Vessel Documentation: Basic Things You Need to Know

Do you think you may need to get your vessel documented, but aren’t sure? If your vessel measures more than five net tons (typically 25 feet in length or longer) and you’re a US citizen, you can document your vessel. If you’re going to use it for commercial fishing activities, transporting goods or people on navigable waters of the US or the EEZ, for foreign trade, or even if you just want a Preferred Ship’s Mortgage, then you should get it documented. There are some other vessel documentation basics to keep in mind. 

Establishing Vessel Ownership

If your vessel was previously owned by someone else, you establish who owns the vessel by showing evidence that the vessel has been transferred from the last person who registered, titled, or documented the vessel. If it’s an undocumented vessel, then a bill of sale is fine. Should the vessel be brand new and undocumented, a Builder’s Certification submission could do the track. A copy of the State Registration or Title as well as a Manufacturer’s Certificate of Origin is valid, too. If you have any questions about how this works, we’ll be more than glad to answer them. 

Vessel Documentation Basic Things You Need to Know

What “Build Evidence” Is 

For a vessel that’s going to be used in the fisheries or coastwise trade (i.e. transporting people and/or goods on the navigable waters of the United States or the Exclusive Economic Zone) then you’re going to need evidence that the vessel was built in the United States. A Builder’s Certification can also work here as well. However, that isn’t something that you, the vessel owner, can submit. Instead, it has to be completed by someone who constructed the vessel, oversaw that construction, or an official of the company that built the vessel. 

A Word on Documentation, State Jurisdiction, and Managing Owners 

“OK, so I got my vessel documented. I don’t have to get it registered with the state, right?” No. You do still have to register your vessel (in many states) and you must comply with the laws of the state in which your vessel operates. If state law enforcement personnel demand, you have to show them your vessel’s documentation as well. Additionally, many vessels have multiple owners. One of them has to be the “managing owner.” That’s the person who will receive mail that concerns the vessel (about renewal and the like). 

A Home for Vessel Documentation 

Speaking of renewal, that’s just one of the most popular services that we offer at our site. The above are just some of the basics of boat documentation and, as you can see, even some of that can be a bit opaque. If you have any questions about your documentation, we’re always glad to answer them. That said, you can find all of the forms that you might need throughout the course of owning your vessel at our site. Moreover, we’ve made it so that you can fill them out from anywhere, so long as you’re on the internet. Learn more here.