The Complete Guide to Ship Documentation

Being familiar with the many types of documentation required to keep your vessel in compliance with maritime laws and regulations is crucial. In this section, we will present an in-depth guide on ship documentation, including how to get the various types of documents but also the purposes that each one serves. You’ve just become the owner of a vessel operated by the United States Coast Guard.

While being a vessel owner comes with a significant amount of responsibilities, it also offers a wealth of advantages. When you own a USCG vessel, ensuring that you have all the required paperwork in place is one of your most critical responsibilities. The following is a list of the many sorts of documents that you will need, along with the locations where you may get them.

Certificate of Documentation (COD)

The Certificate of Documentation (COD) is a ship’s most basic form of documentation. CODs are mandatory for all vessels over five tons in gross tonnage, regardless of whether or not they are registered as passenger vessels. All safety equipment and systems on board must be evaluated every two years by an American inspector, and the Coast Guard must be able to establish authority over any legal concerns involving the vessel if it does not have this ship documentation.

The owners must be U.S. citizens. The U.S. Coast Guard only issues a certificate of documentation (COD) when a comprehensive examination of the vessel, verification of the owner’s identity, and demonstration of financial stability have been completed. As long as there is no change in ownership or usage of the ship, CODs may be transferred like any other asset (e.g., by inheritance). Depending on the nature of the changes, new paperwork may be necessary whenever property ownership or usage is transferred.

Hull Identification Number (HIN)

How often have you looked at a yacht and wondered what those little numbers meant? Every boat has a unique number—an HIN, for “Hull Identification.” The United States Coast Guard requires this number to show ownership when registering a boat. Furthermore, it is obligatory to insure your shipment. A HIN is also helpful for writing a ship with the coast guards of other nations. You won’t want to risk being fined or having your boat impounded for failing to comply with the laws of every country your voyage takes you through. The HIN serves multiple functions: It aids in establishing one’s identity, offers tangible evidence of property rights, and guarantees ready access to any relevant paperwork.

State Registration or Title

Crossing state lines requires a valid license or title for any vehicle. This includes cars, bikes, planes, boats, and RVs. You may not need one if your travels keep you inside the country’s borders. Proof of ownership is only sometimes required for vessels that remain inside their state’s borders. Finding out what kind of title or registration is required in your state is essential if this is the case. To get a license in the United States, you may need to provide either a crown (a document that transfers title) or a roll (a document that proves ownership).

Records might be either documented or undocumented. Ships registered with the Coast Guard have a bill of sale and must carry an official certificate of ship documentation while in use as transportation. Bills of sale and other needed papers are only necessary for recorded ships. These vessels tend to be smaller and more regional, mainly operating within the same waters and covering shorter distances than between islands or ports.

Ship Documentation

Operator’s License/Certificate as a Ship Documentation

To operate a commercial watercraft legally requires a license or certificate from your jurisdiction. Commonly used as evidence of legal authority to operate a watercraft, it specifies the person or persons authorized to drive the boat, its maximum carrying capacity, and the types of goods that may be taken.

A ship’s passport is required by certain nations, while an operator’s license or certificate is necessary for others. Each of these permits international travel; however, a government agency grants the former at the regional level, and a commercial firm issues the latter. Though they provide enough security, you should compare their features before settling on one. These instructions are meant solely for people who want to sail their vessel inside U.S. waters (within the same country).

The Maritime Documentation Center also provides an online interactive tool that helps you find what you’re looking for quickly and easily. You can search by vessel type, country, state/province, flag, or U.S. location. And if you need help with this process, contact the Maritime Documentation Center through the online chat for more information.