Coast Guard Boat Registration Explained for First-Time Owners

Owning your first boat is exciting, but it can also be overwhelming. If your boat is over five tons, it should be registered with the United States Coast Guard. Coast Guard boat registration is important for legal reasons, but also for protection. In cases of accidents or emergencies on the water, this is how your boat is identified. It’s also important if you ever decide to sell your boat, as well as if you are ever boarded by the USCG. Here’s what you need to know, as a first-time boat owner. 

What is Vessel Documentation?

This is the process you will follow to register your boat with the United States Coast Guard National Vessel Documentation Center. It differs from registering at the state level, as it occurs at the federal level. In some cases, you will need to register with the USCG and the state where your boat is stored when you aren’t on the water. 

What is a Certificate of Documentation?

This document establishes ownership of the boat as well as its nationality. When you register with the United States Coast Guard, this document is called the Certificate of Documentation and proves that you registered your vessel. Keep this document handy in case you ever need it. 

What are the Benefits of Registering with the Coast Guard?

While it’s not always required to register your boat with the United States Coast Guard, there are some advantages to doing so. Knowing what they are can help you make the right decision when you decide whether to register or not. 

  • Internationally recognized – this means you can enter and leave foreign ports without the hassle that goes with not being registered. 
  • You won’t have to display state numbers – for aesthetic reasons, maybe you don’t want state registration numbers on your vessel. USCG registration eliminates the need to do this. 
  • Proves documentation for your lending agency – if you took out a loan to pay for the boat, registration paperwork is important to have. 

Do I Need to Title and Document?

If you are registered with the United States Coast Guard, you cannot be titled by a state. However, some states require you to maintain registration at the state level, in addition to being registered at the federal level. You must adhere to all state laws and taxes, regardless of your boat’s registration status. 

What are the Eligibility Requirements?

The main requirements to be eligible for USCG registration are that you are a United States citizen and that your boat is larger than 5 tons. Keep in mind that if your vessel is 27 feet or longer, it likely meets the weight requirements for registration. 

Coast Guard Boat Registration

What are the Steps for Registration?

It’s fairly quick and easy to register your boat with the USCG and the process can be completed online. Follow these steps to expedite your registration.

  • Fill out and submit the application for documentation
  • Submit proof of ownership and bill of sale with your application
  • Make payment and submit the form

Keep in mind that you will need to renew your registration on a regular basis and will receive a notice when it’s due. Failure to do so can result in fines and other trouble if it’s not done in a timely manner. 

Do you need help facilitating the Coast Guard boat registration process? You’ll find all the forms and info you need on the Vessel Documentation Online website.