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Old 08-21-2015, 12:07 PM   #1
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Documentation Dysfunction Serious Issue for Buyers and Sellers

It is illegal to operate a U.S. Documented vessel without a current and valid Certificate of Documentation on board. Fines for violation are significant, up to $10,000 per day.

When a vessel is sold, the certificate of documentation becomes invalid immediately upon signing the bill of sale. It is then illegal to operate the vessel until the National Vessel Documentation Center issues a new document and it is physically aboard the vessel. This fact, verified by email from a lawyer at the National Vessel Documentation Center (NVDC), is being widely ignored by both the boating public and, evidently, US Coast Guard boarding officers. Neither I nor anyone I know have heard of someone being fined for following the advice our broker gave us which is to just carry a copy of the bill of sale and the documentation application.

I was assured by both the NVDC lawyer and the chief enforcement officer for the district where our new boat is located that this is indeed a violation and, at the discretion of the boarding officer, a person operating as our broker advised could face the very stiff fines. I asked the USCG district enforcement officer how I could legally move our new boat which was leaking and needed to be hauled at a shipyard. He admitted that he didn't have an answer other than to wait for the new certificate to arrive. He said that, if it was really necessary, to just do as the broker suggested, break the law, and “probably” we wouldn't have a problem. Well, as both a former pilot and as one who spent much of his career consulting to help vessel operators operate legally, “probably” just doesn't cut it with me. Besides, I am now on record as having personally been told that operation of our boat is illegal so I can't use the “Huh?” defense if boarded. Our vessel is currently hauled out after breaking the law in a quick 200 yard dash across the channel from its slip to a shipyard.

Meanwhile, the NVDC is currently processing applications from April. They have resurrected the concept of Temporary Certificates of Documentation which can be issued by word processor and are promising a three week turn around for those. Three weeks can still be a long time for a boat to be legally unable to operate after a sale.

I submitted our application on August 4 by email to the link provided on the NVDC web site. About a week later, I had not received the promised automated response so I inquired by email and was told they had not received anything from me. I send a second copy to their webmaster for him to route to the proper person. This was on August 12 th. I inquired again today, August 20 th, and was told that the webmaster never saw my second email (I checked and it went EXACTLY to the address he replied from). No one has any idea where my application is.

I just sent a third copy to the NVDC to a new email address the webmaster gave me. I sent the one on August 4 by clicking the proper link on the NVDC web site. It turns out that they eliminated one letter from the email address but never changed the website! The system didn't send out any bounce back notice, they just stopped looking at the old email address, even when trying to find applications that had gone missing.

So, we now start out at the back of the line waiting for a temporary certificate, unable to freely use the boat we paid for, and facing another month of storage fees. I understand from my contacts that NVDC personnel are surrounded by boxes of applications that haven't even been opened yet. The system has completely broken down and the Coast Guard is evidently unwilling to issue the simple documents I have seen used many times over my career which are intended to deal with issues like this. A memo called a “NVIC” (Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular) could advise boarding officers how their discretion should be exercised and formalize the ad hoc procedure that nearly everyone who buys a documented vessel is following because there is simply no way for the boat market to function if every vessel sold is immediately stuck at it dock for weeks and months while the NVDC gets around to the paperwork.

I am posting this here and on Sailboatowners.com. Feel free to repost to other forums.
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Old 08-21-2015, 12:25 PM   #2
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Go use your boat, and enjoy it. Unless you are leaving US waters you are not going to have a problem.

The USCG knows they are behind. Have your bill of sale, and every form you sent the documentation folks.

Nothing you can do about it, and getting mad at the system will only raise your blood pressure.
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Old 08-21-2015, 12:37 PM   #3
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There are 47 gazzilion laws on the books. If you simply take a breath, you are probably breaking a few of them.

Second the above. Carry with you copies of your transfer paperwork and you will be fine. Boarding officers are not going to give you any trouble.
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Old 08-21-2015, 12:39 PM   #4
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Go use your boat, and enjoy it.
Well, yes. I may view this issue differently as a result of a big part of my career being spent consulting to operators of USCG inspected vessels and also as a pilot observing the way FAA inspectors work.

It only takes one young turk trying to make a name for himself or one boarding officer having a bad day to ruin your whole day. I've seen over and over that, when a line officer makes a dumb discretion call, the SOP of both the Coast Guard and the FAA is to back him up all the way. I've fought these things all the way up to headquarters on behalf of clients.

Sure, the "Coast Guard" knows but it's only the opinion of the guy who boards your boat that counts.
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Old 08-21-2015, 12:40 PM   #5
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Agreed..for simple use...they would be crazy to push action against an individual that legally purchased a legally and clear documented vessel. It would show a flawed system.

Now other actions such as government leins for environmental issues, taxes, etc are a different story.

I have never heard of a new boat owner having an issue moving their boat prior to new documentation showing up.....in fact I am not sure if I ever heard of someone waiting for it.
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Old 08-21-2015, 12:43 PM   #6
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Well, yes. I may view this issue differently as a result of a big part of my career being spent consulting to operators of USCG inspected vessels and also as a pilot observing the way FAA inspectors work.

