USCG Vessel Documentation Advisor
Questions and answers related to every aspect of U.S. Coast Guard vessel documentation.
Covers recreational and commercial vessels of all types, sizes, and shapes.
GENERAL DOCUMENTATION INFORMATION
VESSEL DOCUMENTATION PROCESS
GENERAL DOCUMENTATION INFORMATION
What is USCG vessel documentation?
Vessel documentation is a national form of vessel registration which is administered by the U.S. Coast Guard. Qualified vessels are
issued a Certificate of Documentation that is recognized globally as evidence of ownership and entitles the vessel to engage in certain
commercial activities. Documentation is optional for vessels used exclusively for recreational purposes.
What is a documented vessel?
A vessel is said to be documented upon issuance of a valid Certificate of Documentation by the U.S. Coast Guard. It then becomes
a flagged vessel of the United States which conveys various privileges. These include special considerations abroad, operational entitlements
for certain commmercial activities, and preferential treatement for vessel loans.
Who administers vessel documentation?
Vessel documentation is handled by the National Vessel Documentation Center also known as the NVDC. It operates at the
direction of the U.S. Coast Guard and is located in Martinsburg, West Virginia. The NVDC is responsible for all aspects of vessel documentation
including record maintenance for every vessel that has ever been documented.
Why should I document my vessel?
USCG vessel documentation is required for vessels that engage in commercial activities. Although optional for recreational purposes,
there are certain advantages for choosing documentation. These include a stronger title which is recognized internationally, preferential treatement when
applying for vessel loans, and the prestige of owning a U.S. flagged vessel.
Are documented vessels subject to state registration?
The federal government allows any state at its own option to issue registration certificates on documented vessels.
However requirements for this may vary according to each state's preferences. Although state titling for documented vessels is prohibited, the
Coast Guard does not view periodic registration certificates as bona fide titles.
Can a state title be changed into USCG documentation?
This is simply a matter of presenting the National Vessel Documentation Center with a copy of the title or current registration
certificate. It must be accompanied by an Application for Documentation and the proper filing fees. Evidence of were the vessel was
built is also required for commercial usage. The respective state must then be notified and the title should be surrendered if applicable.
Can USCG documentation be changed into a state title?
Although not recommended, this can be done. The vessel must be formally removed from documentation and all mortgage recordings will have
to be released. The respective state must then be presented with a Certificate of Deletion from the National Vessel Documentation Center. Upon completion
of the changeover, state registration numbers and current tabs must be displayed on the vessel.
Can a documented vessel be taken over by the Government?
The chances of this happening are extremely remote, but it's possible in case of a national emergency. Vessel documentation is a federal
registry and the government will therefore have ready access to the particulars of any documented vessel. These include cargo capacities which
are critical for the transport of supplies and personnel.
Is a documented vessel exempt from taxes?
Documentation may exempt vessels from having to obtain registration certificates in certain states. However, it does not shield them
from obligations such as sales tax, excise tax, personal property tax, and other local taxes. The exception may be commercially documented vessels which
are exempted by merit of their operations.
Does the Coast Guard collect taxes or duties on documented vessels?
The National Vessel Documentation Center is not involved in the collection of any taxes or duties. When applying for documentation,
it is simply a matter of paying the appropriate recording fees. Taxes are typically paid when registering a boat on the state level and duties
are paid on entry when a boat is imported.
What is a vessel abstract of title?
A USCG abstract of title is created for every vessel that is placed into documentation. This contains entries of all transactions
affecting the vessel during periods of active enrollment. Recordings include transfers of ownership, preferred mortgages, lien claims, and changes in
the vessel's status. Abstracts are available to the public through the National Vessel Documentation.
Why do marine lenders require vessel documentation?
USCG documentation allows lenders to acquire a preferred vessel mortage which outranks all other types of security. It places them in a
position of having a U.S.Marshall foreclose on the loan anywhere in the country. They also have an option of reposessing the vessel without going
through a court of law. In any event, the owner is prohibited from making any changes to the documentation without the lender's consent.
VESSEL DOCUMENTATION PROCESS
How do I apply for vessel documentation?
Acquiring USCG documentation is basically a matter of filing an application with the National Vessel Documentation Center. Supporting
items may however be required depending on whether it is an initial documentation, re-documentation, or change of status to an existing documentation.
