Welcome to our Coast Guard vessel documentation page!
documentation information, articles, and guidelines pertaining to Coast
Guard vessel documentation, abstracts of title, preferred ships
mortgages, and mortgage supplements. This page also serves as a gateway
to our expansive collection of vessel documentation services, and forms.
You will also find a link to our searchable database of over
500,000 currently and previously documented vessels.
About Vessel Documentation
- An overview of Coast Guard vessel documentation. Learn about how
documentation is administered, owner qualifications, vessel
requirements, and operational implications.
Coast Guard Abstracting
Handbook - Learn how to read, interpret, and
summarize U.S. Coast Guard abstracts of title for commercial and
pleasure vessels. Includes a decoding sheet for entry designations.
Documentation Summary - A summarized version of ownership
requirements, vessel requirements, ship's mortgages, recording methods,
record searches, and operational requirements for Coast Guard documented
State Titling vs.
- An article that compares the choices between
state level titling and Coast Guard vessel documentation. Explains the
conditions under which one or the other may be required .
Coast Guard Documentation Search - Coast Guard
vessel documentation database has nearly 500,000 current and previously
documented boats with owner mailing lists. Searchable by multiple
criteria with various report formats.
Vessel Documentation Handbook
- An in-depth explanation of what Coast Guard vessel documentation is all
about, how to obtain it, and the implications of documentation. Available
online for immediate usage.
Coast Guard Abstract of Title
- A detailed overview about the Coast Guard abstract of title for
documented vessels with information about how ownership and preferred
mortgages are recorded.
Regulations - A comprehensive listing of federal
laws and regulations as they relate to Coast Guard vessel documentation.
Includes an explanation of the relationships among various types
- Answers to frequently asked questions about Coast Guard vessel documentation
and preferred ships mortgages
for pleasure or commercial vessels.
& MARAD - Approval of the Maritime
Administration is required for Coast Guard vessel documentation purposes
on certain commercial activities. Learn about these requirements.
Vessel Documentation Services
- A complete selection of Coast Guard vessel documentation services.
Your choice of economical self-service kits or convenient full-services
which are provided by documentation professionals.
Vessel Court Rulings - A gathering of various court
rulings related to Coast Guard documented vessels. Covers issues
such as title disputes, maritime liens, and preferred vessel mortgages.
Vessel Documentation Forms
- Visit our Forms Page for a comprehensive selection of interactive online forms for Coast Guard
vessel documentation with guidelines and examples. You will find many items
which are not available elsewhere.
Documentation Measurement - Factors and resources
for determining tonnage on U.S. Coast Guard documented vessels. Includes
links to brochures, guides, forms, and the Marine Safety Center's
Documentation Defined - U.S. Coast Guard
documentation is a federal registration system for recreational and
commercial vessels. It is designed to provide evidence of
nationality and facilitate commerce throughout the United States. Vessels that meet the required qualifications are
issued a Certificate of Documentation which serves as evidence of
ownership and entitles the vessel to engage in certain activities
Administration - Vessel documentation is
administered by the U.S. Coast Guard's National Vessel Documentation
Center. Although previously fragmented into several districts, this
operation has now been centralized into a large and very modern
facility. Everything is processed electronically which makes for
very efficient handling of recordings, research, and the
documentation process in general.
Usage - Documentation was originally established to
regulate commerce, however it is now dominated by recreational
vessels. There are many advantages to documenting a pleasure boat,
but this has come about mostly because of the Ships Mortgage Act.
Marine lenders will now typically insist on vessel documentation in
order to have a preferred vessel mortgage which gives them an
optimal security interest. Boats used for non-skippered bareboat
charter are considered as recreational for documentation purposes.
Operations - Although Coast Guard documentation is
optional for recreational boats, it is mandatory for vessels that will engage
in commercial activities. These include operations such as carrying
passengers, hauling freight, and commercial fishing. Certificates of
documentation for commercial vessels must be endorsed for the
respective types of usage. Vessel build and owner citizenship
requirements are considerably more stringent for commercial vessels.
- As a general rule, all owners of a documented vessel must be
US citizens. This also applies to legal and business entities such
as corporations, limited liability companies, and partnerships.
Principals who own and operate such entities must be
U.S. citizens in their own right. An individual
person who owns all or part interest in a documented vessel must be
native born, naturalized, or a derivative U.S. citizen. Coast Guard
documented vessels may be operated or placed under the command of a
foreign citizen only if the vessel is used for recreational
Qualifications - In basic terms, a vessel must
measure in volume at a minimum of five net tons. Vessel tonnage is
determined by a measurement process rather than by calculating the
vessel's weight or displacement. Such tonnage is determined by a
formula involving the length, width, and depth. Most vessels will need to
be approximately twenty five feet in length at minimum to qualify.
