Numbers and quirks

We moved to South Dakota from Idaho. In Idaho, human-powered boats do not need to be registered or licensed. Our canoe was legal to paddle in any of the state’s waters just as it was. When we moved to South Dakota, we took the boat and headed to the lake. On one of our trips, we were approached by an agent of the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks, who informed us that the boat needed to be registered and sport a hull number. He was very kind and gracious and even helped us load the boat on the roof of our vehicle as we left the lake. He could have fined us for paddling without registration, but did not and let us go on our way with a verbal warning.

A day or so later, I headed to the courthouse to register the boat. The clerk asked me what the serial number of the boat was. I said, “I guess it must be 1. I made the boat and it is the first one I’ve ever made. That wouldn’t work. In fact the State required a nine-digit serial number that followed a formula, which, I later discovered, the clerk gave to me incorrectly. I wasn’t happy doing so, but I found two places to comply with the regulation and wood burned the number into my boat. I returned and learned that the numbers had to be inspected by a law enforcement officer. I found a willing deputy who inspected the numbers and returned with the form at which time it was discovered that the numbers were in the wrong order according to the formula. I told the clerk that I had done exactly as instructed and that changing the numbers, permanently wood burned into the boat, would be a huge job. Finally after much back and forth, I was allowed to use the serial number burned into the boat and was allowed to register the boat. I then had to display a hull number on both sides of the bow of the boat in just the right size along with the registration sticker issued by the state. I complied and have had many years of happy paddling.

Each time I built a new boat, I registered it according to the regulations. I learned the formula for serial numbers and I made friends with deputies for inspections and I got used to the rules. I learned that boats under 12feet are exempt from the regulation regardless of how they are powered, so I built a boat that was 11’6” long just to escape the formalities.

Each year the license on the boat needs to be renewed, so I go to the courthouse with my paperwork, pay the fee, which has risen over the years to $18 per boat. I obtain a new sticker and affix it to the boat. At some point along the way the state updated its computer records, which I’m assuming involved someone manually entering data. I imagine that that data entry clerk had longs days and got tired and that the work was boring, because I noticed one year that the make of my canoe, which at one time had been “homemade” was changed to “hugh glass” I know of no boat maker with the name hugh glass, but that’s what the paperwork says. I have a title to that boat, because they used to require titles for canoes, something that seems to be unique to South Dakota. My title says it is homemade, regardless of the registration. I inquired about it and was told that it is a big hassle to change the manufacturer.

All of this creates confusion when I travel to other states. Due to invasive species, all boats need to be inspected at state lines. Depending on the route I take, I have been inspected in Wyoming, in Montana, in Idaho, in Washington and in Oregon. We never have trouble with inspections because I keep my boats clean and I have no propellors or bilges or live wells for muscles and plants to hide and affix themselves. A quick visual inspection and a recording of the boats and I’m on my way. However, at most inspection stations, I have a conversation with the inspector that goes something like this, “Why do you have a hull number on a canoe?” I respond, “In South Dakota it is required on every boat over 12 feet.” The inspector continues, “But it is a canoe.” “I know, but that’s the way it is in South Dakota.” Usually the response is something like, “I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

There are many states that require the registration of canoes. Our neighbor, Minnesota is one of them. Residents obtain stickers which are affixed to the bows of their boats, but they are not required to display Coast Guard hull numbers to human-powered craft. One of the state inspectors told me that if I moved permanently to his state, I would be required to remove the coast guard numbers from the hull to avoid confusion.

One of the quirks of living in the United States is that individual states have authority to make their own rules. With canoes and kayaks it is assumed that the boats will stay pretty much close to home. My boats, however have lived more exciting lives. I’ve paddled one of my home made boats in both east and west coastal waters of Canada and the United States, in three of the Great Lakes and in countless lakes, ponds and rivers all across the US. I estimate that a couple of my boats have more than 50,000 miles travel on the top of my vehicles or my trailer. They get around.

The bow numbers don’t seem to be a big problem when I travel, just a point of curiosity and a topic of conversation. It becomes one more chance to tell people that we in South Dakota are unique, a bit different and sometimes quirky. We like it that way.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!