Vessel documentation is a national form of registration. It is one of the oldest functions of Government, dating back to the 11th Act of the First Congress. Documentation provides conclusive evidence of nationality for international purposes, provides for unhindered commerce between the states, and admits vessels to certain restricted trades, such as coastwise trade and the fisheries. Since 1920, vessel financing has been enhanced through the availability of preferred mortgages on documented vessels.

A Certificate of Documentation is valid for one year from the date of issue, providing there are NO CHANGES other than a change of owner’s address. The Certificate must be renewed on an annual basis unless the auto-renewal fees are submitted via this Web Portal. If auto-renewal is elected, Certificates of Documentation will be issued each year for a 1-year period, then renewed and sent to the Managing Owner automatically. Even though it is up to the owner to assure the document does not expire, the Coast Guard will send a Notice of Renewal to the managing owner approximately 45 days prior to expiration. See the instruction letter Renewal of Certificate of Documentation elsewhere at this site regarding renewal procedures.

A Certificate of Documentation may be endorsed for fishery, coastwise, registry, or recreation. Any documented vessel may be used for recreational purposes, regardless of its endorsement, but a vessel documented with a recreational endorsement only may not be used for any other purpose. Registry endorsements are generally used for foreign trade.