OFFICIAL GUIDE TO SHIP & YACHT REGISTRIES

United States

Shipowner Eligibility 

Documentation of vessels in the United States is provided to protect the private, commercial and national interests including, but not limited to, the domestic vessel construction and repair industries, United States flag shipowners and domestic, maritime-related labor organizations. In order for vessels to be eligible for documentation under the United States flag, they must be wholly owned by a United States citizen or citizens. This requirement includes vessels used exclusively for pleasure and those used exclusively in the foreign trade of the United States. Specifically, the vessel must be owned by one or more of the following qualified eligible parties (each an "Eligible Owner"):

• An individual who is a citizen of the United States
• An association, joint venture, or other entity if –
• Each of its members is a citizen of the United States; and
• Each member is capable of holding title to a vessel under the laws of the United States or a State; or
• A trust if –
• Each trustee is a citizen of the United States;
• Each beneficiary is capable of holding title to a vessel under the laws of the United States or a State (provided, however, that a lesser standard may be met for vessels having a Registry Endorsement – see below); or
• A partnership if –
• Each general partner is a citizen of the United States; and
• The controlling interest in the partnership is owned by citizens of the United States; or
• A corporation if –
• It is incorporated under the laws of the United States or a State;
• Its chief executive officer, by whatever title, and the chairman of its board of directors are citizens of the United States; and
• No more of its directors are non-citizens than a minority of the number necessary to constitute a quorum.

In addition, each U.S. documented vessel must have one of the following endorsements:

Registry Endorsement – A Registry Endorsement entitles a vessel to employment in the U.S. foreign trade; trade with Guam, American Samoa, Wake, Midway, or Kingman Reef; and any other employment for which a Coastwise, Fishery Endorsement or Bowaters Endorsement is not required.

To qualify for a Registry Endorsement, the vessel must be owned by an Eligible Owner; provided, however, that if the vessel is owned by a trust, the beneficiaries of the trust are not required to be citizens of the United States if:

• Each trustee is a citizen of the United States;
• The application for documentation of the vessel includes the affidavit of each trustee stating that the trustee is not aware of any reason involving a beneficiary of the trust that is not a citizen of the United States, or involving any other person that is not a citizen of the United States, as a result of which the beneficiary or other person would hold more than twenty-five percent (25%) of the aggregate power to influence or limit the exercise of the authority of the trustee with respect to matters involving any ownership or operation of the vessel that may adversely affect the interests of the United States.

Coastwise Endorsement – A Coastwise Endorsement entitles a vessel to engage in the coastwise trade of the United States, defined as “the transportation of merchandise by water, or by land and water, between points in the United States to which the coastwise laws apply, either directly or via a foreign port.” Coastwise trade is regulated by the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, commonly referred to as the Jones Act, which generally restricts U.S. domestic trade to U.S.-built, citizen-owned, citizen-operated, and U.S. flagged vessels.

To qualify for a Coastwise Endorsement, the vessel must be owned by an Eligible Owner subject to the following additional requirements for corporations. A corporation will qualify as a “coastwise” or “Jones Act” U.S. citizen only if at least seventy-five percent (75%) of the corporate ownership (shares, stock etc.) is owned by individual U.S. citizens. Moreover, the seventy-five percent (75%) interest must be, among other things, free from any trust or fiduciary obligation in favor of a person not a citizen of the United States,” and there must be no other means by which control of the voting power in such corporation may be exercised, directly or indirectly of more than twenty five percent (25%) of any interest in the corporation is given to or permitted to be exercised by a person not a citizen of the United States.

Fishery Endorsement – A Fishery Endorsement entitles a vessel to be employed in the processing, storing, transporting (except in foreign commerce), planting, cultivating, catching, taking, or harvesting fish, shellfish, marine animals, pearls, shells, or marine vegetation in the navigable waters of the United States or in the Exclusive Economic Zone, subject to Federal and State laws regulating such fisheries. A Fishery Endorsement also entitles a vessel to land its catch, wherever caught, in the United States.

To qualify for a Fishery Endorsement, the vessel must be owned by an Eligible Owner except that corporations must also qualify as a '"coastwise" or "Jones Act" U.S. citizen (See above - Coastwise Endorsement).

Bowaters Endorsement – A Bowaters Endorsement is principally for vessels being operated in the manufacturing and mineral industries.

To qualify for a Bowaters Endorsement, the vessel must meet the following criteria:

• The vessel must be owned by a Bowaters corporation;
• The vessel must have been built in the United States;
• The vessel must not be self-propelled or, if self-propelled, must be less than 500 gross tons.

