Recreational boat owners in Florida are required to either register their vessels with the state of Florida or document their vessels with the U.S. Coast Guard. There are many factors to consider when choosing between state registration and U.S. documentation.


Chapter 328, Florida Statutes, designates that DHSMV is responsible for issuing vessel registrations and titles. Applications for titles and registrations must be filed at a county tax collector or license plate agent office. The certificate of registration must be carried on board the vessel whenever it is in operation and the decal must be displayed near the registration number on the port (left) side of the vessel. You can find more information on the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles website.


Under current federal law any vessel over five tons net is eligible to be documented as a pleasure vessel with the United States Coast Guard. In order for the boat to be documented in the U.S., the individual, or the entity, in possession must be at least 75 percent U.S. owned. Also, information such as where the vessel will operate primarily, if it is foreign-built and if it will be professionally crewed, since foreign registries have different rules depending on the answers, will be important information that could impact documentation. Even details such as whether you will finance the boat or purchase it with cash may impact your options. These same vessels, and vessels under five tons net, may be registered in accordance with the laws of the state in which the owner resides.

Assuming a vessel is eligible for federal documentation, there are several reasons why an owner may choose federal documentation over state registration. If an owner travels to foreign waters, the Coast Guard issued Certificate of Documentation facilitates clearance with foreign governments and provides certain protection by the U.S. flag. In addition, it may be easier to obtain a bank loan to finance a vessel if it is documented. The lender will generally want to record a preferred ship mortgage with the Coast Guard to perfect its lien. The mortgage is enforceable throughout the U.S., its territories and some foreign countries. Once documented, the vessel stays documented for the life of the vessel. Thus, if the vessel is sold the new owner needs simply to update the documentation information by filling out paperwork for the Coast Guard and paying a fee. The vessel’s documentation number will remain the same.

If you should have any questions or concerns, or need assistance with properly documenting your vessel, please feel free to contact me by email at or by phone at 239-344-1249.