3 Steps to Document Your Vessel with the Coast Guard

If you are a US citizen and own a vessel with a net tonnage of at least five tons, you can document it with the US Coast Guard. Reasons why you might want to do so include:

 1. Protection by the US flag if you sail to foreign waters.
 2. Your vessel is easier to track across state lines should it ever be stolen

To document your boat, you will need to confirm that you own it, you are a US citizen and that the boat is eligible for whatever endorsement you are seeking, such as recreation or fishing. Below is an overview of the three steps needed to complete the process.

Step One: Establish Vessel Ownership

If the boat has never been documented before, you can establish ownership by submitting a Builder’s Certification (Form CG-1261) confirming that the vessel was built for you or first transferred to you. Other acceptable evidence of ownership include:

  • A copy of state registration or title
  • Foreign registration
  • Manufacturer’s Certificate of Origin

If the vessel had previous owners, you need to present evidence that it was transferred to you from the person who last registered, titled, or documented it. You can do this by presenting a bill of sale or other documents showing change of ownership.

Step Two: Confirm Your US Citizenship

Complete form CG-1258 to establish your US citizenship. For vessel documentation purposes, partnerships, corporations, and other entities that can hold legal title may also be treated as citizens. However, the following requirements are imposed on corporations:

  • They must be registered in the US
  • The CEO and Chairman of the Board must be US citizens
  • Non-citizens may only comprise a minority of the directors needed to constitute a quorum
  • For a coastwise or fisheries endorsement, at least 75% of the stock must be held by US citizens

Step Three: Select Your Endorsement (And Provide Evidence If Necessary)

Certificates of documentation can be endorsed for recreation, registry, coastwise, or fishery. If you opt for a recreational endorsement, it is important to note that you cannot use your vessel for any other purpose. In addition, only vessels built in the US can be documented for the fisheries or coastwise trade. As build evidence, you will have to submit a form CG-1261 completed by one of the following:

  • The party who constructed or supervised the construction of the boat OR
  • An official of the company that built the boat after they examined company records to confirm build information 

Once you document your vessel, it stays documented. If you sell it, the new owner only needs to update the ownership information: the documentation ID number stays the same.

Contact a Marine Documentation Services Provider

Documenting your vessel with the USCG involves a lot of complicated paperwork. The Marine Documentation Division at Howard S. Reeder has been assisting recreational and commercial vessel owners with documentation services since 1940, and will help ensure that your boat receives the endorsement you need.  For more information please contact us today.

Written by Howard S Reeder Inc

Howard S. Reeder, Inc is a family-owned business which has been in operation since 1940 when Howard S. Reeder Sr. founded our customs brokerage company and began helping importers bring products into the United States. Now on our third generation of ownership, both our company and our areas of expertise have greatly expanded over the more than 75 years since our inception.