A “Bowaters corporation” is a corporation that has filed a certificate under oath establishing that:
• The corporation is incorporated under the laws of the United States or a State;
• A majority of the officers and directors of the corporation are individuals who are citizens of the United States;
• At least ninety (90%) percent of the employees of the corporation are residents of the United States;
• The corporation is engaged primarily in a manufacturing or mineral industry in the United States;
• The total book value of the vessels owned by the corporation is not more than ten percent (10%) of the total book value of the assets of the corporation; and
• The corporation buys or produces in the United States at least seventy-five percent (75%) of the raw materials used or sold in its operations.

Recreational Endorsement - A Recreational Endorsement entitles a vessel to be operated for pleasure. A vessel for which a recreational endorsement is issued may proceed between a port of the United States and a port of a foreign country without entering or clearing with the United States Secretary of Homeland Security. To qualify for a Recreational Endorsement, the vessel must be owned by an Eligible Owner.

US Cruising Permit - The US requires foreign-flagged yachts sailing its coastal waters to re-clear customs at each port unless they have a US cruising permit. This program allows a yacht to spend a year in US waters without having to continuously do so. The permit is based on reciprocity, whether US yachts have the same privilege in the waters of the flag state. The following flag states qualify for this permit:
• Argentina
• Australia
• Austria
• Bahamas
• Belgium
• Bermuda
• Canada
• Denmark
• Finland
• France
• Germany
• Greece
• Honduras
• Ireland
• Italy
• Jamaica
• Marshall Islands
• Netherlands
• New Zealand
• Norway
• St. Kitts and Nevis
• St. Vincent and the Grenadines
• Sweden
• Switzerland
• Turkey
• United Kingdom and dependencies

About the Flag

Located in North America bordering both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the Gulf of Mexico between Canada and Mexico, the United States of America (the "United States") is an English speaking federal republic with a strong democratic tradition comprising fifty states and a federal district. The President is the Chief of State and Head of Government, and there is a bicameral Congress consisting of a House of Representatives and a Senate. The highest court in the federal judiciary system is the Supreme Court. The legal system is based on English common law as well as a written constitution. The United States is a member of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the Organization of American States, the United Nations, the International Maritime Organization and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The capital is Washington, D.C. New York City is the largest city by population.

The United States has a powerful, diverse and technologically advanced economy. The economy is driven by a free, albeit highly regulated, market with most decisions made by private individuals and business firms. The United States exports, inter alia, capital goods, automobiles, industrial supplies, raw materials, consumer goods and agricultural products. The principal trading partners with the United States are Europe, Canada, China, and Japan. The unit of currency is the United States dollar.

The laws pertaining to maritime vessels are administered by three different federal entities. The United States Coast Guard manages documentation matters and matters relating to marine safety including, but not limited to the recordation of registration, financial and lien documents. The United States Maritime Administration ("Marad") administers the Title XI financing guarantee and CCF tax deferral promotional programs, oversees the administration of the various cargo reservation statutes, and oversees transfers of United States vessels to foreign interests, and the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement enforces the import and cabotage laws of the United States including matters relating to the domestic waterborne trade.

With the exception of the offshore supply and support vessel fleet and the small passenger and towing fleets, as well as certain oil spill cleanup vessels, the number of vessels registered in the United States has been declining for over twenty years.

Yacht registration takes place at the state level. For more information, consult your state's Department of Motor Vehicles website.

This listing was prepared with the kind assistance of the attorneys and staff at Seward and Kissel | One Battery Park Plaza | New York, NY 10004 | Tel: 212-574-1200 | Fax: 212-480-8421 | sknyc@sewkis.com | www.sewkis.com

Company Formation

A corporation, limited liability company, limited partnership and general partnership, among other entity types, are each citizens for the purposes of obtaining United States documentation if they are organized under the laws of any individual state of the United States. In the case of an entity operating any vessel in the coastwise trade, the amount of interest required to be owned and controlled by citizens of the United States is 75%.
Entities are organized in any of the 50 States by such State's respective Secretary of State. Requirements vary from State to State. In general, the following procedures must be followed:
The Certificate of Incorporation, Certificate of Formation, Certificate of Limited Partnership or other similar organizing document (as applicable) must be filed and must specify:
• The name of the entity,
• The business purpose (if a corporation),
• The location of the corporate office (with the exception of general partnerships),
• The number of authorized shares (if a corporation),
• The name and address of the initial agent for service of process (this may be the Secretary of State), and
• The name and address of the incorporator or initial directors (if a corporation) or general partner (if a limited partnership).

