Gilligan didn’t have to deal with “the DMV for Boats”

Gilligan didn’t have to deal with “the DMV for Boats”

By Ray Hanania


Ray Hanania

I always wanted captain a boat. I never lived near a lake, but I watched enough “Gilligan’s Island” and “Love Boat” as a kid to know it would be fun.

This year, I bought a place near a lake, and what’s a lake house without a boat?

You don’t have to be “a millionaire and his wife” to afford a boat. I found a reasonably priced pontoon boat, 16 feet long made especially for bass fishing. Sounds like it would be easy street after that.

But that’s when the bubble burst. Turns out owning a boat is more about bureaucracy than with sailing or fishing.

If you hate to go to the Secretary of State’s office for vehicle issues because of the bureaucracy, multiply that by 10 when you buy a boat. You have to register it, get it approved to float on a lake, and fill out a lot of forms. But the system just doesn’t seem to like boat owners at all.

I started out at the Secretary of State’s office in Belvidere to get a license for the trailer that the pontoon boat sits on. When I got there, I never made it past the “information desk.” The lady there, who was busy chatting and joking with other employees, blew me off saying, “We don’t handle boats. You need to go to the DNR.”

“But I need a new license plate,” I insisted.

“You need to go to the DNR. Next,” she insisted.

What the heck is the DNR?


The Pontoon Boat after purchase on its way to wait in my driveway

After struggling through dozens of confusing government websites, I finally figured it out, “Department of Natural Resources.” But I also figured out she was wrong. I DID need a license plate for the trailer.

Instead of returning to the SOS office in Belvidere, I went to Rockford, and hour away.

Sure enough, a nice lady there named “Dorothy” looked at my documents and said yes, I did need a license for the trailer. She gave me the paperwork, explained what I needed to do and although it took hours and two more trips, I returned and the license plate.

Step 1 of 10, done.

On the wall there was a sign that cautioned, “If you plan to bribe an official, don’t.” It’s kind of like the sign at the Zoo that says, “Please don’t feed the animals.” It’s probably not a good sign to put on the wall, but I imagine a lot of people who don’t qualify want drivers licenses.

Boating has it’s own Rules of the Road and licensing procedures. It’s daunting. I took the online course, completing the six 90-minutes segments over a five day period.

I now know “port” is left and “starboard” is right. Most boats have two lights on the “Bow,” front, green is starboard and red is port. That way at night, you’ll know which way a boat is headed, and you won’t collide.

There’s a test after each section and a final exam. I got a 92 and a downloaded graduation “Certificate.”

Step 3: You have to pay the sales tax (6.25 percent) on the purchase before you can register the boat with the Department of Natural Resources. You can’t use the boat until it’s registered. If I send the tax in by mail, I would have to wait weeks for the receipt.

So I figured, I would drive to a DNR office. Turns out there are not that many. It’s either downtown Chicago or south of Aurora.

What happened to “One-Stop-Shopping” in government. But once office that does everything is not good for bureaucracies.

Registration costs $65, and there is a long form to fill out, after I ay the sales tax.

Then there is the inspection by the local police. Once that’s done, I can finally put the boat in water.

I’m hoping that will happen before Labor Day and the chill of the Fall. And for the near future, the Bass will be safe.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and political columnist. Email him at Connect with him on Facebook at

Categories: Baby Boomers, Humor Columns, Travel

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