boat registration - Coast Guard vessel documentation - yacht registry

USCG Vessel Documentation Advisor

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Can I convert my state boat title or registration to USCG vessel documentation?

Yes, this is quite easy if the vessel is over approximately 25' and you are a U.S. citizen. All you need to do is present a copy of your title or current registration to the National Vessel Documentation Center along with the appropriate application forms. You will then need to surrender your original title to the state in which issued along with a notification that the vessel has become documented. However, in some states, you may need to maintain a registration certificate even though the vessel is documented .

Can my documented vessel be requisitioned in a national emergency?

USCG vessel documentation is a national registry which provides the federal government with ready access to the particulars of your vessel. These include cargo capacities which will be of particular importance. Accordingly, this will become the primary resource for requisitioning should a national emergency warrant such measures. However, the possibility of this event is extremely remote.

Does USCG vessel documentation exempt my vessel from taxes?

Although USCG vessel documentation may exempt vessels from having to obtain registration certificates in certain states, it does not generally exempt them from tax liabilities such as sales tax, excise tax, personal property tax, and other local taxes. The exceptions may be those situations where commercially documented boats become exempt from certain taxes by merit of their operations. This would be determined on a state-by-state basis.

Does the National Vessel Documentation Center collect taxes or duties on vessels?

The Coast Guard's 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 USCG vessel documentation abstract of title?

One of the fundamental differences between USCG documentation and state level boat titling or registration is the manner in which liens, encumbrances, and ownership transfers are recorded. When a vessel is initially documented, the NVDC generates a master record that is titled "General Index or Abstract of Title". Its structure is similar to those employed in the real estate industry with respect to the methods in which transactions are recorded. In addition to some basic information about the vessel, all transactions involving changes of ownership, mortgages, and liens are indexed on the abstract as separate entries.

What is USCG vessel documentation?

USCG documentation is a national form of vessel registration which is administered by the U.S. Coast Guard's National Vessel Documentation Center. It is one of the oldest functions of our Government, dating back to the 11th Act of the First Congress. 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 commercial activities. Although documentation is optional for vessels that operate exclusively for recreational purposes, it is required for vessels that engage in commercial activities.

Who administers USCG vessel documentation?

USCG vessel documentation is administered by the National Vessel Documentation Center, which is commonly referred to as "NVDC" or "documentation center". The NVDC operates under the direction of the U.S. Coast Guard's National Maritime Center. It officially opened its doors on August 1, 1995 as the result of a consolidation effort wherein fourteen district offices merged in to a single location at Martinsburg, West Virginia. The center is responsible for administering all aspects of vessel documentation and the maintenance of records for all currently documented vessels.

Why is my lender requiring USCG vessel documentation?

Marine lenders will typically require USCG vessel documentation on qualified vessels as this affords them with something called a "preferred vessel or ship's mortgage". When recorded on the vessel's abstract of title it will prioritize a loan security interest against all subsequent mortgages and any state level filings. It also places control of any ownership or documentation changes into the lender's hands. All preferred vessel mortgage filings are submitted to the National  Vessel Documentation center.

Why should I document my vessel with the U.S. Coast Guard?

USCG vessel documentation is not required for pleasure or recreational usage, which includes bareboat charters. However, there are several reasons for which vessels are placed into USCG documentation. First, a vessel can not engage in commercial activities unless it becomes documented and attains the respective trade endorsements. Second, marine lenders usually require vessel documentation in order to acquire a preferred mortgage which grants the ultimate contractual lien against any vessel. Third, owners who venture into international waters usually elect to document their vessels in order to attain certain protections afforded by the U.S. flag. A certificate of documentation makes it easier for passage into foreign ports and is widely accepted by customs officials. Finally, some owners elect to document their vessel just for the prestige of owning a vessel which is said to carry the U.S. flag. From a visual perspective, Coast Guard documentation also precludes vessels from having to display any state registration numbers.


Can I apply for USCG vessel documentation via fax or email?

With certain exceptions, copies of executed forms and instruments can now be sent to the National Vessel Documentation Center by facsimile or email. There is no need to follow up by mailing the originals as these are no longer required. This includes applications for documentation, supporting forms, bills of sale, mortgages, and related instruments. The only items that must be sent as originals are the Builder's Certification and other documents evidencing the facts of build. These new filing methods became effective on October 31, 2007 and the respective rules have been officially incorporated into the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations.

Can I obtain USCG documentation when the vessel is outside of the U.S.?

A vessel's location is not a factor in obtaining USCG vessel documentation if you are a U.S. citizen. In fact, priority handling for the issuance of a certificate of documentation is usually afforded to U.S. citizens when cruising abroad. The application process is basically the same except that notarization of certain required documents can become an issue in some countries. The National Vessel Documenation Center has very specific rules in this regard.

How do I document a vessel with the Coast Guard?

Obtaining USCG vessel documentation is basically a matter of completing the respective application forms. These must be submitted to the National Vessel Documentation Center along with the necessary proof of ownership items and required fees. The complexity of this procedure depends on ownership methods, the type of vessel, and its intended usage. Although considerably more expensive, many applicants will elect to procure the services of a vessel documentation service company,

How long does it take to obtain USCG vessel documentation?

