Coast Guard Boat Requirements for Registration and More

“I just got a vessel and I’d like to get it documented. Can you help?” We are often asked some variation of this exact same question. It’s not always a good idea to answer a question with a question, but in this case, it’s valid. We often respond, “are you sure you have to get it registered?” Just because you’ve gotten a new vessel, that doesn’t mean you automatically, positively have to get it registered. Many vessels don’t have to be registered. Of course, if you have any questions about anything related to Coast Guard boat requirements, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. 

Coast Guard Boat Requirements for Registration 

Your vessel has to be registered if it’s five tons or more and it’s used in fishing activities on US waters or in what’s called the “EEZ” or “Exclusive Economic Zone.” Those vessels must be documented, no question. When you think about this, it makes sense. These are vessels that are being used to make money, so it stands to reason that they would have to pay for some official designation and registration. Now, it’s important to note that those are the vessels that absolutely must be registered, but they are not the only vessels that can be registered. 

Vessels that Can be Registered 

That said, you get your vessel registered if it measures at least five net tons. Also, it has to be owned by a United States citizen. Measuring for net tons is one of those things that might be easier than you think. You don’t have to put your vessel on a scale or anything. Instead, just measure it. If it’s more than 25 feet in length, then your vessel is, almost for sure five net tons or more. That’s a “shorthand” bit of advice that can save you a lot of time and money. 

Exemption from Documentation 

Just because your vessel fits all of the qualifications listed above, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll have to get your vessel documented. In fact, it may still be exempt from the documentation. If it doesn’t operate on US navigable waters or in the EEZ, or if it’s a Coastwise qualified, non-self-propelled vessel that’s used in coastwise trade within a harbor, on a river or lake (unless it’s a Great Lake). 

All the Vessel Registration Documents in One Place 

That last part of the prior paragraph, “unless it’s a Great Lake,” shows just how confusing ship documentation and registration can be. We understand that with all of this jargon and all of these qualifications, it can be a bit hard to follow. That’s why we do everything in our power to make it easier to understand. If you go to our site, you can find all of the forms that you need. Not only do we have the forms, our site tells you exactly who each form is for. Should you have further questions, that’s fine too. We’re always glad to talk to vessel owners and walk them through coast guard boat requirements. Just call us at (800) 535-8570.