Dona Jenkins
Maritime Document Service, Inc.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here we’ve gathered most of the common questions people have about vessel documentation.
If these don’t answer your question, please don’t hesitate to call us. We’ll be glad to help.

Vessel documentation is the federal registration of commercial and recreational vessels with the Coast Guard and is only available to United States citizens. Documentation establishes an internationally recognized maritime title for the vessel and acts as the vessel’s passport in foreign waters. It also establishes an official basis for vessel identification and control.

Documentation is required for the operation of vessels in certain trades and serves as evidence of vessel nationality.

With certain exceptions, any vessel of at least 5 net tons which engages in the commercial trade (usually 25 feet or more) qualify for documentation. (volume measurement).

  1. The Department of Motor Vehicles purges its records after 4 years. This is a problem for persons who may have the need to obtain complete chain of title since records are not available.
  2. State registration is simply a local taxation process much the same as automobiles, and has no federal validity in changing the flag or nationality of ownership for Customs purpose.
  3. You may find it difficult, if not impossible to finance your boat if it is not documented since many lending institutions require documentation.
  1. Fewer problems are encountered with foreign officials when traveling abroad since Customs officials all over the world are familiar with documentation because of the requirement that commercial vessels must be legally documented.
  2. You can operate your vessel in any waters of the United States without going through each state’s registration procedure. Although a documented vessel may still have to comply with state boating safety and tax laws, the vessel is exempt from the state registration process once it is documented in the owner’s name with the U.S. Coast Guard.
  3. Financing. Many financial institutions require that the vessel be federally documented. Documentation is generally a requirement of such financial institutions because it is only on a U.S. documented vessel that a lender can adequately perfect its security interest in a vessel. A mortgage is recorded against the vessel once it is documented. Federal documentation makes a lender more secure in financing the boat.
  4. Record keeping. The Coast Guard keeps a chronological history on all documented vessels which is always available upon request. This includes mortgages, claims of lien and other encumbrances.
  5. You can cruise into foreign waters with the security of being a U.S. documented vessel. The vessel’s document will assist you with customs clearance upon entrance into foreign ports.
  6. You can feel more secure that you have not purchased a stolen vessel. This is not only because of the Hull Identification Number which is permanently affixed to the stern but also because of the Coast Guard Official Number which is permanently affixed to a structural member inside the hull.
  7. Some owners simply appreciate the aesthetics of documentation since there is no need to display state numbers on the vessel’s bow.

Consider the following reasons in deciding whether to use this service:

  1. Vessel documentation can be complicated, confusing and time consuming and requires specialized knowledge.
  2. Complex governmental regulations determine whether a vessel must be titled, state registered, Coast Guard documented, or foreign registered.
  3. Registration and licensing requirements vary widely among jurisdictions. Failure to comply with these requirements can result in heavy fines and penalties.
  4. Maritime lien priorities are difficult to understand. Maritime liens and encumbrances are under Federal jurisdiction. Federal priorities and regulations are different from those administered on the state level.
  5. There is no such thing as “title insurance” when buying a vessel as compared to purchasing a home. The buyer must make sure that the vessel’s
This organization completes searches via abstracts of title from the U. S. Coast Guard and the Department of Motor Vehicles printouts but does not guarantee that such searches will discover all liens filed against the vessel.