Many of you may have purchased new or used boats during the off-season this year either from an individual, a dealer or at a boat show.  Inevitably, while showing off your new purchase to friends, the question will arise; “is it documented?” So how do you answer?

  • Do you say:  Sure isn’t that one of the first things you do?
  • Or do you say: Not yet, but I need to take care of that soon.
  • Or, are you honest and say: I don’t even know what that means.

So…just so you will know the correct answer the following article from the U.S. Coast Guard Consumer Fact Sheet explains the process and the pros and cons.


With a few exceptions, all vessels of 5 or more net tons which are used in coastwise trade, Great Lakes trade, or the fisheries, on the navigable waters of the U.S. or the Exclusive Economic Zone 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, owned by a U.S. citizen, 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.


Federal law requires any undocumented vessel equipped with propulsion machinery to be numbered in the State in which it is principally operated. The law allows the States to create their own numbering systems as long as they meet or exceed Federal requirements.


If the owner has a choice between the two forms of registration, what are the advantages or disadvantages of documenting the boat?

Advantages: The main benefit of documentation versus numbering, is that a documented vessel may be the subject of a Preferred Ship Mortgage under 46 United States Code Chapter 313. In practical terms, 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.

Disadvantages: The main disadvantage of documenting rather than numbering is the higher cost. The initial documentation fee for a recreational vessel is *$100.00. The numbering fee varies from State to State but averages about *$25.00. In addition, documented vessels are not exempt from State or local taxes or other boating fees. Some individual States require a registration fee even if a boat is documented.

*These numbers are just estimates and may change without notice.

For more information and a list of Frequently Asked Questions visit the website.

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Filed under Boat Operation, Boating News, Boating Safety, Fishing News, Lake Boating, Sailing News, Uncategorized

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