Understanding the Abstract of Title

An abstract of title is a record of all documents submitted to the Coast Guard for a particular vessel. While many think of it as a definitive title history, this isn’t quite true. The abstract only lists information provided to the Coast Guard during the time that it documented the boat, so gaps may exist in the timeline, especially if the boat was ever registered in another state or country.

What Does an Abstract Contain?

An abstract will generally list the following primary information:

  • Name of the vessel
  • Coast Guard number
  • Hull Identification Number
  • Where and when the boat was built
  • Name of the builder

The brief information in the abstract can yield a lot of information about the boat’s history. For example, if the Coast Guard Number and Hull Identification Number listed in the abstract do not match with those marked on the boat, the vessel may have been stolen and sold under fraudulent circumstances.

Secondary Documents

In addition to the identifying information referenced above, the abstract contains certain documents in chronological order. Lenders and other parties who access an abstract are typically concerned with these documents in particular:

  • The Bill of Sale, which confirms ownership transfer.
  • Preferred Ship Mortgages, all of which should be followed by a Satisfaction of Mortgage
  • Notice of Claim of Lien, which should be followed by a Satisfaction of Claim of Lien. Any outstanding claims, regardless of their legitimacy, can cause problems with title transfers.

Like the primary documents, these secondary details can shed some light on the vessel’s background. For example, if a salvage company filed a Notice of Claim of Lien, it suggests that the boat may have been seriously damaged in the past.

A Note About Liens

If a previous owner failed or refused to pay a valid debt even after a court issues a judgment, the creditor may file a lien against their assets, such as a boat, to prevent any sales or transfers until the claim is satisfied. However, there is no legal requirement to record a lien with the Coast Guard, so a valid lien may not appear on the abstract of title.

Although its contents may not be 100% comprehensive, a Coast Guard Abstract of Title can help you make an informed purchase. The Marine Documentation Division at Howard S. Reeder can retrieve the abstract of any vessel you are thinking of buying, identify any anomalies or unsatisfied liens that could potentially cloud your purchase, and advise you on the best way to handle them. For more information, contact us today.


Howard S Reeder Inc