The country in which a vessel was built is only an issue for
Number - When initially documented, every vessel is
assigned a unique official number which becomes the primary
identifier. This must be affixed to the inside of the hull its or an
integral part thereof and preceded by the letters "O.N". It must
also be secured in a permanent manner and located where easily
accessible upon an inspection. An official number remains with the
vessel for life and is never changed. The Coast Guard maintains
official numbers and their corresponding abstracts of title
indefinitely, even for vessels which are no longer documented.
Hailing Port - Every documented vessel must display
a name and hailing port on the exterior of hull where it can be
easily seen. Vessel names are not exclusive and can be of the
owner's choosing so long as it is not profane or in conflict with safety signals.
Hailing ports may consist of any city and state which has a postal
code. These can be completely arbitrary as the Coast Guard no longer
maintains home port designations.
Certificate of Documentation
- A certificate of documentation is issued on first time or
re-documentations of every vessel. It services as evidence of
ownership and indicates all trade endorsements under which the
vessel is entitled to operate. The certificate must remain on the
vessel whenever it is operational for presentation to law
enforcement officials and service vendors. Certificates of
documentation must be renewed on a yearly basis and a new one is
issued upon such occurrence.
Owner - A managing owner must be designated for
contact purposes whenever there are multiple owners of a documented
vessel. In the case of two or
more individuals this can be any one of the parties. As for legal or business entities, the name of
such entity will itself be shown as the managing owner. The managing
owner's name and address are then listed on the certificate of
Changes - Changes can be made in the documentation
status such as the vessel's name, hailing port, trade endorsements,
specifications, and transfers of ownership. If a change is made due
to an error on behalf of the Coast Guard, they will re-issue the
certificate of documentation at no charge. Otherwise, an
application for re-documentation must be submitted along with the
appropriate fees. A new certificate of documentation is then
re-issued showing the respective changes. Re-documentation is not
required for a change of address as this can be implemented with a
Supplements - A lender's security interest in a
documented vessel is evidenced by a preferred vessel mortgage. This
is very important as such recordings establish a rank and priority
which is superior to other means of collateralization. Any number of
mortgages can be filed against a particular vessel with the earliest
ones having priority. Supplements to mortgages can also be
recorded and include such instruments as amendments, assignments,
addendums, assumptions, and subordinations. A mortgage is discharged
or offset by implementing a release or satisfaction recording.
Claims & Liens
- Claims of lien can be filed against any vessel that is
actively documented. These are unilateral filings on behalf of a
claimant and written
consent of the owner is not required. Such recordings do not afford
validity to any particular claim, but they do place a cloud on the abstract of
title. Most lenders and potential buyers will insist on having these
dealt with before proceeding with a loan or purchase. Such claims
are discharged or offset by implementing a release or satisfaction
Abstracts of Title
- When a vessel is first documented, the Coast Guard creates
an electronic index or ledger wherein all transactions are recorded.
These include transfers of ownership, mortgages, and claims of lien.
Abstracts also contain notational information such as changes in the
vessel's name, build information when presented, recording
cross-references, and entry corrections. Any party involved in a documented vessel transaction
should obtain an abstract of title, even if the documentation is no
longer active. Abstracts are important because mortgages, lien
methods of ownership are not shown on the certificate of
Advantages of Documentation - Coast Guard vessel
documentation is only required for commercial operations and
whenever a preferred mortgage is called for by the lender. However,
there are advantages to voluntary documentation on recreational
vessels. This will establish a
complete chain of ownership, the vessel may be exempt from state
registration in some jurisdictions, state numbers are not required on
documented boats, and documentation it is generally considered to be more
prestigious. It is especially important to have documentation for
offshore cruising as this offers evidence of nationality and certain
protections under the U.S. flag.
- The documentation process is quite exacting and can become
rather involved in some cases. The Coast Guard's application form is
somewhat confusing and various supporting
items must be provided depending on the transaction. Instruments
presented for recording such as bills of sale and preferred vessel
mortgages must contain specific citations and be properly executed.
Any applications that do not meet such standards are promptly
rejected by the documentation center.
Fees - One of the more endearing aspects of vessel
documentation is that application fees are one time only with a
minimal cost for yearly
renewals. However, an application for initial or re-documentation can
amount to several hundred dollars depending on whether the
services of a documentation professional are employed. The Coast Guard
does not collect taxes or customs duties as part of the application
Documentation Services - Anyone with the time and
inclination can implement their own vessel documentation. However,
such effort may prove difficult and frustrating for those unfamiliar
with the process.
Documentation fees can also become forfeited if any deficiencies are
not dealt with promptly. The assistance a qualified documentation
specialist may therefore be a worthwhile consideration. Our self-service vessel
documentation kits are also a great option for those on a tight
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