How Do You Properly Document a Vessel With the USCG?

Documenting your vessel with the USCG? You'll need Form CG-1258 and meet tonnage requirements. Learn the process and exemptions.

3 mins read・Mar 08, 2023
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Vessel documentation is a national form of registration and generally required for commercial vessels greater than 5 net tons.

This article will help you understand if your vessel needs to be documented, and how to get your Certificate of Documentation from the Coast Guard.

Does my vessel need to be documented?

Any vessel (Inspected or Uninspected)  greater than 5 net tons engaged in domestic or coastwise trade must have a Certificate of Documentation (COD) on board bearing a valid endorsement for the activity in which it is engaged (46 CFR 67).

Vessels greater than 27 feet are likely over the five ton minimum requirement.

Coastwise trade is the transportation of merchandise or passengers between points in the U.S. or the exclusive economic zone (EEZ). In addition, towboats operating between points in the U.S. or the EEZ or between the EEZ and points in the U.S. and dredges operating in the U.S. or the EEZ must be documented. The EEZ is 200 nautical miles from the coastline.

If your vessel is greater than 5 tons and only used for recreation, you can choose to document it, but it’s not required. If you do get a recreational endorsement, you can only use your vessel for recreational purposes.

Initial documentation

If your vessel needs to be documented for the first time, the process is fairly straightforward.

The basic requirements for documentation are to:

  1. Prove ownership of the vessel
  2. Show U.S. citizenship
  3. Show eligibility for the endorsement you’re applying for

A vessel must measure at least five net tons and must be wholly owned by a citizen of the United States.

To apply for your Certificate of Documentation, you’ll fill out Form CG-1258. This form includes information about the vessel, information about the owner of the vessel, and details about the documentation endorsement you’re seeking.

There are different endorsements based on the purpose of your vessel, including: commercial fishing, freight, passenger, research, and more.

COD endorsements are valid for 1 year and must be renewed by completing a CG-1280 Form.

What vessels are exempt?

Vessels that don’t operate on the navigable waters of the U.S. or in the fisheries in the EEZ are exempt from the requirement to be documented. Also exempt are Coastwise qualified, non-self propelled vessels used in coastwise trade within a harbor, on the rivers or lakes (except the Great Lakes) of the U.S., or the internal waters or canal of any state.

Different types of documentation

A Certificate of Documentation (COD) may be endorsed for fishery, coastwise, registry, or recreation.

When you fill out the CG-1258 form, you’ll check the box according to the vessel’s primary purpose. Unless the COD currently restricts the vessel from recreational use, any documented vessel may be used for recreational purposes, regardless of its endorsement, but a vessel documented with only a recreational endorsement may not be used for any other purpose. Registry endorsements are generally used for foreign trade.

Transferring a COD

When you sell a documented vessel, you’ll complete another CG-1258 form and mark the "Exchange Of Certificate Of Documentation" box under "Purpose of Application".

We hope this made your life a little easier and if you have other questions the MM-SEAS team is always here to help!

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About the author

Sam Mckay
Sam Mckay
NOAA Corps Veteran

Sam Mckay is a NOAA Corps Veteran working on his PhD in Nuclear Fusion

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