With respect to corporations, some States require a statement of par value or a minimum capital to be paid in. The relevant document must be signed by each initial incorporator, member or partner (as applicable) and then filed with the relevant Secretary of State. States generally set a minimum number of directors, members or partners. Under most statutes, the principal officers or managers of the entity are appointed by the board of directors, members or partners.

Taxation

The issue of double taxation is of critical importance to the vessel owner. Prior to the United States Tax Reform Act of 1986, foreign vessel owners engaged in the foreign trade of the United States were not subject to United States tax if their vessels were registered in jurisdictions, such as Panama or Liberia, which granted United States vessel owners a reciprocal exemption from tax. The Tax Reform Act of 1986 restricted the exemption so that it would be granted only where the vessel owner is actually a resident in the jurisdiction which provides the reciprocal exemption. For example, in order for a Norwegian resident vessel owner of a Liberian registered vessel to qualify for an exemption, Norway must have an exemption in place for United States registered vessel owners.

Registration and Documentation

Documentation is required for all vessels engaging in any the foreign or coastwise trade of the United States. Documentation serves as evidence of vessel nationality and, with certain exceptions, permits vessels to be subject to preferred mortgages. Effectively, any commercial vessel of at least five net tons which engages in the foreign, fishing or coastwise trade, must be documented and have an applicable endorsement. Recreational vessels of at least five net tons may also be documented. Documentation of vessels in the United States is handled by the United States Coast Guard at the National Vessel Documentation Center in Falling Waters, West Virginia. Upon the filing of an original and properly executed application form, an official documentation number for a vessel is provided to the owners. Final documentation is completed when the following additional documents have been filed:

If the vessel is newly built:
• Application;
• Tonnage evidence (if the vessel is over 79 feet); and
• Build evidence to establish title (i.e. Builder’s Certificate).

If the vessel is not a newbuilding or has been previously documented:
• Application
• Copy of last registration
• Title evidence from last registration;
• Tonnage evidence (if foreign registration); and
• Evidence of deletion from foreign registry (if applicable).

If the vessel is applying for an endorsement allowing it to engage in the coastwise trade or the fisheries, the following additional documents are required:

If the vessel is newly built:
• Evidence of a complete chain of title if over 200 ITC tons, and
• Citizenship evidence for all owning entities in the chain of the title if over 200 ITC tons.

If the vessel is not a newbuilding:
• Tonnage evidence;
• Evidence that the vessel was built or significantly re-built in the United States; and
• Evidence of complete chain of title and citizenship evidence for all owning entities in the chain of title is over 200 ITC tons.

Permission from Marad must be obtained before a United States registered vessel may be transferred to a foreign interest. It is important to note that Marad has been significantly more flexible recently than in the past in connection with re-registration. Marad's current transfer foreign regulations feature a General Approval which, subject to certain specific exceptions, authorizes the transfer of virtually any interest in a non-coastwise and non-subsidized United States registered vessel to foreign interests, provided that the vessel remains on the United States registry. In almost all instances, approval of a transfer is subject to a clause requiring any future transfer (even of a foreign-to-foreign transfer) of that vessel be submitted to Marad for approval.

Bareboat Charter Registration

A foreign leasing company may own a vessel operating in the coastwise trade or otherwise as long as the vessel is under a demise charter of at least three years to United States citizens. The charterer must qualify as a coastwise citizen if the vessel is to engage in coastwise trade, and the owner must be a company (or an affiliate of a company) primarily engaged in the business of leasing or finance.

Further, ownership trusts with non-citizen beneficiaries in financing vessels involved in cross-border transactions may be used as long as the vessel is chartered to a United States citizen. For a trust to quality, each of the trustees must be a citizen, and not more than 25% of the aggregate power to control the actions of the trustee regarding the vessel or to remove the trustee without cause may be held by non-citizens.

Vessel and Yacht Eligibility & Survey Requirements

The United States Coast Guard is entrusted with the primary oversight of United States laws and regulations governing vessel surveys and inspections. Regulations concerning vessel survey and inspection requirements vary widely depending upon the ages, type, and size of the vessel. As a general overview, reference should be made to the United States Coast Guard's Marine Safety Manual and the pertinent Navigation and Vessel Inspection circulars.

The Marine Safety Manual is the basic policy manual for the Marine Safety and Environmental Protection Program of the Coast Guard and covers such pertinent provisions as "Documentation of Vessel Inspections," "Approval of Plans and Specifications," "Inspections relative to SOLAS Requirements," "Inspection Procedures Applicable to Vessel Types, Classes, and Categories," and "Marpol 73/78 Vessel Requirements."

