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April 2010

Boat doc basics

Understanding vessel documentation

When you purchase a vessel of 5 net tons (25 feet) or more, your lender may require U.S. Coast Guard documentation.

Coast Guard documentation is like money in the bank. Documented vessels have what amounts to a title that follows the vessel throughout its life.

Documentation also makes customs entry and clearance easier in both U.S. and foreign ports by clearly identifying the vessel’s nationality.

You can either pay a documentation company to handle the paperwork or do it yourself and save hundreds of dollars. The process isn’t difficult and the folks at the Coast Guard’s National Vessel Documentation Center are helpful.

If you’re purchasing a previously documented vessel, a change of ownership must be made on the document. If the seller can produce up-to-date documentation, ownership is easy to establish.

The documentation certificate must be renewed each year. When you receive a renewal notice, certify its correctness, sign it, and return it by mail. There’s no fee if you renew before the expiration date.

Your vessel’s documentation number, preceded by the abbreviation “NO,” must be marked in block Arabic numerals at least 3 inches high in a clearly visible location inside the boat’s main structure. The number should be permanently affixed so as to make its removal or alteration difficult and obvious. Many skippers fiberglass a plaque with the number into the bilge or other area.

The name and hailing port must be marked on the exterior of the hull (generally the transom) in legible block letters at least 4 inches high.

Remember, even if your boat is documented, most states still require it to be registered, although you shouldn’t display the registration number on your hull.

To document your boat or learn more about the process, contact the National Vessel Documentation Center.

Take your java on the water with this USPS travel mug!

Registration number display

All motorized vessels operating in U.S. waters must be registered in the state where they primarily operate, although some states exempt CG-documented vessels from registration.

The following guidelines apply only to undocumented vessels.

  • Attach your assigned registration numbers permanently to each side of the forward half of your boat where they can be readily seen.
  • They should read from left to right.
  • Use block lettering at least 3 inches high.
  • The color of the numbers must contrast well with the color of your boat, e.g., black numbers on a white background.
  • Registration numbers consist of two letters identifying your state followed by a unique combination of numbers and letters.
  • Use spaces or hyphens to separate blocks of numerals from letters.
  • Attach the registration sticker within 6 inches of the number.
  • Do not display any other numbers nearby.

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