Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Vessel of the United States

When I bought Journeyman she had these vinyl numbers on the bow, "ME something." So I documented her as a vessel of the United States, peeled off the state registration numbers and compounded the area.

For most yachts, the sole advantage to documentation is freeing the boat from bow numbers. There is no savings in taxes, at least in Maine, for every six months the Coast Guard sends each state a list of boat owners who have lately documented a yacht with a hailing port in that state, and the sales or use tax bill soon follows, and then the annual excise tax bills. But I still prefer a documented vessel to a state registered one - it's more seemly of a blue water craft.

Documentation is easy to accomplish. (I limit myself to "recreational" boats. The requirements for commercial fishing and "coastwise" boats, those carrying cargo or passengers, are different: consult your documentation specialist.) The process is administered by the National Vessel Documentation Center, in the lyrically named Falling Waters, West Virginia. I work with the agency a lot, and the people are an educated, helpful and careful lot, as good as any with whom I regularly work.

If you own a pleasure boat that is already state registered in your name, you send the following to the NVDC: Application for Initial Issue of Certificate of Documentation (CG 1258); copy of your state registration; Application for Simplified Measurement (CG 5397); and a personal check for $149.00 made to the United States Coast Guard. (All the forms are available at the link above.) Before you send the papers, call the NVDC and ask to speak to a documentation specialist and make sure your application is in order. Although the NVDC is good, they are exceedingly careful, as behooves the agency keeping title record to ships worth many millions, and they do not suffer errors, whiteout, and the like. For example, a slight difference between the name of the owner's name on the registration and the name on the CG 1258 will kick back an application.

The only difference if you are buying a yacht is that you must send the Coast Guard, instead of a state registration, an executed Coast Guard Bill of Sale (CG 1340).

(Some folks think only a U.S. built boat can be federally documented. No so - you can document a yacht even if foreign built, but for recreational endorsement only.)

In a few weeks - precedence is given to commercial vessels - you'll receive your Certificate of Documentation. You must keep it aboard. It will have a seven digit number, assigned to your yacht, along with marking instructions. You will mark your ship's name and hailing port (including state) on the transom or elsewhere, and you will emboss, weld, drill or otherwise indelibly mark the official number into the "main beam" or equivalent of your ship. Welcome aboard.

Last year the state sent me a silly little blue decal indicating I had paid the excise tax, and told me to stick it to the outside of Journeyman. The State of Maine can drop dead - this is a vessel of the United States!


  1. Windsong was documented when I bought it, I was concerned about the fees at first and almost didn't continue the documentation. But I'm glad I did.

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