Boating Center - Boat Documentations FAQ's
Vessel documentation is a national form of
registration. It is one of the oldest functions of Government, dating back
to the 11th Act of the First Congress. Documentation provides conclusive
evidence of nationality for international purposes, provides for
unhindered commerce between the states, and admits vessels to certain
restricted trades, such as coastwise trade and the fisheries. Since 1920,
vessel financing has been enhanced through the availability of preferred
mortgages on documented vessels.
A vessel must measure at least five net tons and,
with the exception of certain oil spill response vessels, must be wholly
owned by a citizen of the US.
Vessels of five net tons or more used in fishing
activities on navigable waters of the US or in the Exclusive Economic Zone
(EEZ), or used in coastwise trade must be documented unless the vessel is
exempt from documentation. Coastwise trade is generally defined as the
transportation of merchandise or passengers between points in the US or
the EEZ. In addition, towboats operating between points in the US or the
EEZ or between the EEZ and points in the US and dredges operating in the
US or the EEZ must be documented.
Tonnage is determined by volume. Most vessels more
than 25 feet in length will measure five net tons or more.
Vessels that do not operate on the navigable waters
of the US Or in the fisheries in the EEZ, are exempt from the requirement
to be documented. Also exempt are Coastwise qualified, non-self-propelled
vessels used in coastwise trade within a harbor, on the rivers or lakes
(except the Great Lakes) of the US Or the internal waters or canal of any
Yes. A Certificate of Documentation may be endorsed
for fishery, coastwise, registry, or recreation. Any documented vessel may
be used for recreational purposes, regardless of its endorsement, but a
vessel documented with a recreational endorsement only may not be used for
any other purpose. Registry endorsements are generally used for foreign
The basic requirements for documentation are to
demonstrate ownership of the vessel, US citizenship, and eligibility for
the endorsement sought.
If the vessel is new and has never been documented, ownership may be established by submission of a Builder's Certification (Form CG-1261), naming the applicant for documentation as the person for whom the vessel was built or to whom the vessel was first transferred. Also acceptable are a transfer on a Manufacturer's Certificate of Origin, a copy of the State Registration or Title, or foreign registration showing that the applicant owns the vessel.
In the case of a previously owned vessel, the
applicant must present bills of sale, or other evidence showing transfer
of the vessel from the person who last documented, titled, or registered
the vessel, or to whom the vessel was transferred on a Builder's
Certification or Manufacturer's Certificate of Origin. If title was
transferred by some means other than a bill of sale, contact the NVDC for
Citizenship is established by completion of form
CG-1258. In addition to individuals, corporations, partnerships, and other
entities capable of holding legal title may be deemed citizens for
documentation purposes. Corporations must be registered in a state or the
US; the chief executive officer and chairman of the board of directors
must be US citizens, and no more than a minority of the number of
directors necessary to constitute a quorum may be non-citizens. In
addition, at least 75% of the stock must be vested in US Citizens for a
coastwise endorsement, and more than 50% of the voting stock must be
vested in US Citizens for a fisheries endorsement.
Evidence that a vessel was built in the US is
required for a vessel which is to be used in the fisheries or coastwise
trade. Build evidence is normally established by submitting a Builder's
Certification on form CG-1261. That form must be completed by the person
who constructed or oversaw the construction of the vessel or an official
of the company that built the vessel who has examined the records of the
company to determine the facts of build.
Documented vessels do not display their official
numbers on the outside of the hull, but are identified by the name and
hailing port. The application for documentation must include a name for
the vessel composed of letters of the Latin alphabet or Arabic or Roman
numerals and may not exceed 33 characters. The name may not be identical,
actually or phonetically, to any word or words used to solicit assistance
at sea; may not contain or be phonetically identical to obscene, indecent,
or profane language, or to racial or ethnic epithets. Once established, a
vessel's name may not be changed without application, fees, and the
consent of the Director, National Vessel Documentation Center. There is no
rule against duplication of names for documented vessels, so hailing ports
are helpful in identifying vessels.
The official number assigned to documented vessels, preceded of the abbreviation "NO." must be marked in block-type Arabic numerals at least three inches high on some clearly visible interior structural part of the hull. The number must be permanently affixed so that alteration, removal, or replacement would be obvious and cause some scarring or damage to the surrounding hull area.
The name and hailing port of a recreational vessel
must be marked together on some clearly visible exterior part of the hull.
The vessel name of a commercial vessel must also be marked on the port and
starboard bow and the vessel name and the hailing port must also be marked
on the stern. All markings may be made by any means and materials that
result in durable markings and must be at least four inches in
height, made in clearly legible letters of the Latin alphabet or Arabic or
Roman numerals. The "hailing port" must include both a place in the United
States. The state may be abbreviated.
