As a maritime lawyer, I am frequently asked by private and commercial owners whether they need to register their vessels with the U.S. Coast Guard. In short, it depends.

Vessel documentation is a national form of registration that has existed for many years dating back to the 11th Act of the First Congress. Vessel documentation is a national form of registration available for vessels that measure at least five net tons and are wholly owned by a U.S. citizen or citizens. Vessel documentation provides evidence of nationality for your vessel and is used mainly for international purposes. When you document your boat with the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), you receive a Certificate of Documentation (COD) which is issued by the Coast Guard’s National Vessel Documentation Center (NVDC).

International waters

Vessel documentation is recommended if you plan to travel overseas with your vessel. Customs officials universally recognize a USCG COD as proof of ownership and authentication of the boat’s origin. If you travel to foreign waters, your COD immediately provides you with the protection and the status that comes from the U.S. Government. This also facilitates a smooth entry and clearance in foreign ports.

Is registration with the US Coast Guard ever mandatory?

USCG documentation is mandatory for all commercial vessels five net tons and over, and is voluntary for recreational vessels five net tons and over. If financing a portion of the purchase, an owner of a recreational vessel could be required by a lender to document the vessel to secure the lender’s lien at the federal level.

Documenting your vessel with the U.S. Coast Guard does not exempt you from state registration in Florida or from state taxes, although it does supersede any state titling.

If you are undecided about whether you should register your vessel in the State of Florida or proceed with USCG vessel documentation, or need assistance with the documentation process you may contact me at or by phone at 239-344-1249.