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Boat Title Search Advisor

Frequently asked questions about boat title and history searches.


Our boat title search advisor will provide answers to some of the most common inquiries we encounter about conducting boat ownership, title, registration, and lien searches. This may help eliminate some of the confusion with respect to the numerous ways in which such data is recorded and made accessible to the boating public. Be sure to browse our website thoroughly for a wealth of additional resources and guidelines regarding each topic.

How can I find a boat owner? -  Finding a boat owner is becoming ever more difficult given that such data is now restricted from the public domain due to privacy concerns. Although record printouts are available from most registration agencies, certain restrictions may apply. The Coast Guard will provide vessel and owner information without question, but access to state registration data is limited to privileged parties as defined by law. These include the owner and those with a legitimate interest in the boat.

How can I do a boat title search? -  Anyone can do their own boat title search if armed with a basic understanding of certain issues that may arise. Searching smaller state titled boats is fairly straight forward, however things become more complicated with vessels that may be eligible for USCG documentation. This website is dedicated exclusively to informing our readers about all aspects of conducting title research on everything from ski-boats to mega-yachts.

Can I search by a boat owner name? -  State boat registration and federal documentation agencies do not facilitate record searches by an owners name or address. Uniform Commercial Code financing records may however be searched by a debtor's name when relevant. UCCs come into play where a boat is not otherwise state titled or U.S. Coast Guard documented. They are typically administered through the offices of a Secretary of State or Department of Revenue.

Can I search by a boat hull number? -  Boat title, registration, and USCG documentation records usually can be searched with a hull number through the respective agencies. Although most states will limit access due to privacy concerns the Coast Guard has no such restrictions. There is also a nationwide vessel information database, but this is available only to law enforcement and government agencies.

What is a boat history search? -  A Boat History Search is all about establishing a chronology of operational events which may include accidents, salvage actions, enforcement activities, factory recalls and environmental damages. This differs from a Boat Title Search where the object is to identify the current owner and any outstanding liens or encumbrances. A title search may optionally include a chain ownership whenever such data is available.

Where do I find boat lien recordings? -  Boat liens are recorded according to the method in which it is titled, registered, or documented. Such determination then becomes the basis for conducting a search of the respective governmental agency's records. However, there are many variables involved in doing this which can be confusing for the layperson. It may therefore be worthwhile to employ the services for a professional boat titling or documentation agent to make sure all the bases are covered.

What is a hidden boat lien? -  A "hidden boat lien" or "maritime lien" is a creature of what is known as "admiralty law". The principle behind this is that a vessel takes on a persona of its own where it can create debts and liabilities as a result of existential operations. These can persist even through subsequent owners whether recorded or not. Such items may include supplies, repairs, services, moorage, seaman's wages, and damages to other persons or property.

How do I know if a boat is state registered? -  The most obvious clue would be the presence of state numbering on the bow. Periodic stickers or tabs would also be an indication. The other alternative is to contact any states where it may have been operated to see if the hull number shows up in their data system.

How do I know if a vessel is documented? -  USCG documentation can often be determined by a physical observation. Runabouts under twenty five feet will not typically qualify. Other indications include the presence of a name and hailing port, the absence of a visible state registration number, and a six or seven digit number preceded by "O.N." affixed inside the hull. The best method, however, is to search the Documentation Center's records by a hull number.

How do I get USCG documentation records? -  An abstract of title and a copy of the owner's certificate of documentation can be ordered directly online from the National Vessel Documentation Center. Other items, filings, and recordings are also available upon written request. These include a certificate of ownership and copies of preferred vessel mortgages, mortgage supplements, bills of sale, claims of lien, or other items submitted in conjunction with the documentation process.

What can I learn from a boat hull number? -  Boat hull identification numbers for those manufactured after November 1, 1972 contain certain information about its production. The first three characters are known as the Manufacturer's Identification Code (MIC) which is unique to the builder. This is followed by a factory production or serial number. Then, according to certain formatting requirements, the month and year built are encoded along with the model year which may differ.

Where is a boat hull Number located? -  Hull numbers on manufactured fiberglass boats are typically molded into the uppermost right side of the stern or transom. If the boat has no stern, it is located on the upper aft most part of the hull. On older and wooden boats it may be engraved in the hull or attached as a plate. State assigned hull numbers are applied via a sticker or label. In any event, a HIN must be affixed in such a manner as to appear obvious in the case of tampering or removal.

Do boats have a hidden hull umber? -  Boat manufacturer's have been required since 1984 to affix a hidden hull identification number to their productions. This is placed in an unobtrusive area which is not easily accessible. In order to determine such location it would be necessary to contact the builder, the U.S. Coast Guard, or perhaps an experienced marine surveyor. In doing so, the requester must impart due cause for needing such information.

How can I detect a salvaged boat? -  The first step in detecting a salvaged boat involves a close physical inspection. This should be conducted by a qualified marine surveyor who will know where to look for telltale signs of prior damage. Online boat history databases are also available, which may help in some cases. There is no title branding in the marine industry so due diligence in this regard is very important.

How do I know if a boat is stolen? -  A close inspection of the vessel identification numbers for signs of alteration or tampering is a good first step in determining whether it has been stolen. This in addition to a through title search and owner background check will cover a lot of bases. Online boat history databases are also available which may help in some cases. If there is still cause for concern, a local law enforcement agency can check their nationwide crime database to see if the boat is listed.

How can I get boat title insurance? -  There is no such thing in the boating industry as vessel title insurance. A guarantee of title must accordingly come from the owner. However, this could be ineffective if such party is unable or unwilling to make good on any such representations. The best protection against title defects is a thorough investigation of the boat's title, registration, lien status, and perhaps even a background check on the owner. Any resistance or non-cooperation on the owner's behalf in gathering this information should be cause for imminent concern.

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