Follow us on Social Media

https://www.instagram.com/theshipslogg/ https://twitter.com/CaptainsHangout mailto:theshipslogg@gmail.com

Should I Document My Boat?




Recently, a friend of mine came across a PWC floating aimlessly in the no wake zone of her marina.  She checked with the marina and they could not identify the owner.  She then reported the found vessel to the DNR and found that there was no record of ownership there either.  The problem was that the registration had expired and along with it, any record of ownership.  The officer asked her if she would like to claim the vessel herself.  Yup! To her astonishment, at that point, all she had to do was pay the fee to register the vessel in her name and she could legally take ownership.


How is this possible?   Truth be told, this won’t happen in most states, but it can and did in Georgia.  It could also happen in 14 other states.  There are currently 15 states in the US that do not title boats.  This means that the only thing legally tying you to your beloved watercraft is the state registration. Let the registration expire and technically, you can’t show legal ownership.   Worse yet, imagine your precious baby being stolen and then taken to another state where the crook can easily title it in their name with a fake bill of sale because there was no previous title!  Although not common, it has happened.  By the way, the fifteen states that do not title boats are as follows: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Tennessee and Wyoming.  If you keep your boat in one of these states, you should be concerned. 

So how do we prevent this?  The best way to overcome the obstacles of not having vessels titled in your state is to document your vessel.  Commercial vessels are required to be documented but with recreational vessels, it is optional.  What is vessel documentation?  A documented vessel is registered with the US Government via the Coast Guard.  The registration is recognized anywhere in the country and is also recognized when cruising abroad.  To more simply put it, it is like a title issued by the federal government.  In addition to the advantages of title assurance on the vessel, documentation also facilitates clearance through customs when sailing into foreign waters and some lenders may even require documentation of a vessel before agreeing to finance it in order to ensure the title is secure.  This is because the Coast Guard has more stringent requirements for titling vessels than most states do.


Certificates of Documentation are issued by the US Coast Guard

Now before you get all excited about running out and documenting your vessel, there are some things you need to know:
  • 1       Only vessels wholly owned by US citizens may be documented
  • 2       The vessel must be 5 net tons or more.  (This does not refer to the weight of the vessel but rather its capacity.  Typically, any vessel 26 feet or more in length will qualify.  Yes, I know this rules PWC’s and therefore would not have changed the story of the lost PWC.)
  • 3       The name of the vessel shall not exceed 33 characters and must not be identical to any words used to solicit assistance at sea.  The name also cannot contain any lewd or obscene language.  This is because documented vessels legally identified by their name, hailing port and documentation number.  This also means that after the vessel is documented, its name cannot be changed without notifying the US Coast Guard Documentation Office.
  • 4       Initial documentation will require verification of ownership of the vessel and the documentation office will perform a full title search before it is approved.  This can be a few hundred dollars depending on the vessel’s history.  After that, renewals for recreational vessels are less than $30 per year. 
Once your vessel is issued a documentation number, it should be displayed on the interior of the vessel for identification.


If your vessel meets the above requirements, the documentation process can be rather simple.  While there are several agencies that will gladly submit the paperwork for you for an additional fee, Using them is really not necessary and one can easily do it at the National Vessel Documentation Center Website - https://www.dco.uscg.mil/Our-Organization/Deputy-for-Operations-Policy-and-Capabilities-DCO-D/National-Vessel-Documentation-Center/

Make sure you check your state's laws concerning registration as many states still require documented vessels to be registered with the state.  If so, the state issued registration sticker will still need to be displayed on the boat’s hull in the usual manner.  Documented vessels, however, are NOT to display the state issued registration numbers on the hull.  The vessel will be officially identified by its name, and hailing port which should be prominently displayed on the hull or transom.  The documentation number issued by the Coast Guard shall also be displayed on the interior of the vessel.  


Documented vessels may still be required to show a state registration sticker but the registration numbers should not be on the hull.


NOAA also maintains a website where you can do a search for documented vessels.  The search can be done by name or documentation number.  You can find this site at https://foss.nmfs.noaa.gov/apexfoss/f?p=215:4:683059101359::NO:::

So, if you have not considered documenting your vessel, you just may want to look into it.  There are quite a few benefits and it just may save you from a headache in the future.  Not that it matters much but some boaters also consider it a matter of pride to say that their vessel is documented by the United States Coast Guard.  Yet another reason if that floats your boat. 


Happy Boating



Captain Frank
____________
Visit our archive and check out more interesting articles from The Ship's Logg by clicking here

If you found this article useful, use the space below to subscribe and you will be notified by email every time a new article is published in The Ships Logg. Don't forget to check your email afterwards for a subscription verification email from Feedburner. Your email address will only be used for notifying you when updates are made to The Ship's Logg.


