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A Complete Guide to Custom Boat Lettering & Decals

Power boat on the water

Summer in coastal Massachusetts is a magical time. We all enjoy the warm days when we can go to the beach and dip a toe into the water, see the fisherman along the Cape Cod Canal, or enjoy a lobster roll at our favorite clam shack in the South Shore.

Get a price estimate for your boat letting–contact us!

For many people, summer means getting out on the water in their boat.

Whether you're a seasoned sailor or a new boat owner, sailboat or power boat, customizing your watercraft with a unique name and decals is not just a tradition—it's a rite of passage.

But where do you start?

From legal must-dos to picking the perfect splash of color, let's dive into everything you need to know about boat lettering.

Navigating the Sea of Legal Requirements

Before we set sail on the creative part, let's talk about the not-so-fun but super important stuff—legal requirements. Depending on where you're sailing, there are specific rules about displaying your boat's name and boat registration numbers.

State Boat Registration

If you're registering your vessel in Massachusetts, there are a few requirements to follow. Once you register the boat with the state, you will receive your registration paperwork and will be assigned a registration number. It will be in the format of "MS" followed by numbers and letters, for example, "MS 1234 AB." (This is why some people call them "MS numbers.")

Some important things to keep in mind:

  • Location: Your registration numbers need to be on both sides of the bow and be legible from a distance.
  • Size: Letters and numbers should be at least 3 inches high.
  • Readability: Choose block letters that are easy to read. Fancy fonts might look cool, but save those for your boat's name.
  • Color: The color should contrast with your boat hull for clear visibility.
  • To learn more about the process for registering your boat in Massachusetts, visit the Mass.gov website.

We can cut custom vinyl registration decals in pre-spaced vinyl for easy installation. We can customize the font and color to match your boat name, canvas, stripes, or other accents.

"Offline" Boston Whaler Boat Lettering Plymouth MA

Boat Lettering with Registration Numbers

This photo shows a vessel with state registration numbers on the bow, and the name and graphic on the hull towards the stern–a common location for the lettering. Many people choose to put the name on the transom or stern, especially if they don't have outboard motors in the way.

U.S. Coast Guard Documentation

While most recreational boaters register their vessel with the state, some choose to have their boat documented with the U.S. Coast Guard instead.

If you go this route, you won't display state boat registration numbers. Instead, you must display the boat name, hailing port, and documentation number. To learn more, visit the U.S. Coast Guard's National Vessel Documentation Center website.

Choosing a Boat Name

Naming your boat is where the fun begins. This is your chance to get creative and give your boat a personality. Whether it's a play on words, a tribute, or something that reflects your adventures at sea, the name you choose sets the vibe for your vessel.

Unlike boat registration numbers, there are no requirements for a boat's name size or placement unless it is documented with the Coast Guard.

Here are a few tips:

  • Keep it Short and Sweet: Short names are easier to remember (and easier to fit on your boat).
  • Make it Meaningful: Whether it's funny, sentimental, or something that screams "you," make sure it reflects your personality or your sea adventures.
  • Check for Uniqueness: You don't want to be the fourth "Seas the Day" at the marina. A quick search can help ensure your boat's name is one-of-a-kind.

Boat Name Styles, Colors, and Placement

Now, let's talk aesthetics. The color and placement of your boat lettering or boat decals can really make your vessel stand out. Here's how to pick a winner.

  • Contrast is Key: Choose colors that stand out against your boat's hull for maximum visibility.
  • Complement Your Boat's Style: Whether it's sleek and modern or classic and vintage, your lettering should match your boat's vibe.
  • Placement Perfection: The stern is a popular spot for the boat's name, but don't forget about the sides or the bow. Play around with placement to find the perfect spot for you. Some things that you'll have to consider or work around when choosing the placement are the location of engines, vents, and drains and also the location of the boat manufacturer logo, graphics, or striping. And don't forget the waterline!
  • Logo or graphic design? We can do that too. While some boaters prefer a simple name, we can also create graphics, logos, or other neat text effects. Our team can provide ideas and designs to make your boat lettering really stand out on the water.
  • Don't Forget the Hailing Port: The "hailing port," also known as a "home port," is the location where your boat resides. Some people use a town name, like "Plymouth, MA" or "Duxbury, Mass." while others use a body of water or geographic location like "Cape Cod." While not required for state registration, many boaters include a hailing port as a way to signal to other boaters where they are from, especially if they often travel to other states or ports.
  • A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words: When you are ready to order your boat decals, we can provide a photo-realistic mockup of the lettering on your boat's hull, so you don't have to imagine what it will look like or how large it will be.
  • Premium Vinyl Graphics: Vinyl lettering on a boat can really take a beating from the sea, salt, and sun. We only use premium grade vinyl to ensure your name lasts for many seasons to come.
  • Get your Boat Name Graphic on Merchandise! After installation, we'll provide you with digital artwork of your boat name graphics. You can use this file to print your boat name on t-shirts and clothing, hats, drinkware, bags, can koozies, and more.

Vinyl Boat Decals Installation Process

You've got your name, you've picked out the perfect font and colors, and now it's time to bring your vision to life. You can order pre-spaced vinyl decals to install yourself or have us provide professional installation.

We recommend having us do the installation for the greatest success. We've lettered hundreds of boats. And, if your boat is located at a boatyard or marina, they require insurance for all vendors performing work, which we have.

However, if you are the DIY type, here's a breakdown of the installation process:

  • Clean the Surface: Make sure the area where you'll be applying the lettering is clean and dry. You'll want to remove any wax so the vinyl has proper adhesion. We recommend cleaning the area with denatured alcohol.
  • Positioning: Use masking or painters tape to position the letters exactly where you want them before you peel off the backing. Stand back and take a look at the placement to see how it looks from a distance. Make sure to take into consideration where the water line will fall, so the name is placed appropriately.
  • Application: Slowly peel the backing from the vinyl and stick the graphics, using a squeegee to apply consistent pressure and smooth out any bubbles. Then, peel off the transfer tape layer. Small air bubbles can be popped with a sharp X-acto blade.
  • Patience Pays Off: Take your time to ensure everything is aligned and looks just right. In the worst-case scenario, you can peel off the graphics and order new ones.

Most Popular Boat Names

Sea Magazine has compiled a list of the most creative and popular boat names of 2023. Browse this list to get inspiration to name your own vessel.

Below is a list of the top 10 boat names. Visit their website to see the whole list of all 50 names.

  1. Seaduction
  2. Knot on Call
  3. Aquaholic
  4. Breaking Wake
  5. Sailor's Delight
  6. Nauti Buoy
  7. The Codfather
  8. Yachtzee
  9. Seas the Day
  10. Buoys in the Hood

Boat Lettering Photo Gallery

Ready to Make Some Waves?

Custom vinyl boat lettering is more than just a legal requirement—it's a way to express your personality and make your vessel truly yours. From choosing the perfect name to picking eye-catching colors and mastering the installation, you can count on Zebra Visuals of Plymouth for professional results for boat lettering and decals across the South Shore and Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Contact us today to get started.

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