In the United States we title different property in different ways. Real estate is typically titled at the county courthouse, cars are state-titled at MVA or DMV, and airplanes are federally registered with the FAA.
Boats are unique in that they can be registered with the local state agency (“State Titling”), or they can be federally registered with the U.S. Coast Guard (“USCG Documentation”). In both cases, the owner will receive what looks like and acts like a title to the vessel – either a blue USCG Certificate of Documentation that looks like this, or a state-issued title that looks like the title to your car:
Any boat can be Coast Guard Documented as long as it is owned by a U.S. citizen and measures more than five net tons – generally boats over 25 feet will qualify, regardless of weight. Smaller boats like tenders and dinghies will generally not qualify for documentation and must be state titled.
So for most boats over 25 feet, the owner has the choice of either documenting the vessel with the Coast Guard at the federal level, or titling it with the local state agency. The local state agency is often the same one that registers cars, like the DMV or the MVA, but sometimes it is a separate agency like the Department of Natural Resources.
If you have a state-titled or foreign-flagged boat that you want to become U.S. Coast Guard documented, you can do so online by visiting our Initial Documentation page and filling out the web form. We will prep your USCG Documentation forms online and allow you to execute them via electronic signature and electronic notarization. If you want help deciding whether to Coast Guard Document or state-title your boat, see our article on Should I USCG Document or State Title?
Finally, the name of the agency within the Coast Guard that handles vessel documentation is the National Vessel Documentation Center. Information on the National Vessel Documentation Center. The NVDC is a first-rate operation and is extremely cordial and helpful in handling USCG vessel documentation. Information on the NVDC can be found at https://www.uscg.mil/nvdc/, or you can call them at 304-271-2405. Yacht Docs Online is an independent service which prepare and files the USCG paperwork and coordinates directly with the NVDC to make vessel ownership and transferring as hassle-free as possible for you, the boat owner.