These may include certificates of build, bills of sale, copies of previous titles, and measurement certificates just name a few.
What does vessel documentation cost?
Application fees begin at $84 for re-documentation to $133 for an inititial filing. However there are a number of add-on costs
for various endorsements, recording of instruments such as bills of sale, and special determinations. This is of course on the presumption that
applicants will implement their own submissions. The use of a professional documentation agent could add several hundred dollars to
the overall project.
How long does it take to document a vessel?
The National Vessel Documentation Center's processing times can vary from a few days to several months depending on their workload,
staffing levels, and recording priorities. These are influenced by a vessel's usage, the type of filing, and whether there are special circumstances
involved. The documentation center publishes a weekly estimation of processing times for various types of applications and recordings.
Can I apply for vessel documentation via fax or email?
Copies of executed forms and instruments can now be filed by facsimile or email. There is no need to follow up by mailing the originals.
This includes applications for documentation, supporting forms, bills of sale, mortgages, and related instruments. The only exceptions are the
Builder's Certification and related items.
Can I apply for documentation if the vessel is outside of the U.S.?
A vessel's location is not a factor in obtaining documentation. In fact the National Vessel Documentation Center usually
affords priority handling for the issuance of a certificate of documentation to U.S. citizens when travelling abroad. The application process is
basically the same except that notarization of certain required documents can become an issue in some countries.
What are vessel documentation processing priorities?
The National Vessel Documentation Center has a priority system under which applications and other submissions are processed. This
is based on the date received, the vessel's trade status, the type of submission, and special circumstances. As a general rule, all filings
related to vessels with commercial endorsements are given automatic priority. However, recreational vessels may also qulaify if about to embark on
a foreign voyage.
How do I designate a hailing port for vessel documentation?
A hailing port is the city and state designation which must be marked on the exterior hull structure of a documented vessel.
Such choice can be arbitrary so long as it coincides with a legitimate U.S. or territirial postal zone. It does not have to identify the
moorage location or owner's place of residence.
Who is the managing owner for vessel documentation?
A managing owner is the party with whom the National Vessel Documentation Center will correspond regarding applications and
renewals. This must be the name a sole owner or an individual designee of multiple owners. In case of a Corporation, the actual legal name of the entity
itself must be designated as the managing owner.
Why must an owner provide a social security number for vessel documentation?
Unless the applicant is an entity with a federal tax identification number, you must provide a social security number. It is a regulatory
requirement and without it you will simply not be allowed to document your vessel. The Coast Guard is however, very protective of such information
and will not disclose it to the public.
Can I operate my vessel while awaiting a certificate of documentation?
A vessel may not engage in commercial activities without a valid and properly endorsed certificate of documentation on board. As for
recreational usage, this will be a matter of discretion according to the respective enforcement agency. Some jurisdictions have
been known to accept evidence that an application has been filed as proof of ownership. In any event it would be advisable to check with the
appropriate authorities if you intend to operate without being in full compliance of all regulatory statutes.
Is a documented vessel exempt from state registration?
Individual states may at their option issue periodic registration certificates for USCG documented vessels. This is allowed even
though federal law prohibits the issuance of state titles under such circumstances. The Coast Guard does not view state level registrations in
themselves as bonafide titles.
When must I renew a certificate of documentation?
Recreational vessels are renewed on a yearly basis according to the issuance date. The annual fee is $26.00 plus a late fee
of $5.00 if filed within a 30 day grace period. Beyond that, the documentation expires and must be re-instated. Renewals for recreationala vessels
are now also available for up to five years at the owner's option. Commercial vessels are restricted to a yearly basis.
What are the penalties for vessel documentation violations?
The maximum penalty for each day of continuous violation is now $10,000 per day. Situations which allow for forfeiture and seizure of the vessel
have also been expanded. In addition, there a is general federal law that cites a $10,000 fine and/or 10 years imprisonment for providing a
false representation or statement to a government official.
What is a coastwise endorsement for vessel documentation?
A coastwise endorsement entitles the vessel to employment in unrestricted coastwise trade, dredging, towing, and any other activities
for which a registry or fishery endorsement is not required. In basic terms, this means that the vessel can carry cargo and passengers within the U.S.
or between U.S. ports. There are many variations regarding what actually constitutes coastwise activities and the need for such endorsement should be
given careful consideration.
