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USCG Vessel Abstract of Title Overview

How to order and interpret a Coast Guard abstract of title.

U.S. Coast Guard vessel documentation abstracts of title are unique to the marine industry with regard to form and function. They are the only media which affords a complete synopsis of all historical events with respect to ownership, mortgage, and lien recordings. An abstract of title represents one of the more important advantages of documenting any qualified vessel. This article presents a general overview of what vessel abstracts are, why they are created, and how they relate to boat titling in general. You will also gain insight into some of the specifics, details about formatting, and how to obtain an abstract for any documented vessel.

Abstracts Defined -  When a vessel is initially documented, the Coast Guard generates a corresponding master record which is titled "General Index or Abstract of Title".  In addition to some basic information about the vessel, all transactions involving changes of ownership, mortgages, supplements, and liens are recorded as individual entries. The abstract  may also contain notational information regarding a vessel's documentation status.

Comparisons -  Vessel abstracts are similar to those employed in the real estate industry with respect to the manner in which transactions are recorded. However, there are some fundamental differences when compared to the way such information is maintained on state titled or registered boats. Titling and registration on the state level is typically handled in the same fashion those for a vehicle. Microfiche copies of prior registrations or transactions may be available in some cases, but usually for an indeterminable period of time.

Vessel Data -  Abstracts of title do not typically show a vessel's dimensions, model year, or tonnage. However,  the place and year built will be indicated if such evidence was provided by an applicant. The current and previous vessel names are listed on an abstract, but hailing ports are not included. Vessel hull identification numbers are now shown, but this was not always the case and some may be omitted on older abstracts. The official Coast Guard documentation number is of course always present as the Coast Guard views this as a vessel's primary identifier. Trade endorsements are shown on a certificate of documentation, but not the abstract of title.

Ownership Information -  One of the primary functions of a vessel's abstract of title is to identify current ownership. This may consist of single individuals, multiple individuals, and legal entities such as corporations, partnerships, or limited liability companies. It will also show the method of ownership with respect to the manner in which multiple parties wish to hold tenancy. An abstract of title is crucial for obtaining this type of data because the exact methods of ownership are not always apparent on a certificate of documentation. The abstract will also show any ownership transfers which may have taken place since the document was last issued.

Chain of Ownership -  A major advantage in documenting a boat with the U.S. Coast Guard is the resulting abstract of title. If a vessel remains in documentation since built, the abstract will show a complete chain of transfers right up to the current owner. This can enhance the boat's value as documentation is the only venue in which a seller can produce such a complete record. State boat registration agencies do not maintain this type of an ownership index. Not all abstracts show a complete chain of ownership however, as vessels can enter or re-enter documentation from subsequent owners.

Mortgages and Liens -  A Coast Guard certificate of documentation does not reveal any liens and encumbrances such as secured lender interests or claimant notifications. These are recorded the vessel's underlying abstract of title as preferred mortgages or notices of claim of lien. Although mortgages gain priority chronologically according to the date filed, this is not the case with maritime claims. These are typically prioritized in favor of the date on which the most recent lien arose. Mortgages and claims are discharged by recording a respective satisfaction or release on the abstract.

Recording Details -  Abstracts of title consist mostly of recording entries showing ownership transfers, lien claims, preferred vessel mortgages, and supplements such as mortgage amendments, assignments, assumptions, or subordinations. Such recordings also include release, satisfaction, or discharge recordings which offset claims and mortgages. Each entry indicates the instrument date, date filed, recording type, parties names, any respective considerations, and references to other recordings when applicable. There will also be an indication as to whether the filing was terminated due to recording deficiencies.

Data Entry Methods -  Until just a few years ago, abstracts were maintained on hard copy and entries were manually typed or notated by hand. Such entries are now entered into a computer which maintains all recordings via an electronic database. Instruments such as bills of sale, vessel mortgages, and supplements are scanned into the system as a digital image and the originals are shredded. In fact, most recordings can now be submitted in electronic format with no need for originals.

Interpreting an Abstract -  It requires a considerable degree of expertise to interpret various entries in an abstract of title. This holds true especially for older or commercially endorsed vessels where transactions are usually more numerous and complex. Here you will find a mix of fielding formats and layouts which have been altered over the years. Although modern abstract versions are less cryptic, you will still encounter a considerable amount of codes and abbreviations. You should therefore consider professional assistance with vessel abstracts unless you have the time and inclination to become familiar with such factors.

Summarizing an Abstract -  Vessel abstracts of title are in most cases used to detect the current ownership along with any outstanding mortgages or liens. It will therefore become necessary to peruse the entries in order to identify only those which have not been superseded, terminated, or discharged. In doing so, it is best to list these on a separate form or sheet so as to end up with a condensed summary of such elements. The Coast Guard does offer a certificate of ownership which fulfills this need. However, it will usually take longer to obtain than an abstract of title and is more costly. You may accordingly wish to consider our self-service abstract kits which will show you how to interpret, and summarize a vessel abstract on your own.

Errors and Omissions -  When interpreting and summarizing abstracts, it is not unusual to find errors, omissions, or inconsistencies among the recordings. However, it takes a trained eye to detect and identify the exact nature of such problems. Conveying such information to a live Coast Guard documentation officer can also present a challenge given the complexity of some transactions. However, the Coast Guard will ultimately make the correction if warranted and re-issue a revised abstract.

Ordering an Abstract -  Abstracts of title can be ordered directly from the National Vessel Documentation Center or by utilizing our USCG Vessel Record Request form. An abstract can be returned by email, fax or regular mail. The usual response time occurs within 24 to 48 business hours depending on their workload. However, this could be a matter of weeks on older vessels that have dropped out of documentation. In this case, the abstract would need to be retrieved from their archive storage area which is located off-site.


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