Coast Guard Boat Requirements and How to Meet Them

When you set about to buy your vessel, you may have been thinking about any number of things. What you were going to do with the vessel, being out on the water, whether you’d have a crew or do everything yourself, the wind in your hair as you cruise over the water – those are just brief glimpses of what may pass through the mind of a prospective vessel owner. It’s likely that “vessel documentation” ever crossed your mind. Being in compliance with the Coast Guard boat requirements that fit your vessel is important. You can meet them easily through the help of the Maritime Documentation Center. 

What are the Coast Guard Boat Requirements for Documentation? 

Simply put, if the vessel measures at least five net tons and is entirely owned by a citizen of the United States of America, then in all likelihood, the vessel can be documented. We put “in all likelihood” because some oil spill response vessels count as exceptions. Should your vessel meet those requirements, then you are able to get it documented if you so choose. That said, there are some vessels that must be documented. Remember that there are different types of documentation, too. You can get a Certificate of Documentation for fishery, coastwise, registry, or just recreation itself. All vessels can be used for recreation, but one with a recreational endorsement can’t be used for anything else. 

Coast Guard boat requirements

How Do I Weigh my Vessel for Five Net Tons? 

We often receive some variation of this question. “Five net tons,” in this context, isn’t a measurement of weight so much as it is volume. We often tell folks just to eyeball it. For example, if your vessel is longer than 25 feet, it’s basically guaranteed to measure five net tons or more. Simply doing that quick “eyeball test” can save you plenty of time and money. 

How Do I Know if My Vessel Has to Be Documented? 

Your vessel must be documented if it measures five net tons or more and is used for coastwise trade or fishing activities on navigable waters of the United States or the Exclusive Economic Zone. “Coastwise trade” is a phrase you may be unfamiliar with, but in this context, it’s defined as transporting “merchandise or passengers between points in the United States or the Exclusive Economic Zone. Additionally, dredges that operate in America or the Exclusive Economic Zone, as well as towboats that operate between the United States and the Exclusive Economic Zone, must be documented. 

To Clarify 

If you have a vessel that’s five net tons or bigger, and you’re using it to commercial fish, transport goods or passengers between the US and the Exclusive Economic Zone, then you probably need to get documentation. The same goes for if you have towboats or dredges that operate in those regions as well. We understand how confusing much of this can be, so we always recommend if you have further questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. You can call the Maritime Documentation Center at (800) 535-8570.