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Old 12-30-2001
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Sue & Larry is on a distinguished road
Documenting a Vessel

I've been told that I can avoid annual registration fees, if I "document" my boat. Have also been told that my vessel will not be subject to US laws, but could also be refused entry into US waters. What's the true story and what are the ups and downs?

Sue & Larry respond:
The subject of vessel documentation usually pops up when boaters are discussing ways to circumvent paying annual registration fees, property taxes, or sales tax on their boats. Unfortunately, documentation does not exempt a vessel from compliance with federal or individual state laws or regulations. For instance, with our documented boat Serengeti, we still had to pay state sales tax upon purchase to the state of Florida, and must register it annually as we spend a lot of time in the state each year. The only way we know to circumvent sales tax or annual fees is to move from state to state or out of the country frequently. As for re-entry into the US, documentation will probably help rather than harm you in this respect as youíll be in the Coast Guard data base.

To document a boat in US waters, it first must be five net tons or more. This usually translates to a boat length of 30 feet or greater. The boat must be owned by a US citizen or a corporation that meets certain requirements. A documented boat must clearly display its name and hailing port along with state in a single location and in letters of a minimum specified size. Your official documentation number must be permanently marked on a structural part of the boat. The intent here is that if a boat were stolen, and the numbers removed, it would be obvious that they had been removed.

Documentation provides several advantages. First, it easily identifies your boat to US or foreign authorities. It also means that bills of sale, mortages, and other title information are recorded with federal officials. This helps to provide a clear chain of ownership for a vessel. Here's hoping this information assists you.

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