Enter your email address:


Delivered by FeedBurner

Comments

  1. Timothy HolmbergJune 3, 2019 at 4:33 PM

    A lot of that comes to personal choice. If you are above a certain size and plan on commercial use, you have no choice, it must be documented in that case (GB requires a Jones Act waiver for commercial ops). Putting a lien a documented vessel is a bit more involved a process. Typically the annual fee for documentation is lower than state registration renewal depending on your state. Seizing the boat requires legal action in federal court. Documented vessels do not require stickers on the bow which some people find unsightly. Of course, if documented, then the US can use your boat in war time or emergency.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Actually, seizing the vessel does not require legal action in the 15 states that do not title boats. That is one of the things that the article was focusing on. In my opinion, if you live in one of those states, you definitely should document your vessel if it meets the requirements. Also, even if you do choose to document, you will still pay state registration in most (maybe all) states.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Timothy HolmbergJune 3, 2019 at 4:35 PM

      interesting, california does not require you to pay both.

      Delete
    2. I figured there were some states that did not make you do both but most do. In Georgia, you have to register your boat with the state even if you have it documented. That way, the state still make sure that they get the tax dollars.

      Delete
    3. Timothy Holmberg I doubt that our 27 year old trawler that cruises at 9 1/2 knots would be of much use to the government in a war or in any emergency.

      Delete
    4. Timothy HolmbergJune 4, 2019 at 11:15 AM

      Sandy Petersen during WWII, many documented vessels were used to augment Coast Guard for patrolling the shores. Some were also commandeered for admirals as tenders etc.

      Delete
    5. Timothy Holmberg well, if WWlll ever happens, my boat will probably be the least of my worries.

      Delete
    6. Sandy Petersen coastal pickets as they were called.
      Actually, your GB would be Ideal.
      But, we don't fight wars like that anymore.
      Even in WWII, a couple torpedoes hitting a farm field north of me on the California coast is the only punches Japan landed.

      Uncle Sam did not want my boat, which turns 78 in three weeks (launched June 24th)

      Delete
    7. Dan Payne Japan landed some pretty hard punches at Pearl Harbor. My mother and grandparents were living on Oahu on 12/7/41.
      Also, German submarines did some pretty good damage along the East Coast early in the war.

      Delete
    8. Sandy Petersen my mistake in omitting the most important blow.

      Delete
    9. Sandy Petersen again I miss spoke.
      Fort Steven's near the Columbia River in Oregon. Not CA.
      east coast was never hit. Germans never got off a shot.. they could have. They were at the door.

      Delete
  3. Some good information

    ReplyDelete
  4. I have the abstract of title for my boat dating back to when it was purchased new in 1975. It is pretty cool to look at.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have the same for mine but not as far back as my boat is a 1988. It is pretty cool to look at the full history.

      Delete
  5. I did and now I have to renew each year.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Actually, the Coast Guard now has a 2 year and a 5 year option as well.

    ReplyDelete
  7. The minimum limit for documentation use to be 32 ft or 5 net tons. You can go smaller but that use to be a standard

    ReplyDelete
  8. Curious if vessel was foreign built and currently tagged. with state tags ?
    And never meant for USA market

    And never had a hin had to do one my self

    But state holds the title don't ask its Hawaii and ya we do have titles but state holds em we don't get to have em

    ReplyDelete
  9. I did a documentation transfer for a friend. Took me about an hour and the folks I called at the Coast Guard were very helpful.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Laura Porter KolarikJune 3, 2019 at 4:51 PM

    Ours was documented when we bought it, but after weeks of trying to transfer the documentation through the Coast Guard (which was holding us up getting it registered in our names at the DMV, then Michael hit and we couldn’t get the insurance check until it was registered to us, blah blah blah), we gave up and just terminated it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Are you saying that you just had to end up taking a loss on the boat because the documentation had not been transferred yet? If so, that sucks!

      Delete
  11. Two things he didn't mention... If you are carrying a loan on your vessel, most Banks will require USCG Documentation to fund the loan. Also the USCG now has a five year Recreational USCG Documentation Certificate.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Actually, the bank requirement was mentioned. I'm glad to see the five year certificate also. Just makes the whole idea even more of a no-brainer.

      Delete
  12. When did the 5 year start? We renew every September.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The law was just passed this past December so this is the first year that we have been able to do the 5 year COD.

      Delete
  13. Yes & take photos of everything as well (I did the same on all expensive possessions in the house) . if you ever need to make an insurance claim then the photos come in really handy.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I have owned two documented vessels and, for me, it was a waste of money. It made the buy/sell considerably more expensive as we needed to use an agent to handle the sale and incurred additional fees versus the simpleness of signing over a title and doing a state registry. I boat in US and Canadian waters and being documented is meaningless. Unfortunately to undocument cost as much as continue with the documentation.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My current vessel was documented when I purchased it and we did not have to use an agent to do so. There are many agencies out there that will try to convince you that you need them to do anything related to documenting your vessel but I have found that in most cases, it is pretty easy (and definitely cheaper) to do it yourself.

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Basic Navigation - Who Has The Right of Way

Ten Things That Annoy Boat Owners

Is Boating Really Expensive?