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How Do You Document a Boat?

Boat documentation is an essential process for all boat owners. Documenting a boat involves registering your vessel with the appropriate authorities to establish legal ownership and eligibility for navigation. This article will guide you through the process of documenting a boat, providing step-by-step instructions and answering frequently asked questions.

Step 1: Determine Eligibility
The first step in documenting a boat is to ensure that your vessel is eligible for documentation. In the United States, vessels that are at least 5 net tons (which is roughly 25 feet in length) and used for recreational purposes or commercial activities are eligible for documentation.

Step 2: Choose the Documentation Method
There are two ways to document a boat in the United States: through the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) or through a state-level agency. The USCG documentation is mainly for vessels engaged in foreign trade, coastwise trade, fishing activities, or vessels with a mortgage. If your boat does not fall into these categories, you may choose to document it with your state.

Step 3: Gather Required Documents
Regardless of the method chosen, certain documents are commonly required for boat documentation. These include:

1. Proof of Ownership: This can be a bill of sale, a manufacturer’s statement of origin, or a previously issued certificate of documentation.
2. Proof of Citizenship: For USCG documentation, you need to provide proof of U.S. citizenship or eligibility to document a vessel.
3. Hailing Port: You must determine the hailing port (the city and state where the vessel is based) for your boat.

Step 4: Complete the Application
Once you have gathered the necessary documents, you can proceed to complete the application form. This form will ask for detailed information about your boat, such as its make, model, length, propulsion type, and intended use. Be sure to provide accurate and up-to-date information.

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Step 5: Pay the Applicable Fees
There are fees associated with boat documentation, which vary depending on the method chosen and the size of your vessel. Ensure that you pay the required fees to complete the process. These fees typically cover the cost of processing your application, issuing a certificate of documentation, and maintaining your boat’s documentation.

Step 6: Submit Your Application
Once you have completed the application and paid the fees, you can submit your documents to the appropriate authority. This may be done online or through mail, depending on the documentation method chosen. Ensure that you follow the submission guidelines provided by the authority to avoid any delays in processing.

Step 7: Receive Your Certificate of Documentation
After the submission of your application, the authority will review your documents and process your boat’s documentation. Once approved, you will receive a certificate of documentation, which serves as proof of ownership and eligibility for navigation. Keep this certificate in a safe place and ensure that it is readily available on board your boat.


Q: Is boat documentation mandatory?
A: Boat documentation is not mandatory for all vessels. However, it is highly recommended, especially for boats engaged in international waters, coastwise trade, or commercial activities. Additionally, boat documentation can provide several benefits, such as access to certain marinas, loan eligibility, and international recognition.

Q: How long does the boat documentation process take?
A: The processing time for boat documentation varies depending on the authority and method chosen. Typically, it can take between a few weeks to a few months. It is advisable to submit your application well in advance of any planned trips or activities to avoid any delays.

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Q: Can I change the hailing port of my documented boat?
A: Yes, you can change the hailing port of your documented boat. You will need to submit a request to the appropriate authority, along with the required documentation and fees. The authority will review your request and, if approved, issue an updated certificate of documentation reflecting the new hailing port.

Q: Do I need to renew my boat’s documentation?
A: Yes, boat documentation requires periodic renewal. For vessels documented with the USCG, renewal is required every year. State-level documentation may have different renewal periods, typically ranging from one to three years. It is essential to keep track of your boat’s documentation expiration date and renew it in a timely manner to maintain its validity.

In conclusion, documenting a boat is a crucial step for all boat owners to establish legal ownership and eligibility for navigation. By following the steps outlined in this article and understanding the frequently asked questions, you can navigate the boat documentation process with ease. Remember to gather all the required documents, complete the application accurately, and submit it to the appropriate authority. Once your boat is documented, you can enjoy the benefits of official ownership and peace of mind while out on the water.