What is USCG Documentation for Vessels | Must know

Everything you need to know about USCG documentation and renewal and searches for a vessel documented with a official number

What is USCG Documentation – American Vessel Documentation at the Coast Guard

Vessel documentation is a crucial part of boat ownership. Knowing how to document your vessel with the United State Coast Guard would be an critical if your vessel is 5 tons of more. If you are wondering how, you can document or renew your vessel with the US Coast Guard, then in this blog post, we shall be unveiling all you need to know about American vessel documentation at the Coast Guard.

What is USCG Documentation (Coast Guard Boat Registration)

“Registering” a boat with the coast guard is a misnomer because recording or registering a boat with the USCG is actually called “vessel documentation”. The USCG Documentation of vessels entails the whole process involved in the registration of a boat with the United States Coast Guard at the National Vessel Documentation Center (NVDC).

As you may know, state titling of recreational boats occurs at the state level at your local DMV or DNR, whereas, the USCG vessel documentation is recorded at the national level.

Once you have registered your vessel with the US Coast Guard, you will be issued a Certificate of Documentation (COD). The COD is very important, it allows you to use your boat either for business, for a cruise, or recreational activities in international waters. More on the COD below.

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Vessel documentation Forms you need to Know

There are several vessel documentation forms you need to fill out and know about if you are planning to get a boat and finance it. We list all the NVDC forms here. Below are four forms you need to take note of;

  • Form CG-1258
  • Form CG-1340
  • Form CG-1261 (Builders Certificate)
  • Form CG-5397
  • Form CG-1258: This form is used for the initial application for USCG vessel documentation. It is frequently known as form CG-1258. It is used by vessel owners to either apply for the initial doc, exchange, or replacement of the Certificate of Documentation.
  • Form CG-1340: The form CG-1340 is regarded as the Bill of Sale. It is required when a boat owner wants to sell their vessel. The primary function of this form is to document the deal when an individual buys the vessel from the original owner. The document you obtain through the form CG-1340 is called the Bill of Sale.
  • Form CG-1261 (Builder’s Certificate): The form CG-1261 otherwise known as the Builder’s Certificate is the #1 title evidence needed for new vessel documentation. It shows the evidence by the owner for whom the boat was constructed. The major components used for the construction of the vessel must be included in this form.
  • Form CG-5397: An application for simplified measurement if the vessel has not been previously documented. This form can be obtained from the National Vessel Documentation Center (NVDC).

Is USCG Documentation Required? Yes, it is required for United States vessels that measure a minimum of 5 net tons. For you to be eligible for a USCG vessel documentation, you must be in the US. Citizen.

Know the Difference Between State and Federal Boat Registration

Federal vessel registration which is also known as the US Coast Guard vessel documentation supersedes the state titling or registration.

A documented vessel may not have a state certificate of title, but can be registered in the state in which it is primarily used. States like New York, New Jersey, and Maryland, are allowed to document and state register their vessels. Other states like North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida require for the vessel to be ‘deleted’ from the USCG in order for the boat to be state titled.

Pay Taxes for Documented vessels

You still have to pay state taxes and comply comply with state laws in the state you plan on operating the vessel even if it is documented. Some sates will require you to pay excise tax and some will regulate boats only after 90 days of being in that State. See a table of all the requirements for each state here.


The local state agency is often the same one for vehicles (DMV) or the MVA but many states register boats at the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) or Parks agency. Recreational boat owners are required in the U.S. to register their vessels with their state governments. Each state is different and requires different paperwork and fees from the other.

What is a USCG Certificate of Documentation (COD)?

A USCG Certificate of Documentation (COD) establishes the ownership and nationality of a vessel. It is like the title of a boat but at the federal level. Recreational vessels obtain a Certificate of Documentation from the National Vessel Documentation Center (NVDC). We will discuss the COD in another article in more detail.

The laws around vessel documentation in the USA

Here is a link read all the laws regarding vessel documentation at Cornell: 46 CFR Part 67 – DOCUMENTATION OF VESSELS.

How do I know if a vessel is documented?

All you need to do is to perform a vessel search. Insert the vessel name or official USCG number on our search website to find US Coast Guard info.

What is a USCG documentation Number?

USCG No. is the identification of the documented vessel. It is issued by the NVDC and must be affixed to the boat according to marking requirements. Finding this on a boat means that it is documented

How to look up Title information for a documented vessel?

You can use our tools to Search Documented Vessels Databases. You can also order an abstract of title using the official USCG number, or you can do a search using the Hull ID Number. To learn more, read What is a Boat Title Abstract? – 2022 Update or visit

What are the Benefits of Coast Guard vessel documentation? – advantages of vessel documentation

The benefits of Coast Guard vessel documentation cannot be over-emphasized. Firstly, USCG vessel documentation is the major gateway to get boat financing like the Preferred Ship Mortgage. Another advantage why you should get United States Coast Guard Vessel documentation is for international waterways access. You need COD (Certificate Of Documentation) to be able to utilize your boat in international waters. The best advantage is that the history of the boat is tracked and can be seen by ordering a Title Abstract.

Vessel Documentation Fees and eligibility

The fees for the initial Certificate of Document cost $133 for the first year. Exchange of Certificate of Documentation for a year also cost $84. You can use this document link to check the various fees at the NVDC.

How Do you Transfer Ownership of a Documented vessel?

To transfer ownership of a documented vessel is simple as ABC. All you need to do is to submit a copy of the COD (Certificate of Documentation). The signature of the vessel owners and a notarized copy must be included. You also need to enter the name(s) and address of the new owner. We covered vessel exchanges and documentation transfers in a previous article.

Steps to document a vessel with the Coast Guard

If you just acquired a boat and you don’t know how to document your vessel with the United State Coast Guard, worry no more. Take the following steps;

  • Obtain form CG-1258 from Coast Guard National Vessel Documentation Center (NVDC)
  • Get a Form CG-1340 or Bill of sale. This shows details of the construction of the vessel you are trying to document.
  • Lastly, get form CG-5397 or an application for simplified measurement, if the boat hasn’t been previously documented with the USCG.

You can take a look at the official website of the NVDC for more details.

How long does it take to get USCG documentation?

The renewal time frame only takes a few weeks while initial doc can take 3 months. Depending on the workload at the USCG National Vessel Documentation Center. The truth is, the time frame is quicker and faster when applying for a new one. You can also check the NVDC case Processing Dates. If you want to get a Title Abstract for your boat, it can take 4-5 business days with brokers like us.

How do I renew my USCG vessel documentation?

If you are a boat owner you can renew your Certificate of Documentation from the official page of the National Vessel Documentation Center. It must be done 60 days before expiry. You sure get a notice of renewal 45 days before expiration.

Key Takeaways

We explained how vessel documentation is a national form of registration and explained the steps and forms you need to know to document your vessel.

We also explained how to lookup a vessel’s particulars/data and title abstract. By using our brokerage, you can get an abstract of the title very easily and with secure PayPal payments.

An Abstract of title includes boat owners’ information, history, and background of vessel documentation. in order words, the abstract of title is the record of all documents submitted to USCG for a given boat.

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