Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Vessel Documentation

All undocumented vessels equipped with propulsion machinery operating on navigable waters of the U.S., must be registered in the state of principal use. A certificate of number will be issued upon registering the vessel. These numbers must be displayed on your vessel. The owner / operator of a vessel has to carry a valid certificate of number whenever the vessel is in use. When moved to a new state of principal use, the certificate is valid for 60 days. Some states require all vessels to be numbered. Some larger recreational vessels may be documented. The certificate of documentation has to be on board a documented vessel at all times. A document serves as a certificate of nationality and an authorization for a specific trade. A documented vessel is not exempt from applicable state or federal taxes, or is its operator exempt from compliance with federal or state equipment carriage requirements.

Numbers must be painted or permanently attached to each side of the forward half of the vessel. The validation stickers must be affixed within six inches of the registration number. With the exception of the vessel fee decal, no other letters or numbers can be displayed.

The owner of a vessel must notify the agency which issued the certificate of number within 15 days if:
1. The vessel is transferred, destroyed, abandoned, lost, stolen or recovered.
2. The certificate of number is lost, destroyed or the owner's address changes. If the certificate of number becomes invalid for any reason, it must be surrendered in the manner prescribed to the issuing authority within 15 days. A documented vessel must have the name of the vessel and hailing port plainly marked on the exterior part of the hull in clearly legible letters not less than 4 inches in height. In addition, the documented vessel must have the "Official Number" permanently affixed in block type, Arabic numerals, not less than 3 inches in height on some clearly visible structural part of the boat.

With a few exceptions, all commercial vessels of 5 or more net tons, which are used on the navigable waters of the U.S., must be documented. A commercial vessel of 5 or more net tons engaged in foreign trade is eligible, but not required, to be documented. A recreational boat may (at the option of the owner) also be documented if it is 5 or more net tons. The Certificate of Documentation is issued by the Coast Guard. There are advantages and disadvantages to documenting your vessel. The main benefit of documentation versus numbering is that a documented vessel may be the subject of a Preferred Ship Mortgage under the Ship Mortgage Act of 1920.

This means that lending institutions regard a documented vessel as a more secure form of collateral. For larger and more expensive boats, it may be easier to obtain bank financing if the boat is documented rather than numbered. Another benefit is that the certificate of documentation may make customs entry and clearance easier in foreign ports. The document is treated as a form of national registration that clearly identifies the nationality of the vessel. The main disadvantage of documenting rather than numbering is the higher cost. The numbering fee varies from State to State. In addition, documented vessels are not exempt from State or local taxes, or other boating fees. You can get information on documenting a vessel by contacting the U. S. Coast Guard Vessel Documentation Office at (800) 799-8362.