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).
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