According to the Code of Federal Regulations, “any vessel of at least five net tons wholly owned by a citizen or citizens of the United States is eligible for documentation.” Vessels that are used for commercial purposes, foreign trade, and recreation are included.
Vessels that require vessel documentation include any vessel that meets the above standard and engages in coastwise trade or fishing activities on the United States’ navigable waters or in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
The National Ocean Service defines the “Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)” as “the zone where the U.S. and other coastal nations have jurisdiction over natural resources.” Additionally, it “extends no more than 200 nautical miles from the territorial sea baseline and is adjacent to the 12 nautical mile territorial sea of the U.S.”
“Coastwise Trade” includes transporting merchandise and/or passengers through those navigable waters or the EEZ. Towboats and vessels engaged in dredging and salvaging activities on navigable waters and EEZ are also eligible for documentation.
If a vessel measures five net tons or more and is owned by an American citizen but the owner plans on only using it for recreation, then the vessel does not have to be documented. The vessel owner can choose to document their vessel. Benefits of documenting a vessel include eligibility for preferred mortgages, evidence of vessel nationality, and visibly displaying the vessel name and hailing port on the vessel.