US Coast Guard Documentation


The National Vessel Documentation Center is a part of the US Coast Guard (USCG), Department of Homeland Security. Delaware Business Incorporators, Inc. (DBI) assists motorboat and yacht owners with titling their vessels with the US Coast Guard.

Here is a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) and how to use our easy and secure online ordering service.

What are a vessel certificates of documentation (COD)?

A certificate of documentation (aka COD) is a document that shows registration with the coast guard which is a federal agency. Titling your vessel with the US Coast Guard is done in lieu of titling with a state. If your vessel is titled with the US Coast Guard, you can register your boat with a state. You cannot title your vessel with the US Coast Guard AND a state.

How much does it cost to document a vessel?

For initial documentation (never documented with the USCG), we charge a processing fee of $300 plus an applicable US Coast Guard filing fee of $133.

For transfer of ownership documentation, we charge a processing fee of $300 plus an applicable USCG filing fee of $84.

For reinstatement of expired documentation, we charge a processing fee of $185 plus an applicable USCG filing fee of $84.

For deletion of documentation, we charge a processing fee of $185 plus an applicable USCG filing fee of $15.

Do documented vessels need to be registered?

Any pleasure boat or yacht of 5 net tons and over (26 feet in length and up) is eligible to be documented, but not required. DBI can process the certification for your pleasure yacht registration (titling). Commercial vessels of 5 net tons and over MUST be documented.

What is the difference between US Coast Guard documentation vs. State registration?

Coast guard documentation is a titling process that permits the use of a Preferred Ship's Mortgage. A state registration permits the use of a vessel in a particular state's waters.

What is US Coast Guard documentation number?

It is an official six- or 8-characters long and may contain all digits, or begin with 1 or letters (A-Z) followed by 6 or 7 digits. The Official Number (ON) is issued by the US Coast Guard. The official number stays for the lifetime of the vessel.

Does a documented vessel have a title?

Yes, a documented vessel by definition is a titled vessel. To get a Preferred Ships Mortgage offered by special maritime lenders, you'll need to have the US Coast Guard (USCG) documentation.

How do I find out the US Coast Guard documentation status?

You can check this link for more information.

What is a hailing port on a boat?

The hailing port is the home port of a vessel. Generally, it is the port closest to the managing owner's place of residence. All vessels documented in the United States are required by law to have the "hailing port" painted on the stern.

Where on the boat are US Coast Guard registration numbers placed?

The official number assigned to documented vessels, preceded by the abbreviation "NO." must be marked in block-type Arabic numerals at least three inches high on some clearly visible interior structural part of the hull. The number must be permanently affixed so that alteration, removal, or replacement would be obvious and cause some scarring or damage to the surrounding hull area.

The name and hailing port of a recreational vessel must be marked together on some clearly visible exterior part of the hull. The vessel name of a commercial vessel must also be marked on the port and starboard bow and the vessel name and the hailing port must also be marked on the stern. All markings may be made by any means and materials that result in durable markings and must be at least four inches in height, made in clearly legible letters of the Latin alphabet or Arabic or Roman numerals. The "hailing port" must include both a place and a State, Territory, or possession of in the United States. The state may be abbreviated.

What is a preferred ship mortgage?

It is a special maritime mortgage recorded against a boat, yacht or vessel that has been documented with the US Coast Guard. A preferred ship mortgage takes precedence over all other liens, except for preferred maritime liens. Preferred ship mortgages and protected under the Ship's Mortgage Act of 1920.

What vessels may be documented?

A vessel must measure at least five net tons and, with the exception of certain oil spill response vessels, must be wholly owned by a citizen of the U.S.

Must my vessel be documented?

Vessels of five net tons or more used in fishing activities on navigable waters of the U.S. or in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), or used in coastwise trade must be documented unless the vessel is exempt from documentation. In addition, towboats operating between points in the U.S. or the EEZ or between the EEZ and points in the U.S. and dredges operating in the U.S. or the EEZ must be documented.

How do I know if my vessel measures five net tons?

Net tonnage is a measure of a vessel's useful capacity, expressed as a volume (gross tonnage minus deductible spaces). It should not be confused with the vessel's weight or total cargo carrying capacity, which may also be expressed in tons. Vessels of more than 25 feet are likely to measure five net tons or more under the Simplified Measurement System, although, they may measure less than five net tons if formally measured. Use our tonnage calculator to estimate your vessels tonnage.

What vessels are exempt?

Vessels that do not operate on the navigable waters of the U.S. or in the fisheries in the EEZ, are exempt from the requirement to be documented. Also exempt are Coastwise qualified, non-self-propelled vessels used in coastwise trade within a harbor, on the rivers or lakes (except the Great Lakes) of the U.S. or the internal waters or canal of any state.

Are there different types of documentation?

