What You Need to Know About Coast Guard Documentation Endorsements

Commercial vessels and recreational boats that plan to engage in commercial activities are required to obtain Coast Guard documentation. It’s optional (though often beneficial) for non-commercial recreational vessels to also seek USCG documentation. This legal documentation keeps track of certain important information about maritime vessels, including ownership and financial history. 

Another facet of a vessel’s certificate of documentation includes choosing something called an endorsement. This refers to qualifying what type of commercial enterprises your boat will be involved in. In other words, the endorsement explains what the boat is used for and grants the owner permission to engage in those financial activities.

Coast Guard Documentation

Types of Coast Guard Documentation Endorsements

The United States Government Publishing Office (GPO) shares the relevant code at this link for the Coast Guard’s documentation of vessels, including endorsements and eligibility of vessels. But if reading federal regulations isn’t your cup of tea, keep reading to learn the most common types of vessel endorsements.

Fishery Endorsement

If a vessel is engaging in commercial fishing activities, it would qualify for this endorsement. Legally these boats are allowed to “land their catch.” In layman’s terms, this means they can bring what they catch (from wherever it is caught) onto U.S. land. These fishing vessels must, of course, operate in regulation with Federal and State laws.

Registry Endorsement

This endorsement is used for any type of trade activity with foreign entities. This is regardless of trade activity. Registry endorsement is also required for trade with certain U.S. territories: Guam, American Samoa, Wake Island, Midway Atoll, and Kingman Reef.

Coastwise Endorsement

In contrast with registry endorsements, coastwise endorsements are for economic activities between coasts in the United States. Trade, dredging, and towing are specifically named as examples in the code, but all intended commercial employment on domestic waters and with only domestic entities qualify for this endorsement.

There are additional coastwise endorsements that are slightly more specific. These include but are not limited to:

  • Coastwise Bowaters Only Endorsement. These are for vessels used by Bowaters Corporations. There are very specific legal definitions for what constitutes a Bowaters Corporation, but most simply it refers to companies working in the manufacturing of mineral industries.
  • Coastwise Oil Spill Response Only Endorsement. This is for vessels whose only purpose is to help with oil spills. Why a specific endorsement for that? Well, only certain vessels can be U.S. Coast Guard documented and this allows certain boats that don’t normally qualify (for example, if they’re too small) to get a certificate of documentation.
  • Coastwise under Charter to an Entity Qualified to Engage in Coastwise Trade. Chartered vessels may require this specific endorsement, which helps the government understand the business affiliations and financial purpose of the boat’s activities.

Recreational Endorsement

All of the above examples are types of commercial endorsements. They are usually mandatory. However, if an owner wants to voluntarily document their recreational vessel but will not engage in financial or commercial activities, they would seek a recreational endorsement. It cannot be used for anything else. There are times, however, where these vessels can be chartered without needing another type of endorsement (though this charter should only be for recreational use).

Other Things to Know

The above endorsements are meant to be catchalls and may not necessarily be straightforward. Endorsements are meant to be for the filers’ best guess. Each commercial endorsement has a special provision that is should be used if the other two endorsements are not required.

There are some instances where a vessel won’t need endorsements. Certain vessels will also need to obtain multiple endorsements. Some documents may also make reference to a Great Lakes endorsement, which is an endorsement no longer used.

Finally, a more specific type of “primary service” is usually listed alongside the endorsement. These further clarify the boats’ purpose (i.e. tank barge).

If this all seems complicated, we here at Maritime Documentation Center can help, whether you need assistance determining your endorsement or filing or renewing your documentation. You can contact us online or file the appropriate form through our site.