Changes in vessel documentation


To the editor: Way, way back when I purchased my Catalina 34, I had to make a quick decision on whether I would register the boat in Florida, or document it. The helpful salesman, knowing I would be sailing in foreign waters, recommended I document the vessel. “It’ll make your life easier,” he said boldly.

And am I glad he did. This type of USCG registration is the gold standard, providing conclusive evidence of nationality and ownership outside U.S. waters, unhindered commerce between the states and easier access to preferred mortgages. My payoff came at the customs dock in Nassau, when the agent was visibly relieved to see the “documented” box checked off on his form, and within five minutes I had my 90-day cruising permit.

Documentation is intended for vessels of at least 5 net tons (most boats longer than 25 feet should qualify) and wholly owned by a citizen of the U.S. It is valid for one year and renewed annually, gratis. Free, that is, until November 2014 when the U.S. Coast Guard began charging $26 for the privilege. Well, nothing good lasts forever.

If your vessel is documented, it’s important that you renew each year by the anniversary date or you will be assessed a $5 late fee. The easiest way to do this is to go online to and click “Renewal” (have your official vessel number ready). You will then be directed to where you may pay with a debit or credit card, money order or check payable to USCG. The document should arrive within two weeks and you should always have a copy on board to present to law enforcement on demand.

Documented vessel owners should receive a snail mail Notice of Renewal 45 days prior to expiration. Do not ignore this! If you pass one year beyond your anniversary date, your vessel will be removed from documentation and it will be an unpleasant and expensive hassle to get it fixed. Note that you don’t have to wait for the anniversary, you may renew early.

If you would like to document your vessel, on the same page click “Instructions & Forms” and you will be directed to CG-1258, which you may complete online, print, and mail with fee of $133. Happy sailing!
—Robert Beringer’s first e-book, Water Power! a collection of marine short stories, is available at

By Ocean Navigator