USCG vessel documentation processing times can vary from a few days to several months depending on their workload and staffing levels. Recording priorities are also influenced by a vessel's usage, the type of filing, and whether there are special circumstances involved. The National Vessel Documentation Center publishes a weekly estimation of processing times for various types of applications and recordings.

What are USCG 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. Upon arrival at the documentation center, all items are placed into a handling queue which is prioritized according to such factors. As a general rule, all filings related to vessels with commercial endorsements are given automatic priority over those endorsed only for recreational purposes. However, recreational vessels may also qualify for priority handling if there are urgent circumstances which necessitate the immediate issuance of a document. Such urgency is most often related to vessels about to embark on foreign voyages, but this is not always the case.

What are USCG vessel documentation home and hailing ports?

Prior to the consolidation of various regional vessel documentation offices into one central location, the city of such locations was known as the home port. With the elimination of these offices, the "home port" concept no longer applied and such declarations are not currently part of the documentation process. A hailing port is simply the city and state which must accompany the vessel name on a documented vessel. This designation has no relation to where the vessel is moored or operated and can be any city and state with a U.S. postal zip code. In order to change an existing name or hailing port, it will be necessary to re-document the vessel.

Why must I designate a managing owner for my vessel documentation?

The National Vessel Documentation Center requires a specific name and address for the purpose of corresponding with the owner of a documented vessel. A yearly renewal notice and any other pertinent communications will be forwarded to this location. When there are multiple owners, only one may be selected as the managing owner. In the case of a Corporation, the actual legal name of the entity itself is designated as the managing owner.

Why must I provide my social security number for vessel documentation?

Unless you are 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 my certificate of documentation?

If the vessel is used for recreational purposes only, you can operate it while waiting for your document to be issued. However this only applies if you are in compliance with any state level requirements for registration of documented vessels. You can not engage in commercial operations without a properly endorsed certificate of documentation on board the vessel. While operating without a document, you should keep copies of your application and any documents which serve as proof that you own the vessel.

Is a USCG documented vessel exempt from state registration?

Federal regulations prohibit documented vessels from holding a title issued by an entity other than the U.S. Coast Guard. This means that documented vessels may not be simultaneously titled by any state or foreign agency. However, the states may at their option issue yearly registration certificates as these are not viewed as titles.

Must I obtain USCG vessel documentation for a six-pack charter operation?

If the vessel meets tonnage requirements for Coast Guard documentation it must become documented with a "coastwise" endorsement. This applies even if you carry just one passenger for hire. A bare-boat charter operation where the boat is rented or leased and not skippered by the owner or owner's agent does not fall under these rules. This is considered as "recreational" usage by the Coast Guard and documentation is optional.

Must I renew my vessel's certificate of documentation?

     Certificates of documentation are re-issued on a yearly basis according to the expiration date as shown on the certificate. This coincides with the date upon which the vessel was initially placed into documentation or returned to documentation subsequent from a deletion. Approximately 45 days prior to the document's expiration date, the National Vessel Documentation Center will send a renewal certification form to the managing owner's address as shown on their records. The owner must take responsibility for returning a certification even though a notification was never received. Failure to renew will result in having to re-document the vessel.

What are the penalties for USCG vessel documentation violations?

The Coast Guard Authorization Act of 1996 included legislation which increased the penalties for violations of documentation laws. The maximum penalty 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 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 USCG vessel documentation?

A coastwise endorsement entitles a 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.


Can I document my vessel if I have a green card?

You can not apply for Coast Guard vessel documentation until you are able to certify that you have already become naturalized. Until then, you must register on the state level or with the country in which you currently hold citizenship.

How do I change my legal name on the vessel's certificate of documentation?

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 legal name. In order to do so, you will need to provide copies of the court documents approving 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. You should contact the National Vessel Documentation Center if the LLC structure is complex. They may ultimately need a copy of the articles of organization to make a determination.

What are general citizenship requirements for vessel documentation?

As a general rule, all owners of a documented vessel must be US Citizens. This also applies to legal entities such as Corporations, Limited Liability Companies, and Partnerships. Corporations must be registered in the U.S. in order to own a documented vessel. Principals who own and operate corporations other legal entities that own a documented vessel 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. Cost Guard documented vessels may be operated or placed under the command of a foreign citizen only if the vessel is used for recreational purposes.

What are vessel documentation requirements for a trust?

The Coast Guard views a trust as an arrangement where one or more parties hold title to the vessel for the benefit of another. Accordingly, ownership must be listed in the name of the trustee or trustees, which can then be qualified by the name of the trust (e.g. "John Doe, Trustee of The Doe Family Trust"). Each 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?

Yes, vessel names are not exclusive and any number of documented vessels can share the same name. In order to see how many vessels are documented under a particular name, you can visit the "Vessel Record Search" section of our "Database" page and perform a vessel documentation search.

How do I determine the tonnage for vessel documentation?