What are citizenship requirements for vessel documentation?
An individual person who owns all or part interest in a documented vessel must be native born, naturalized, or a derivative U.S.
citizen. Principals who own or operate legal entities such as Corporations, LLCs, and Partnerships must also be U.S. Citizens in their own right.
Citizenshiop rules may further apply to shareholders depending on the type of documentaton.
Can a green card holder own a documented vessel?
You can not apply for USCG vessel documentation until you are able to certify that you have already become a naturalized U.S. ciitzen.
Until then, you must register on the state level or with the country in which you currently hold citizenship.
How do I change the legal name of a documented vessel owner?
A legal name change is not viewed as a transfer of ownership. However, it will be necessary to apply for re-documentation under the
new name. In order to do so, you will need to provide copies of court documents or other legal evidence supporting such action.
What are vessel documentation requirements for an LLC?
It all depends on how the LLC is organized and whether there will be commercial endorsements. If the LLC is member managed, all
members must be U.S. citizens. If not, the managing party must be a U.S. citizen. In this event, citizenship for the total equity owned must
typically be at least 50% for recreational use and 75% for commercial use. The National Vessel Documentation Center should be consulted if the
LLC structure is complex as hey may need a copy of the articles of organization to make a determination.
What are vessel documentation requirements for a trust?
A trust is viewed by the Coast Guard as an arrangement where one or more trustees hold title to the vessel for the benefit of other
parties known as beneficiaries. Accordingly, ownership must be listed in the name of the trustees. Every trustee and each beneficiary with an
enforceable interest in a trust arrangement must be a U.S. citizen.
Can documented vessels share the same name?
Vessel names are not exclusive for documentation purposes and any number of vessels can share identical names. Coast Guard records
can be easily searched by vessel name to determine the number of duplications and their corresponding hailing ports.
How do I determine the tonnage for vessel documentation?
Vessel tonnage for documented vessels is determined by hull volume measurement as opposed to weight displacement. Recreational vessels
under 79' are measured via the simplified method of using a basic formula. Larger vessels must be formally measured by a Coast Guard approved
measurement service company and is considerably more complex.
Is my vessel large enough for documentation?
A vessel must typically measure at least 25 feet in length to qualify for documentation depending on the hull width and overall depth.
The hull volume must equate at least 5 net tons as determined by an approved formula. Tonnage for documentation purposes is a matter of
volume capacity rather than displacement weight.
Must a vessel be U.S. built to qualify for documentation?
The place of build is not an issue for recreational vessels. However, evidence that it was built in the United States is
required for those which are to be used in a fisheries or coastwise trade. Build evidence usually comes in the form of a Builder's Certification
which is issued by the manufacturer.
What are the marking requirements for vessel documentation?
Every documented vessel must be marked with its official number, a designated name, and a hailing port. The size and location of which
are determined by Coast Guard regulations. The markings must be properly affixed prior to operating the vessel.
How do I choose the hailing port on a Coast Guard documented vessel?
The vessel hailing port is no longer related to where the owner resides or the location at which the vessel is moored. You can
choose any city and state or U.S. territory you wish so long as it has a postal zip code listing.
How do I obtain a vessel build waiver for documentation?
Applications must be sumbitted to The Maritime Administration (MARAD)which is an agency of The Department of Transportation. They
can issue waivers for small passenger vessels with regard to operation in the coastwise trade. However, the vessel must be at least 3 years old and
must be intended for carrying 12 passengers or less. There is a non-refundable deposit of $500 required and a waiting period of 30 days for a public notification.
What proof of ownership is required for vessel documentation?
In order to document a vessel for the first time or record a transfer of ownership, the applicant must provide evidence of title
or proof of ownership. This typically consists of a builder's certification, manufacturer's statement of origin, or evidence showing the existence
of a previous title or registration.
Can I assign ownership on a USCG certificate of documentation?
A certificate of documentation will serve as evidence of transfer if ownership is properly assigned on the reverse side by the
documented owners. If the document is not assigned, or a subsequent applicant is someone other than the assignee, it will be necessary to chain
ownership forward with recordable transfer instruments such as a Bill of Sale, Deed of Gift, or Transfer of Interest.