Additional information, instructions, forms, fee schedules, etc. are available at the National Vessel Documentation Center website.

Crewing

At least 75% of the officers and crew aboard United States registered vessels must be United States citizens. Licenses and certificates are issued by the United States Coast Guard. Detailed information is available at the USCG National Maritime Center (NMC) website.

Mortgages

United States laws governing the recordation and enforcement of vessel mortgages are generally accepted throughout the global industry and legal community. To be eligible for recordation with the United States Coast Guard:
• A mortgage must identify the vessel;
• State the name and address of each party to the instrument;
• State the amount of the direct or contingent obligations that are or may become secured by the mortgage, excluding interest, expenses and fees;
• State the interest of the mortgagor in the vessel;
• State the interest mortgaged; and
• Be signed and acknowledged.

The United States Coast Guard Authorization Act of 1996 eliminates all restrictions on persons eligible to be mortgagees of United States vessels.

Fees

Vessel Documentation User Fees

NVDCINST 16713
National Vessel Documentation Center Table of Fees
Activity Fee
Applications:
COM Initial Certificate of Documentation (COD) (1 Year Only) $133.00
COM Exchange of Certificate of Documentation (COD) (1 Year Only) $84.00
COM Return of Vessel to Documentation (1 Year Only) $84.00
COM Replacement of Lost or Mutilated COD $50.00
COM Approval of Exchange of COD requiring Mortgagee consent $24.00
COM Trade Endorsements: (See Note Below)
COM Coastwise Endorsement $29.00
COM Coastwise Bowaters Endorsement $29.00
COM Fishery Endorsement $12.00
COM Registry Endorsement NONE
COM Recreational Endorsement NONE
COM Evidence of Deletion from Documentation $15.00
COM Renewal of Certificate of Documentation (COD) (1 Year Only) $26.00
COM Late Renewal (in addition to $26.00 fee) $5.00
NOTE: When multiple trade endorsements are requested on the same application, only the single
highest applicable fee will be charged, resulting in a maximum endorsement fee of $29.00
_____________________________________________________________________________________
REC Initial Certificate of Documentation (COD) (1 Year) $133.00
REC Exchange of Certificate of Documentation (COD) (1Year) $84.00
REC Return of Vessel to Documentation (1-Year) $84.00
REC Replacement of Lost or Mutilated COD $50.00
REC Approval of Exchange of COD requiring Mortgagee consent $24.00
REC Evidence of Deletion from Documentation $15.00
REC Renewal of Certificate of Documentation (1-Year) $26.00
*Two Year Expiration Additional Fee Required: $26.00
*Three Year Expiration Additional Fee Required: $52.00
*Four Year Expiration Additional Fee Required: $78.00
Waivers:
Original Build Evidence $15.00
Bill of Sale Eligible for Filing and Recording $15.00
Miscellaneous Applications:
Wrecked Vessel Determination $555.00
New Vessel Determination $166.00
Rebuild Determination - Preliminary or Final $450.00
Filing and Recording: NOTE: Following Fees are Charged Per Page
Bill of Sale and Instruments in Nature of Bill of Sale $8.00
Revised (12/2021) Visit our homepage at: http://www.uscg.mil/nvdc
Mortgages and Related Instruments $4.00
Notice of Claim of Lien and Related Instruments $8.00
Certificate of Compliance
Certificate of Compliance (46 CFR Part 68) $55.00
Miscellaneous:
Abstract of Title (CG-1332) $25.00
Certificate of Ownership (CG-1330) $125.00
Attachment for each vessel with same data $10.00
Certified Copy of Recorded Instrument $4.00
Certified Copy of Certificate of Documentation $4.00
Certificates of Documentation, Letters of Deletions, Certificates of Ownership and Recorded instruments e-mailed or faxed in combination with mailing require additional Certified Copy fees of $4.00/item.

Checks and money orders payable to U.S. Coast Guard, or credit card payments with accompanying CG-7042 Authorization for Credit Card Transactions are also accepted and must accompany application. Fees are non-refundable as per 46 CFR 67.500(e)

Contact

Registration
National Vessel Documentation Center
792 T J Jackson Drive
Falling Waters, WV 25419-9502, USA
Tel: [1] (800) 799 8362 or [1] (304) 271 2400
Fax: [1] (304) 271 2405
Credit Card: [1] (304) 271-2415
Status Questions: [1] (304) 271-2410

Web: https://www.uscg.mil/

Company Formation: Contact the Secretary of State located in the capital city of each individual state.

