What is documentation?

US Coast Guard documentation is a federal form of boat registration controlled, monitored, and completed by the United States Coast Guard. When a vessel is registered with the Coast Guard it is given an official document number which remains with the boat, permanently displayed on an interior part of the hull. The issuance of the document number begins the Coast Guard history of the vessel. All future transactions are recorded and appear on the Abstract of Title produced by the Coast Guard.

What are the advantages of documentation?

US Coast Guard documentation provides a history and record of build and ownership for the vessel owner. This history is maintained at the Coast Guard and is provided upon request in the form of an Abstract of Title, reflecting all recorded ownership transfers, mortgage recordings, claims of lien and releases. This allows a boater to sell his boat, and a buyer to buy that boat, and be assured it is free and clear of all recorded liens and encumbrances. When financing a boat, lenders rely on the USCG records of documented vessels to confirm their security interest will be perfected by a First Preferred Ship Mortgage recorded with the Coast Guard.

Boaters cruising in international waters often prefer federal documentation to attain certain protections afforded by the US flag, which include aid from the US consulate when you are in need. Foreign port officials easily recognize federally documented vessels and appreciate that the ownership is supported by a detailed Abstract of Title reflecting all recordings.

Can anyone document their boat?

No, you must be a US citizen or naturalized citizen to document your boat with the US Coast Guard. If the owner of the vessel is an entity, that entity must be owned by citizens of the US as well.

What boats can be documented?

Generally boats that are in excess of 26' can be documented. The Coast Guard has developed a measurement formula that determines gross and net tonnage using the length, breadth, and depth of the vessel, and those boats with a measurement of 5 net tons or more can be documented. There are no further restrictions for pleasure boats operating under a recreational endorsement, however vessels operating in the commercial trade must be built in the United States.

Who can do the documentation process for me?

There are many marine documentation agencies across the US that can handle the transaction for you.

Your lender, yacht broker, or dealer may refer you to a specialist in their area, or you may contact the American Vessel Documentation Association (AVDA) at 888-832-2832 for a list of those near you. Or visit their web site at

Content courtesy of National Marine Bankers Association

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