The name and/or hailing port may be changed by filing
an application for change on form CG-1258 with the appropriate fees. If
your vessel is subject to a mortgage of record, you must obtain permission
from the mortgagee on form CG-4593.
Many vessels have more than one owner. To make sure
that the right person gets mail concerning the vessel, one must be
designated as the managing owner.
A preferred mortgage is a mortgage which is given
status as a maritime lien. As such it enjoys a certain priority in the
event of default. In addition, the Coast Guard is prohibited from making
certain changes in documentation including, but not limited to, change of
vessel ownership, name, and hailing port without consent of the mortgagee.
For this reason many financial institutions require vessels which are
eligible for documentation to be documented and to have preferred
mortgages recorded against them.
Documentation forms may be downloaded from the world
wide web at (http://www.uscg.mil/hq/g-m/vdoc/genpub.htm), by telephoning
the NVDC, pressing 5 on the first menu and following the instructions for
the autofax system or leaving an address to which the forms may be
In many instances where a bill of sale is not
required, such as replacement of lost document, change of trade, or
renewal, you may fax your application to the NVDC, provided you pay any
fees by Visa or Master Card.
You may obtain an Abstract of Title which will show
all bills of sale, mortgages, and notices of claim of lien filed and
recorded by the Coast Guard. You may request the Abstract by fax if you
pay by credit card or may mail your request with the appropriate fee to
the NVDC. To get accurate information you must supply the name and
official number of the vessel.
No, all documented vessels must comply with the laws
of the state in which they are operated. The vessel's document must be
shown to state law enforcement personnel upon their demand. States may
require documented vessels to be registered (but not numbered) and to
display state decals showing that they have complied with state
Documentation of your vessel does
not cover the vessel's tender or dinghy. These
craft fall within the jurisdiction of the motorboat numbering laws of the
state of principal use. Please contact your state agency that handles the
registration or numbering of motorboats for further
Return the original Certificate of Documentation to the National Vessel Documentation Center along with a brief note that you sold the vessel. Your Certificate is nontransferable and should NOT be given to the new owner. When the sale is finalized it is suggested you complete a US Coast Guard Bill of Sale (CG-1340) that can be used by the new owner should he wish to document the vessel. Documentation requires that the new owner send in one signed original and one copy of the USCG Bill of Sale with an Application for Document (CG-1258) and fees. The buyer should also be able to use the bill of sale form as evidence of the transfer of ownership to obtain state registration and/or title if he chooses not to document the vessel with the US Coast Guard.
If you have an outstanding mortgage of record against your vessel, please make sure the mortgagee (the lender) completes a Satisfaction of Mortgage form and mails an original and one copy to the National Vessel Documentation Center. Your vessel cannot be removed from documentation with an outstanding mortgage.
Documentation forms and fee schedules are available
for downloading at this web site.
A Certificate of Documentation is valid for one year
from the date of issue, providing there are NO CHANGES other than a change
of owner's address. The Certificate must be renewed on an annual
basis. Even though it is up to the owner to assure the document does
not expire, the Coast Guard will send a Notice of Renewal to the managing
owner approximately 45 days prior to expiration. There is no
fee for the yearly renewal. See the instruction letter Renewal
of Certificate of Documentation elsewhere at this site regarding renewal
NO. An Application for Replacement (CG-1258) must be
filed along with a $50.00 fee. If the lost document has already expired it
must be exchanged. The fee would then be $84.00 plus applicable
NO, simply sign, date and return the Renewal
Notice…even if your address has changed. Please note the address change.
You will receive a renewal decal and a change of address sticker to be
affixed to your document.
YES. The Renewal form is available at this website.
It may be downloaded from the Forms Menu. It may be mailed or faxed to
(304)-271-2405. BE SURE TO CITE THE VESSEL’S OFFICIAL NUMBER.
NO. The ONLY change permitted is a change of address.
ALL other changes will require that the Certificate be exchanged and
accompanied by an Application (CG-1258), fees and other submissions to
support the necessary changes.
The "Merchant Vessels of the United States" (CG408) lists
the names of US merchant and recreational vessels documented under the
laws of the United States. It provides vessel dimensions, tonnage, build
(if available), and ownership information. The last printed version was in
1994. This information is now available in an electronic
format by CD ROM through National Technical Information Services (NTIS),
5285 Port Royal Road, Springfield, VA 22161. You can order the latest
edition of Vol. 99-001 at a cost of $125.00 plus shipping and handling.
Contact Single Issue Sales at: 800-553-6847 or you can place your order
electronically at: http://www.ntis.gov/
and search for "Merchant Vessels of the United States."
The National Vessel Documentation Center