Yes. A Certificate of Documentation (COD) may be endorsed for fishery, coastwise, registry, or recreation. Any documented vessel may be used for recreational purposes, regardless of its endorsement, but a vessel documented with a recreational endorsement only may not be used for any other purpose. Registry endorsements are generally used for foreign trade.

What are the requirements for documentation?

The basic requirements for documentation are to demonstrate ownership of the vessel, U.S. citizenship, and eligibility for the endorsement sought.

How is vessel ownership established?

If the vessel is new and has never been documented, ownership may be established by submission of a Builder's Certification, naming the applicant for documentation as the person for whom the vessel was built or to whom the vessel was first transferred. Also acceptable are a transfer on a Manufacturer's Certificate of Origin, a copy of the State Registration or Title, or foreign registration showing that the applicant owns the vessel.

In the case of a previously owned vessel, the applicant must present bills of sale, or other evidence showing transfer of the vessel from the person who last documented, titled, or registered the vessel, or to whom the vessel was transferred on a Builder's Certification or Manufacturer's Certificate of Origin.

How do I establish U.S. citizenship?

Individuals, corporations, partnerships, and other entities capable of holding legal title may be deemed citizens for documentation purposes. Corporations must be registered in a state or the U.S. The chief executive officer and chairman of the board of directors must be U.S. citizens, and no more than a minority of the number of directors necessary to constitute a quorum may be non-citizens. In addition, at least 75% of the stock must be vested in U.S. citizens for a coastwise or fisheries endorsement.

Why and how is build evidence established?

Evidence that a vessel was built in the U.S. is required for a vessel which is to be used in the fisheries or coastwise trade. Build evidence is normally established by submitting a Builder's Certification. The form must be completed by the person who constructed or oversaw the construction of the vessel or an official of the company that built the vessel who has examined the records of the company to determine the facts of build. The Original Builder's Certification or Facts of Build Letter must be presented with your submission. A copy will NOT be accepted.

Why does the Coast Guard require designation of a managing owner?

Many vessels have more than one owner. To make sure that the right person gets mail concerning the vessel, one must be designated as the managing owner.

Is a documented vessel exempt from state jurisdiction?

No, all documented vessels must comply with the laws of the state in which they are operated. The vessel's document must be shown to state law enforcement personnel upon their demand. States may require documented vessels to be registered (but not numbered) and to display state decals showing that they have complied with state requirements.

How long is the certificate of documentation valid?

A Certificate of Documentation is valid for one year from the date of issue, providing there are NO CHANGES other than a change of owner's address. The Certificate must be renewed on an annual basis. Even though it is up to the owner to assure the document does not expire, the Coast Guard will send a Notice of Renewal to the managing owner approximately 45 days prior to expiration.

May I renew a lost certificate of documentation?

No. An Application for Replacement must be filed along with the filing fee. If the lost document has already expired it must be exchanged and an additional filing fee would be required.

Should I return the certificate of documentation with the renewal notice?

No. Simply sign, date and return the Renewal Notice even if your address has changed. Please note the address change. You will receive a new certificate that shows your new address.

May I renew my document early?

Yes. The US Coast Guard has a license renewal process. Established in 1995 as a courtesy to owners unable to respond to renewal notifications during the scheduled expiration month, vessel and yacht owners have the option to renew early. Due to automated processing, submissions received more than 60 days prior to expiration will be issued with a new issue/expiration date, changing the vessel’s month of expiration and shortening the validity period of the current document.

Certificates renewed less than 60 days from expiration will maintain the same expiration month.

Application fees are not pro-rated and are non-refundable.

May I renew the certificate after the ownership changes?

No. Ownership changes require that the Certificate be exchanged and accompanied by an application, fees and other submissions to support the changes.

How do I delete a vessel from documentation?

A vessel may be deleted from documentation upon the request of the vessel owner or an authorized agent on behalf of the owner. The request must be in writing and is to include the vessel’s official number. The original Certificate of Documentation (COD) is to be returned by the owner named on the certificate.

What US Coast Guard vessel documentation filing services does DBI offer?

We offer competitive pricing and exceptional service for the following vessel documentation services:

We have paralegals on staff to handle all of your vessel documentation needs. So you can be assured that a thorough, accurate vessel documentation or change will be conducted on your behalf.

Can I title or make changes to my motorboat or yacht documentation with the US Coast Guard myself? Where can I find the US Coast Guard documentation forms?

Yes. Here is a list of forms that the US Coast Guard, National Vessel Documentation Center ( nvdc) offers:




Delaware Business Incorporators, Inc. is a service company that can help you file your US Coast Guard boat documentation. DBI is not associated with the US Coast Guard or any governmental agency.

For a small processing fee, we can help you navigate the process of filing your paperwork with the US Coast Guard.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at 1-800-423-2993 or 302-996-5819. Thank you for your interest in the National Vessel Documentation Center and the US Coast Guard vessel documentation service.


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