Navigating Vessel Documentation: A Better Way

vessel documentation

Does finding and completing your vessel documentation seem more complicated than it should be? Do you find yourself always putting it off? The seemingly labyrinthine rules surrounding which vessels qualify for United States Coast Guard (USCG) documentation can confound even the most seasoned maritime enthusiasts. We created the National Documentation Portal, in part, to make the process easier on vessel owners from all walks of life. 

Understanding the Basics of USCG Documentation

You may find yourself asking: does your vessel qualify for USCG documentation? According to the USCG, vessels measuring “five net tons or more” that are employed in fishing or coastwise trade activities on U.S. navigable waters or within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) are mandated to be documented. 

If your vessel is utilized in coastwise trade—defined as the transportation of merchandise or passengers on U.S. waters or the EEZ—it must be documented unless it falls under specific exemptions. The EEZ, or clarification, is a zone extending approximately 200 nautical miles off the U.S. coast in all directions, more or less. While exceptions exist, they are rare.

Choosing Documentation for Your Vessel

Crucially, vessel owners possess the agency to opt for documentation, even if their vessel isn’t utilized in coastwise trade or fisheries. Any vessel provided it measures at least five net tons and is wholly owned by a U.S. citizen, is eligible for documentation. Notably, “net tons” refers to a vessel’s volume, not its weight, making it a pivotal criterion. Typically, vessels exceeding 25 feet in length comfortably meet this requirement, making documentation accessible to a wide range of boat owners.

Selecting the Appropriate Endorsement

The purpose for which your vessel is designated necessitates a specific endorsement. If your vessel transports people and/or merchandise, a “Coastwise” endorsement is indispensable. For dedicated fishing activities, a “Fishery” endorsement is the appropriate choice, while those seeking leisurely pursuits should opt for a “Recreation” endorsement.

Note: vessels endorsed for recreation cannot be employed for any other purpose. Lastly, a “Registry” endorsement is reserved for vessels engaged in foreign trade, encapsulating the diverse spectrum of maritime activities.

vessel documentation
A Better Documentation Process Today and Tomorrow

Navigating the intricate web of documentation regulations might leave you with lingering questions, and that is perfectly normal. Our dedicated staff stands ready to address any queries you might have, ensuring you sail smoothly through the documentation process. Additionally, our website offers a treasure trove of information meticulously compiled in every form, empowering vessel owners with knowledge. Understanding the nuances of documentation enables informed decisions, ensuring compliance while preserving the joy of seafaring.

From the very beginning, we designed the National Documentation Portal to make the entire process as easy as possible. For example, our site has been optimized for mobile devices. That means that you can complete these forms from anywhere, at any time, and on any kind of device. To see all of the myriad ways that we can help, we encourage you to explore the rest of our site.