State and Local Licenses

A number of states require boats operated on state waters to have state licenses. Such licenses constitute an excise tax.  Thus, municipalities can no longer levy a separate license tax for the operation of watercraft within their waters[i].  The activity of recreational boating is not a matter subject to local regulation.  Municipal control by licensing is not necessary to the efficient regulation of boating activities.  Therefore, a village does not also have implied power to license motorboats and other watercraft on lakes, although the village has the implied power to regulate boating on lakes within its boundaries under its grant of power from the state and as part of its police power[ii]. 

A state may grant a municipality the power to license boats used within its jurisdiction by statute[iii].  Moreover, some state statutes may provide that there shall be fees in lieu of all taxes or licenses[iv].  However, a boat owner’s payment of the license fee cannot discharge either his/her payment of a property tax assessed on the boat prior to the effective date of the licensing statute or the lien securing such payment on the ground that such a statute does not have a retroactive effect, even though the tax covered part of the same period as was embraced by the license fee[v]. 

[i] State ex rel. McElroy v. Akron, 173 Ohio St. 189 (Ohio 1962)

[ii] Brooklyn Center v. Rippen, 255 Minn. 334 (Minn. 1959)

[iii] Poyer v. Desplaines, 22 Ill. App. 576 (Ill. App. Ct. 1887)

[iv] Prudente v. Nechanicky, 84 Idaho 42 (Idaho 1961)

[v] Henderson v. State Tax Com., 182 Ore. 519 (Or. 1948)


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