Taxation Information
Internal Revenue Service
1111 Constitution Avenue
Washington, DC 20224, USA
Tel: [1] (800) 829 1040
[1] (800) 829 3676 (for forms and publications)
[1] (304) 271 2405

Website: www.irs.gov

Shipowner's Associations
Chamber of Shipping of America
1730 Rhode Island Ave NW, Suite 702
Washington, DC 20036-4517, USA
Tel: [1] (202) 775 4399
Fax: [1] (202) 659 3795

Website: www.knowships.org

American Waterways Operators
801 North Quincy Street, Suite 200
Arlington, Virginia 22203, USA
Tel: [1] (703) 841 9300
Fax: [1] (703) 841 0389

Website: http://www.americanwaterways.com/

Stockholm Agreement 96
IMO Convention 48
* IMO amendments 91 
* IMO amendments 93
SOLAS Convention 74
SOLAS Protocol 78
SOLAS Protocol 88
LOAD LINES Convention 66
LOAD LINES Protocol 88
TONNAGE Convention 69
COLREG  Convention 72
CSC Convention 72
CSC amendments 93
SFV Protocol 93
STCW  Convention 78
STCW-F Convention 95
SAR  Convention 79
STP Agreement 71
STP Protocol 73
IMSO Convention 76
INMARSAT OA 76
INMARSAT amendments 94
INMARSAT amendments 98
IMSO amendments 2006
IMSO amendments 2008
FACILITATION Convention 65
MARPOL 73/78 (Annex I/II)
MARPOL 73/78 (Annex IV)
MARPOL 73/78 (Annex V)
MARPOL Protocol 97 (Annex VI)
London Convention 72
London Convention Protocol 96
INTERVENTION Convention 69
INTERVENTION Protocol 73
CLC Convention 69
CLC Protocol 76
CLC Protocol 92
FUND Convention 71
FUND Protocol 92
FUND Protocol 2003
NUCLEAR Convention 71
MARPOL 73/78 (Annex III)
PAL Protocol 76
PAL Protocol 90
PAL Protocol 02
LLMC Convention 76
LLMC Protocol 96
SUA Convention 2005
SUA Protocol 2005
SALVAGE Convention 89
OPRC  Convention 90
HNS Convention 96
OPRC/HNS 2000
BUNKERS CONVENTION 01
ANTI FOULING 01
BALLASTWATER 2004
NAIROBI WRC 2007
HONG KONG CONVENTION
HNS PROT 2010
Cape Town Agreement 2012
SUA Convention 88
SUA Protocol 88

IMO Conventions

Status of Conventions United States

IMO Convention 48 x
SOLAS Convention 74 x
SOLAS Protocol 78 x
SOLAS Protocol 88 x
SOLAS Agreement 96
LOAD LINES Convention 66 x
LOAD LINES Protocol 88 x
TONNAGE Convention 69 x
COLREG Convention 72 x
CSC Convention 72 x
CSC amendments 93
SFV Protocol 93
Cape Town Agreement 2012
STCW Convention 78 x
STCW-F Convention 95
SAR Convention 79 x
STP Agreement 71
Space STP Protocol 73
IMSO Convention 76 x
INMARSAT OA 76 x
IMSO amendments 2006
IMSO amendments 2008
FACILITATION Convention 65 x
MARPOL 73/78 (Annex I/II) x
MARPOL 73/78 (Annex III) x
MARPOL 73/78 (Annex IV)
MARPOL 73/78 (Annex V) x
MARPOL Protocol 97 (Annex VI) x
London Convention 72 x
London Convention Protocol 96
INTERVENTION Convention 69 x
INTERVENTION Protocol 73 x
CLC Convention 69
CLC Protocol 76
CLC Protocol 92
FUND Protocol 76
FUND Protocol 92
FUND Protocol 2003
NUCLEAR Convention 71
PAL Convention 74
PAL Protocol 76
PAL Protocol 90
PAL Protocol 02
LLMC Convention 76
LLMC Protocol 96
SUA Convention 88 x
SUA Protocol 88 x
SUA Convention 2005 x
SUA Protocol 2005 x
SALVAGE Convention 89 x
OPRC Convention 90 x
HNS Convention 96
HNS PROT 2010
OPRC/HNS 2000
BUNKERS CONVENTION 01
ANTI FOULING 2001 x
BALLASTWATER 2004
NAIROBI WRC 2007
HONG KONG CONVENTION

x= ratification
d=denunciation

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