Can a vessel become documented from a state registration or title?
The Coast Guard will accept a copy of the current state registration or a copy of the state title for such purpose. If ownership
has changed, it must be accompanied by a transfer instrument such as a bill of sale. A state title must be surrendered after the documentation is
complete. However, the registration may need to be maintained, depending on the respective state's regulations.
How do I remove a divorced spouse from vessel documentation?
In most cases, the courts will issue a divorce decree which awards the vessel as part of a settlement. Ownership can be changed
by re-documenting the vessel with a copy of the decree. The decree must however, identify the vessel by its official number or hull identification
number. The awarding spouse would otherwise have to execute a transfer of interest for half interest in the vessel. If the documentation is subject
to a preferred mortgage, the transaction will also be subject to the lender's written consent.
Should I accept a certificate of vessel documentation at face value?
A Coast Guard certificate of documentation should always be supported by the vessel's abstract of title. The certificate may not be
the latest issue, may not show complete ownership information in some cases, and does not show any liens or encumbrances. Abstracts can usually
be obtained from the Coast Guard within 24 to 48 business hours.
Should I notify the Coast Guard upon transferring the vessel's ownership?
Unless you are certain the new owner will immediately re-document the vessel, you should submit a written request for removal of the
documentation. It is also a good idea to record the bill of sale or other instrument of transfer as an optional part of this process. The underlying
abstract of title will then show the new owner's name, even though the documentation may not have been reinstated.
What is a recordable instrument for vessel documentation?
Recordable instruments are those documents or forms which meet Coast Guard standards for recording transactions on the vessel's
underlying abstract of title. Such instruments are related to changes in ownership and the recording of liens or encumbrances. These include bills
of sale, deeds of gift, transfers of interest, preferred vessel mortgages, mortgage supplements, and lien claims.
What is a preferred vessel or ship's mortgage?
A preferred vessel mortgage, or ship's mortgage, is an instrument which is given status as a maritime lien. Depending on the filing
date, the mortgage attains a certain priority in the event of default. It also gives the mortgagee control of the documentation in that once filed,
the Coast Guard will not allow a change of vessel ownership, name, and hailing port without the mortgagee's consent.
How do I amend the terms of a preferred vessel mortgage?
If the terms of an active preferred vessel mortgage change, you should record an Amendment of Mortgage to reflect the new terms.
The same applies to any changes in a promissory note or loan contract that was submitted as an attachment to the mortgage. When filing an amendment,
the rank and priority of the original filing date for the underlying mortgage remains unchanged.
Can a mortgagee block changes in the vessel documentation?
The lender must sign a written consent before any changes whatsoever can be made in the documentation status. This includes vessel name
or hailing port changes, changes in endorsements, and transfers of ownership. Subsequent mortgages can be filed without the bank's consent, but this
will likely create a default under the terms of prior loan contract.
How can I remove a USCG vessel documentation claim of lien?
Once recorded, claims of lien will become permanent entries on the vessel's underlying abstract of title. In order to offset such
entriey, the claimant must submit a satisfaction or release recording as evidence that the obligation has been discharged. If the claimant fails
or refuses to do so, the claim must be vacated by judicial means.
How do I remove a preferred vessel mortgage?
A mortgagee is required to file a release upon settlement of the underlying obligation. This becomes recorded on the vessel's
abstract of title as an offset to the respective mortgage. If the mortgagee has failed to file such release and is no longer available, the only
remaining option would be to obtain a court order having the recording vacated.
What is a vessel documentation claim of lien?
A claim of lien is a type of filing where the claimant may unilaterally record an obligation or debt which was created by
a vessel which is currently documented or in the process of becoming documented. The recording does not validate a claim and judicial
action must be taken as a method of foreclosure. It's primary function is to notify the owner and any known mortgagees or other claimants.
How do I file a vessel documentation claim of lien?
In order to record a maritime lien it will be necessary to forward a "Notice of Claim of Lien" form to the National Vessel
Documentation Center. It must show information about the claimant, nature of the claim, date on which it arose, and the amount. The claim must
also be accompanied by a declaration that a copy of the notice was sent to all owners and any known mortgagees or other cliamants.