What Are the Requirements for National Vessel Documentation?

national vessel documentation center

If you own a boat it may need to be registered with the US Coast Guard. The first requirement for National vessel documentation is that you have to be a U.S. citizen. You establish this by filling out form CG-1258. You will also have to establish ownership of the said vessel and what it will be used for. 

Registering a vessel for personal and recreational purposes is fairly simple, but any vessel used for trade or commercial purposes has to be stated on the documentation. There are several commercial categories, so it is important that you get this correct. 

Establishing ownership for new vessels can be done by submitting a Builder’s Certification, form CG 1261, a Manufacturer’s Certificate of Origin or a copy of the State Registration or Title. If bought overseas, you need to show a copy of the foreign registration. If the vessel has been previously owned, then you can simply present a bill of sale. With the bill of sale, which includes the vendor’s name, the Coast Guard can search the previous history of the vessel.


All vessels of five tons or over, used for whatever purpose, can be registered with the Coast Guard, which is the official body that controls all shipping and boating within U.S. territorial waters. For the most part, vessels that measure more than five net tons are almost invariably at least 25 feet long or longer. If you’re going to use your vessel for commercial fishing and/or coastwise trade (such as transporting goods or people) then you must document your vessel. If you’re going to use it for recreation, you can choose to document it. 

Hailing Ports, Renewal, and More 

For the purposes of national vessel documentation, all registered vessels must have a hailing or home port. This can be the location of where the vessel is moored when not in use. When registering a vessel this must be included on the form, as well as a mailing address for the owner. If you buy a vessel in one state and intend to use a hailing port in another, you must inform the Coast Guard of the change in location. 

When a vessel is registered officially with the Coast Guard the Certificate of Documentation lasts only for one year. Each year your registration has to be renewed. The Coast Guard does send out renewal reminders and that’s why they insist on a permanent mailing address; the onus of keeping a vessel’s paperwork up to date lies with the owner. You can renew your documentation for up to five years through our site. 

Less Stress

Owning a vessel and keeping up with all the required official paperwork can be a complicated and time-consuming business. It can also be stressful if you make a mistake on your form. Use our Documentation Submission Portal to download all the forms you need regarding your boat. If you have any problems with your national vessel documentation, you can use the online chat for help or contact via email.