onto the dock. Thank goodness she wasn’t violent or aggressive.“And let me hear the gate close behind you.” I said. It took some time before I was able to fall back asleep….
    Any future contributions from me will be for the “Changes in Latitudes” section. I’m expecting my new Beneteau to arrive in Charleston next month and will soon begin The Cruising Life- with my finances under considerably less assault.

    • John Arndt 9 months ago

      Kirk – we’re sorry you’ve left the Bay Area and also had a bad experience at Shoreline Marina. We stayed at Shoreline Marina mid-pandemic at the end of 2020 start of 2021. We had a great experience at that time. We’d agree the boater registration fee increase is too much but even more troublesome is that it’s not dedicated to funding boating needs.

      Beyond that, we also lament the loss of small, local businesses like your favorite breakfast place. Sadly much of that is probably due to forces outside of Long Beach’s control. The pandemic dramatically helped online shopping which steered people towards Amazon which, unlike local retailers, also enjoyed the benefit of not having to collect sales tax until relatively recently. The pandemic caused many small businesses to close which means there is less retail traffic, less local employment and fewer people who are there to watch over and care for the waterfront. Small breakfast shops also closed since they counted on business coming from those neighboring retail stores. Perhaps there are good breakfast stops near Amazon warehouses?

      Cities across the country are trying to figure out what to do with all the empty retail and office space. Our small office in Mill Valley used to have a locksmith, bookshop, bead store and office supply store nearby. They’re empty. We think the biggest factors in this downward spiral are the pandemic and Amazon and not city policies. While we share some of the complaints we’re also glad we’re not the ones having to figure out how to readjust.

      So much of the loss of local retail is the result of our own changed shopping habits. Of course, we speak up for small businesses because it is folks like Whale Point Marine Supply, Downwind Marine, Svendsen’s or Fisheries Supply that are your local shops that count on your business and also support us and pass out free copies of Latitude 38. After you visit them stop by a local breakfast shop. To keep small businesses and restaurants in places like Long Beach people need to shop at them.

      Congratulations on your engagement and your new Beneteau. We’ll look forward to hearing your tales in Changes in Latitudes. Send them to [email protected].

  6. Emma 6 months ago

    Prior to conducting a boat registration lookup, a crucial step involves the comprehensive gathering of all requisite documents and information. This meticulous preparation is key to streamlining the process.

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