Why Do Kayaks Have Serial Numbers? How to Read Them Easily

Have you ever wondered what that strange combination of letters and numbers on your kayak means? This unique combination of letters and numbers includes your kayak’s serial number, and it has a great purpose related to the safety of your kayak.

So, why do kayaks have serial numbers? The reason why kayaks have a serial number is to distinguish one kayak from another for warranty purposes and to make tracing stolen kayaks much easier. The serial number on the kayak is a portion of the kayak’s “Hull Identification Number,” which is also known as “HIN” for short.

Continue reading to learn more about Hull Identification Numbers and their purpose, as well as how to look up a kayak serial number and prevent your kayak from being stolen.

What Is a Hull Identification Number?

Hull Identification Number to show why do Kayaks have serial numbers

The Hull Identification Number, HIN for short, is basically a unique number assigned by the manufacturer to all kayaks made on or after November 1, 1972, as per the United States Coast Guard regulations.

The hull identification number is not the same as a state registration number. The state registration number is a state requirement. It’s similar to the license plate on your car, and it’s usually required to be displayed on the bow of your kayak. The hull identification number, on the other hand, is a federal requirement, and it’s required to be shown on the State certificate of registration.

Homemade kayaks or Kayaks and motors without a HIN or serial numbers can only be assigned HINs by the Department of Public Safety, Marine Enforcement Section of the Highway Patrol Division.

It is illegal for manufacturers, dealers, distributors, or owners to change or remove the hull identification number without written authorization from the Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard.

What Is the Format of Hull Identification Numbers?

Typically, the hull identification number consists of 12 continuous characters that are unique to each kayak. It must be displayed at least one-quarter of an inch in height and uninterrupted by spaces, hyphens, slashes, or any other symbols.

It’s very simple to decode the combination of letters and numbers in the HIN if you understand what each section refers to.

The first section in every HIN consists of three characters, and they refer to the Manufacturer Identification Code, which is also known as MIC. This ID code is unique to each manufacturer and is assigned by the US Coast Guard. 

However, the manufacturer identification code at the beginning of the HIN for a homemade kayak would be the abbreviation for the State followed by the letter “Z,” which indicates that it is a state identification.

The next section in the hull identification number consists of five characters that refer to the Hull Serial Number. Manufacturers can use any combination of numbers and letters to represent the serial number with the exception of the letters “I,” “O,” and “Q” that is because they look similar to the numbers “0” and “1”. 

The first number in the serial number section is either “0” or “8”. A “0” refers to a factory first-quality boat, while an “8” refers to a factory second-quality boat due to a cosmetic defect.  The next four numbers increase in units of one starting from “0000” to “9999” and then repeat.

The final section in the hull identification number consists of four characters, and it’s also assigned by the US Coast Guard.  This section refers to the Date of Certification and the Model Year. 

The date of certification or the date of manufacture is represented by the letters A through L, and each letter corresponds to the months 1 through 12, followed by the last number of the year it was manufactured. While the model year of the kayak is represented by the last two numbers.

Refer to the following table to understand which month each letter in the date of certification represents:


Here’s an example to make it simpler, if the last four characters in your HIN were “D021”, this means the kayak was manufactured in April 2020 as part of the 2021 model year.

You can use this HIN decoder website to identify your kayak. All you need to do is look up the kayak serial number, and the website will give you information about the kayak, including the country the kayak comes from, the company that manufactured the kayak, and the date of manufacture.

What Is the Purpose of Hull Identification Numbers?

The main purpose of the hull identification number is to provide a uniform ID for each kayak manufactured in or imported into the United States.

  • The hull identification number also has important safety purposes, as police and law enforcement use it to trace stolen kayaks.
  • The US Coast Guard uses the hull identification number to apply the safety standards to specific kayaks, and some states use it for registration and titling purposes.
  • It’s useful for manufacturers for warranty purposes, and it allows them to identify and keep track of kayak owners in that case, any kayaks are involved in defect notification and recall campaigns.

Where Is the Hull Identification Number Located?

The US Coast Guard requires that each hull identification number must be stamped, embossed, carved, burned, molded, or otherwise permanently fixed on the kayak in a way that would cause obvious damage if there was an attempt to alter, remove, or replace it 

The hull identification number must never be attached to any part of the kayak that can be removed. Sometimes it can be displayed on a separate plate; however, that plate must be secured to the kayak in a way that would also cause damage to the hull area if it was removed.

The exact position of the hull identification number on the kayak differs from one manufacturer to another. It can mostly be found on the right side of the kayak near the stern on the outside of the hull.

Make sure to reach out to the manufacturers of your kayak if you are having a hard time reading your HIN or if you’re unable to locate it.

How To Protect Your Kayak from Being Stolen?

Kayaks can be very expensive, and the sport is getting more and more popular, so there are always reports of kayaks getting lost or stolen. It is not simple to put a stop to criminals, and unfortunately, not every theft can be avoided.

Here are some simple precautions you can take to reduce the risk of losing your kayak:

Make a note of your kayak’s hull identification number

  • Make a note of the HIN associated with your kayak and store it in a safe place. If the kayak ever gets lost or stolen, you can give the number to the police.
  • If the thief tried to sell the kayak, there is a big chance that the kayak would be identified as stolen goods. If the police managed to arrest the thief, you would also need the HIN to prove that it is really your boat.

Scratch the HIN on different places on your kayak

  • Most thieves would know about the HIN and know how it is used to identify the kayak by this number. That’s why they would likely attempt to remove the number before selling the stolen kayak.
  • You can always be one step ahead of the thieves by simply scratching the HIN onto the kayak at several locations. With two (or more) numbers scratched on the kayak, the chances of identifying the kayak as your property during a police investigation will be a lot higher.

Make sure you store your kayak in a safe location

  • You can safely store your kayak in your basement, garage, or even inside your apartment using an appropriate wall or deck mount.
  • If you’d rather depend on outdoor storage, you need to choose a location near your apartment or house that is not visible from the road.
  • You also need to use all the safety measures your kayak has to offer. Some kayak models have built-in clamps and clips that can be used to secure the kayak to a post or tree.

Make sure you lock your kayak to your car

  • There are many online reports of kayaks that were stolen directly from the roof of the car. So, it’s very important not to leave the kayak unattended and if you do, make sure you don’t leave it without securely fixing it to the car roof using a stable cable lock.

If your kayak has been stolen, you can try to look it up using the serial number on this stolen register website. You can also check this database from Mariner Kayaks, which lists stolen kayak serial numbers.

Related Questions

How To Avoid Purchasing a Stolen Kayak?

To avoid purchasing a stolen kayak, you need to be aware of some red flags during the transaction. The red flags that indicate that a kayak is stolen include selling a well-preserved kayak well below the market value, or the kayak has no serial number. If you encounter any of these situations, do not buy the kayak, and make sure to alert the police.

What Does It Mean to Register a Kayak?

Registering your kayak is very similar to car registration. This means that you must have it each and every time you take your kayak into the water. In some states, registering your kayak includes getting number plates that you must paint on the sides of your kayak.

Do You Need to Register Your Kayak in All US States?

Some states, such as Alaska, Arizona, Ohio, Iowa, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania, insist on kayak registration, while others do not. There are specific rules that govern the registration of the kayak in the states where it is required as well as some documentation needed to register. Once your kayak is registered, you can use it in the waters within that particular state.

Kayak your way to Freedom

Helpful Resources 

Hull Identification Number

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