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California Proposes 250% Increase in Boat Registration Fees

The State of California has suggested a 250% increase in vessel registration fees in its 2021-22 budget. This would represent an increase in fees from $20 every other year to $70, and would take effect on July 1. The fee hike is currently under debate in Sacramento, and a state boating advocacy group is asking that lawmakers take a more incremental approach to raising fees, which haven’t seen an increase since 2005.

The proposed fee hike is meant to bolster the Harbors and Watercraft Revolving Fund, or HWRF, which supports several programs and services “that benefit boaters including infrastructure such as launch ramps, education, aquatic centers, local boating law enforcement, the boater certification card, and invasive species prevention and control,” according to the Recreational Boaters of California, or RBOC, a nonprofit advocating for boating interests.

The HWRF is not part of California’s general fund, so it has to raise money via registration fees, as well as boat fuel tax dollars and federal monies. The fund is looking at a $52 million annual deficit, according to The Log, which added that the proposed 250% hike would increase vessel registration revenues by $22 million annually.

“If you need to increase fees, let’s do something reasonable,” said Winston Bumpus, the RBOC president. “We’re trying to put the brakes on.”

Commentary: Last weekend, Saturday Night Live opened the show with a satirization of California Governor Gavin Newsom: “He’s hated by every single person in California, except those 10 people he had dinner with in Napa that one time …” the show said when they introduced Newsom’s character. The governor’s recent budget proposal, which suggested a 250% increase in boater fees, might stoke the ire of those ready to call the government of California nothing less than a rampaging communist regime. But the dramatic fee-hike proposal reflects two common problems found in state and local governments: a lack of foresight, and a reactionary response.
© 2021 Screenshot via YouTube

Going down a bureaucratic rabbit hole for a moment (and adding more abbreviations), the HWRF is administered by the California Department of Boating and Waterways, or DBW, which was absorbed by the California Department of Parks and Recreation in the recent past. It seems clear that the parks department has dipped into the HWRF for non-boating-related expenses.

The Log quoted an email they’d received from DBW staff: “The [HWRF] has faced increasing cost pressures — such as climate-driven expansion of the Aquatic Invasive Plant Control Program (AIPCP), new fund commitments for the Public Beach Restoration Fund, and increasing employee compensation costs — without additional revenue sources.” The Log went on to quote a DBW official who said, “We will not have sufficient resources to continue at current service levels.”

Bumpus said that “boaters pay $107 million in fuel tax, but only $15 million goes back into DBW. They’ll get an extra $20 million out of boaters, particularly during a time when boating is on the increase,” he added, referring to the pandemic boating boom, where manufacturing, sales — and presumably registration coffers — are burgeoning. Bumpus also said that in addition to the fuel tax, boaters pay a significant amount of sales tax.

The RBOC is encouraging boaters to “Make their Voice Heard.” 


  1. Greg Clausen 3 years ago

    Another reason to have your boat documented. I’m tired when government doesn’t manage thinks correctly, they just think the people will pay for it.

  2. mark h Sahs 3 years ago

    Just amazing that people keep electing these people that come up with this crap. It hurts the smaller and new boaters more than anyone. The larger boats are documented. I guess they feel that ANYONE that worked hard to get a boat and out on the water is “entitled”. They seem to ignore the economy / sales tax that boaters bring into the state – but we are not dealing here with intelligent people. Only ones with political agenda’s. So sad, but that seems to be the norm now with the government of California.

    • H Arthur 3 years ago

      Right on !. The democrat’s way is to rob Peter to pay Paul. It started with Johnson when he had SS
      funds put into the general funds. No one noticed or complained. And here we are all these years later watching the same type of game with the Department of Boating and Waterways that had money till it was absorbed by the California Department of Parks and Recreation. The politicians have many years of perfecting this game. Different groups only really notice when they are affected.
      The game started in Washington way back when and is now being used by the states, counties and cities through out the country. Time to read or reread 1984 By George Orwell, see what the final goal of our professional politicians and bureaucrats is.

  3. Ben Shaw 3 years ago

    Too bad that the Dept. of Recs took funds from DBW (sounds like there might be a bigger story there). I, for one, would welcome an increase in the fee if I knew the money were to go to truly fighting invasive species, upgrading boating facilities and generally improving recreational boating in California.

    • Tony C 3 years ago

      California also “guaranteed” that the increased gas tax a few years back would go to fixing roads. Then Newsom decided he would divert those funds to other projects. Giving more money to the State of California is usually a worse choice than just lighting said money on fire.

  4. Ralph 3 years ago

    Geez. $70 over 2 years shouldn’t break the bank. I’ve always been amazed it was only $20 every two years.

    • T 3 years ago

      Then add the luxury tax on top of that.

  5. Dee Adams 3 years ago

    So the constant increase of taxes ,more spending, and more control of everything we hold dear! Boycott the DMV, It’s the only thing that will ever work.stop standing in line with our wallets open. When is enough , enough? Looks like I’ll be selling my boat, one more thing, its the only reason there is an increase in boating because so many people are out of work, and the politician think that you can fork over more money trying just to keep your mind off the BS that they themselves are creating . Can’t wait for the recall and the opportunity to vote these clowns out of office!

  6. Danny Hendricks 3 years ago

    So a $25 a year increase in boat fees represents the last straw between freedom and tyranny? $25 a year “hurts” small and new boat owners? $25 a year is akin to an Orwellian dystopia? $25 a year means you’re going to sell your boat and boycott the DMV? Sorry to stray off topic here, but I think that agents of the state killing unarmed citizens that said agents are sworn to protect and serve is far closer to hegemony than an extra $25 bucks.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like bagging on Gavin Newsom as much as the next person. Sure, I’d be happy to pay less taxes. I’d even be willing to pay tolls to drive on the freeway, like they do on the East Coast, so that we can have better roads that are directly funded by the user of said roads. But for beach restoration and invasive species control, I’m more than fine with paying an extra $25 a year, a dollar figure that amounts to like, 8 coffees at Starbucks. (PS: I’m quite sure that I make less money right now than anyone commenting here.) I definitely hope that the government spends that money wisely, but none of us—not a single one of us—gets the luxury of making sure our tax dollars only goes to programs we support.

  7. Christopher Coburn 3 years ago

    After 17 YEARS of the fee not changing, people here go full insurrection over $25? Wow. Calm down folks. You’ll drop thousands to add a shiney stainless do-dad bit cry BigBwotherBAD over $25 going toward infrastructure improvements and healthy water maintenance. Give me a real already ?

  8. Mike Mellon 3 years ago

    Lat 38, please publish an impartial analysis of where the money collected from boaters actually does go and where it is supposed to go. Both before and after the “absorption” of DBW into State Parks.

    • Tim Henry 3 years ago

      Mike — That sounds like a worthwhile story to do, but unfortunately, Latitude does not have the resources to launch an in-depth investigation into the State of California’s budget processes. And, because even a 250% increase in fees represents $25 a year for boat owners, we don’t think that this particular proposal is especially egregious. But we certainly agree with the RBOC’s efforts to lower the proposed hike to something more in line with cost of living increases.

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