There are various methods of measuring a vessel depending on its size and intended usage. Most recreational vessels under 79' are measured via the simplified system for documentation purposes. This is basically a matter of providing a builder's certification showing the dimensions or completing an "Application for Simplified Measurement". Larger vessels must be formally measured by a Cost Guard approved measurement service company.

Is my vessel large enough to Coast Guard document?

In basic terms, a vessel must measure in volume at a minimum of five net tons. Depending the length beam, and overall depth, most vessels will need to be at least approximately 25 feet in length to qualify. Vessel tonnage is determined by a measurement process rather than by calculating the vessel's weight or displacement.

Must my vessel be U.S. built to qualify for documentation?

Although the place of build is not an issue for recreational vessels, evidence that a vessel was built in the United States is required for those which are to be used in a fisheries or coastwise trade. Such 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?

Before operating under a valid certificate of documentation, every vessel must be marked with its official number, designated name, and hailing port. This means that such markings must be properly affixed to the vessel on or before issuance of a certificate of documentation.
          The official number as shown on the certificate of documentation must be permanently affixed to some clearly visible interior structural part of the hull. The number must be preceded by the abbreviation "NO" and must be shown in block type Arabic numerals of least 3 inches in height. Permanently affixed is defined as being implemented in such a manner that removal or replacement would be obvious and cause some scarring or damage to the surrounding area. Clearly visible means that it must be easily accessible in the event of a boarding inspection. The numbers must be affixed to inside of the hull itself or a permanently attached internal structure such as a bulkhead or engine stringer. There are various methods for installing the numbers such as stenciling, engraving, or affixing a plaque. However, these must be glassed over or permanently bonded and not simply secured with screws, rivets, or bolts.
          For recreational vessels, the name and hailing port must be marked together on some clearly visible exterior part of the hull. If the certificate of documentation is endorsed for commercial usage, the name must be marked on each side of the bow and both the name and hailing port must be marked on the stern. On commercial vessels having a square bow, the name of the vessel must be marked on some clearly visible exterior part of the bow. The name and hailing port must also be marked on some clearly visible exterior part of the stern. Markings may be made with any materials that are durable.  All letters or numerals must made in clearly legible letters of the Latin alphabet or Arabic or Roman numerals and must be as least 4 inches in height. Hailing port markings must include both the city and state which can be abbreviated.

What location must I choose for a 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 whic the vessel is moored. You can choose any city and state or U.S. territory you wish for the hailing port if it has a zip code listing. However, you should not include the zip code in the hailing port when marking the vessel.

Where can I get a U.S. vessel build waiver for USCG vessek documentation?

The Maritime Administration (MARAD) can issue waivers for small passenger vessels with regard to operation in the coastwise trade. Please visit our Directory Page for information about contacting MARAD.


Can I assign vessel ownership on a Coast Guard certificate of documentation?

Yes, a certificate of documentation will serve as evidence of transfer if ownership is properly assigned on the reverse side by the documented owner. 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 I document my vessel from a state level registration or title?

The Coast Guard will accept a copy of the current state registration or a copy of the state title. If ownership has changed, it must be accompanied by a transfer instrument such as a bill of sale. When documenting a state titled vessel, such title must be surrendered after the documentation is complete. The state registration may need to be maintained, depending on your particular state's regulations.

How do I remove a divorced spouse from the vessel's documentation?

In most cases, the courts will issue a "Divorce Decree" which will award 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 abstract of title is subject to a preferred mortgage, the change of ownership will 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 has not been reinstated. The new owner can apply for re-documentation at any time thereafter, if such party is a U.S. citizen.

What are vessel documentation proof of ownership requirements?

In order to document a vessel for the first time or re-document a previously documented vessel, the applicant must provide evidence of title or proof of ownership. Title requirements are typically met by providing the documentation office with a builder's certification, manufacturer's statement of origin, or evidence showing the existence of a previous title or registration. If these are not in the applicant's name, a chain of recordable transfer instruments must be presented showing that the ownership was carried forward.


Can a mortgagee block changes in my vessel documentation?

Yes, the lender must sign a written consent before you can make any changes whatsoever in your documentation status. This includes vessel name or hailing port changes, changes in endorsements, and transfers of ownership. You can grant another mortgage without the bank's consent, but this will likely create a default under the terms of your 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 entries, 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 file a USCG vessel documentation claim of lien?

A "Notice of Claim of Lien" can be filed against a documented vessel by any party having a lien or claim on the vessel. However, the vessel must be currently documented or in the process of becoming documented. A notice of claim of lien serves only to create a cloud on the title, does not prevent subsequent transfers of title, and affords no rights of foreclosure upon the claimant.

How do I remove a preferred vessel mortgage or lien?

A mortgagee, claimant, or its successor in interest 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 or claim. If the mortgagee or claimant has failed to file such release and is no longer available, the only remaining option would be to obtain a court order to have the recording vacated.

What is a USCG 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 Coast Guard documented vessel. In order to record a claim, the vessel must be currently documented or a valid application for documentation must be in progress. 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, other mortgagees or claimants, and any interested parties of the claim. A claim of lien does not preclude transfers of ownership.

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.

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 exclusively 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 should I do if the terms of my preferred vessel mortgage change?

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.


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