Understanding The Certificate Of Documentation When Buying A Documented Vessel

Are you a boat owner or maritime business planning to purchase a vessel? One critical aspect you need to be well-informed about is the Certificate of Documentation (COD). This official document is more than just a piece of paper; it’s a pivotal key in transferring vessel ownership.

What A Certificate Of Documentation Represents

The Certificate of Documentation is not just a formal safeguard—it’s the bedrock of your vessel’s identity and legality under U.S. law.

Official Registration

A COD is recognized as the vessel’s primary proof of ownership and its registration with the United States Coast Guard (USCG). It’s essentially the silver bullet of legitimacy for your maritime asset.

Legal Significance

This document confirms that the vessel is eligible to engage in trade, and it’s necessary for boats operating in navigable waters. Plus, it proves eligibility for certain protections and services the U.S. government offers.

Not a Substitute

Remember that the COD is more than just a one-stop shop for legal compliance. Depending on your local laws, it might not substitute state registration or titling requirements, so you’ll want to double-check your local obligations.

Seller’s Responsibilities

Surrendering the COD

The seller must provide the original COD as part of the sale process, which is then surrendered to the National Vessel Documentation Center (NVDC).

Bill of Sale

The bill of sale must be notarized to ensure it is recognized as a legally binding document. It is essential for formalizing the transfer of ownership.

Lien Clearance

Before the transaction, all liens or mortgages on the vessel should be resolved—a clean slate is paramount for a hassle-free transfer.

Buyer’s Responsibilities


Verify that you fulfill all the conditions to register under the USCG’s documentation criteria, including ownership prerequisites and vessel qualifications.


New ownership means a new application. You’ll need to file with the NVDC posthaste, along with the necessary fees, to secure your updated documentation.


The clock’s ticking! Be sure to adhere to the deadlines for ownership transfer to avoid potential penalties or lost time on the water.

Importance Of Checking For Liens

Protect Your Investment

Investigate thoroughly—ensure no outstanding liens or claims linger on the vessel that could blindside you post-purchase.

Prevents Headaches

Safeguarding against unknown liens secures your ownership and circumvents the nuisance of legal squabbles later.

In some states, additional registration or titling may be necessary, even for a documented vessel. Always confirm with local maritime authorities to ensure complete compliance. 

Your Guide To Vessel Documentation And Certification

The Vessel Registrar Center is here to guide you through every step of the process for obtaining your Certificate of Documentation. Explore our website to access expert resources and services that will make purchasing your documented vessel smooth sailing.

Whether you’re an individual boat owner, a boat broker, or running a maritime business, understanding and efficiently navigating the protocols of vessel documentation ensures that your seas are calm and your voyages are prosperous. Remember, a well-documented vessel is a treasure worth its weight in gold on the open sea.