It only takes one young turk trying to make a name for himself or one boarding officer having a bad day to ruin your whole day. I've seen over and over that, when a line officer makes a dumb discretion call, the SOP of both the Coast Guard and the FAA is to back him up all the way. I've fought these things all the way up to headquarters on behalf of clients.

Sure, the "Coast Guard" knows but it's only the opinion of the guy who boards your boat that counts.
While a boarding officer gets a lot of latitude...a good number of seniors would oversight the "seizure" of a vessel for a documentation issue that is pretty easy to verify was legal. Now they may tie you up for 24 hours till some basics are resolved...but removing you from your vessel would as I earlier posted...would be pretty drastic.
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Old 08-21-2015, 12:44 PM   #7
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If you simply take a breath, you are probably breaking a few (laws).
There is actually a book about that titiled IIFC "Three Felonies as Day", the number of times the average citizen does something in our overly legalistic society that they could be jailed for.

As a (former) pilot and now operator of a vessel using public waterways, being legal is part of the game for me. It really irritates me that the USCG can't find a way for me to do that.
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Old 08-21-2015, 12:48 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by Roger Long View Post
It is illegal to operate a U.S. Documented vessel without a current and valid Certificate of Documentation on board. Fines for violation are significant, up to $10,000 per day.

When a vessel is sold, the certificate of documentation becomes invalid immediately upon signing the bill of sale. It is then illegal to operate the vessel until the National Vessel Documentation Center issues a new document and it is physically aboard the vessel.
Gee, our boat was documented at one time but from what I can tell, it has been undocumented for 20 years and several owners nor did the seller ever represent it had been documented at one time. So you are saying the law says we could be fined for operating our boat?
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Old 08-21-2015, 12:57 PM   #9
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If you are in NY, you need to get your boat registered with the DMV and get the hull stickers. If you get stopped, I would think that your NYS registration would be sufficient to make any LEO or Coastie happy.
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Old 08-21-2015, 01:07 PM   #10
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Roger:


This situation has been going on for years, maybe decades and isn't going to change. If you are not willing to take the very minor risk of operating the boat with copies of the old document, bill of sale, application for a new document, etc in your possession, you can always state register and be perfectly legal, all in the same day.


When I was a broker in Annapolis, we would routinely state register any boat that we sold while waiting for the federal document. Once you got the federal document you notified the state which then gave you a different sticker for your boat which all it did was prove you paid their sales tax. Since sales tax was due whether it was state registered or federally documented the only extra cost was for the state registrations which wasn't a big deal, maybe $50. Other states may charge more.


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Old 08-21-2015, 01:10 PM   #11
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Documentation Dysfunction Serious Issue for Buyers and Sellers

Quote:
Originally Posted by ronlord View Post
If you are in NY, you need to get your boat registered with the DMV and get the hull stickers. If you get stopped, I would think that your NYS registration would be sufficient to make any LEO or Coastie happy.
Somewhat similar in WA State - all of the LE folks on the water scan for current stickers. NOT having them is asking for trouble.

So documented boats don't have 3" reg numbers on exterior - do you? If you do then your are not claiming to be a documented vessel (notwithstanding the OP's post). If you do not have those reg numbers then you are claiming what exactly?

Edit: The OP is no longer a documented vessel. Put state registration numbers on it and operate like every other undocumented vessel until it becomes documented again.
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Old 08-21-2015, 01:39 PM   #12
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As far as the registration goes, it depends on the state as far as documented vessels. My vessel is documented, but I still had to register in Texas. Being documented, I don't have to stick the TX registration numbers on the hull, but I DO have to show the current year registration sticker. I'm sure registering in NY would be equally legal and allow you to operate your boat in any US waters without fear of repercussions.
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Old 08-21-2015, 01:49 PM   #13
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As far as the registration goes, it depends on the state as far as documented vessels. My vessel is documented, but I still had to register in Texas. Being documented, I don't have to stick the TX registration numbers on the hull, but I DO have to show the current year registration sticker. I'm sure registering in NY would be equally legal and allow you to operate your boat in any US waters without fear of repercussions.
NY has the same requirements. Stickers with no numbers on the hull.
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Old 08-21-2015, 02:52 PM   #14
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So you are saying the law says we could be fined for operating our boat?
No, documentation has to be renewed every year. Technically, someone probably should have filed the paperwork at sometime to undocument the boat but, after 20 years I doubt you have anything to worry about.
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Old 08-21-2015, 03:07 PM   #15
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I doubt you have anything to worry about motoring out of a marina 10 minutes after you buy a boat if all is on the the up and up....like most people are telling you and not the paper pushers in the NVDC.


Not that makes anyone lesser...the lady I dealt with there about the USCG screwup on my current boat was really cool...it was the NJ DMV that wouldn't play ball this go around....OH well...they lost their sales tax for a year.


I had the head of it almost screaming at me when I tried to describe the error in HIN numbers on my last boat. I was an active duty Commander in the USCG and this guy was telling me because of an error on the USCGs part, I couldn't use my boat either. It brought a good round of laughs with the operational types.


The guys on the water are usually pretty cool is you have some paperwork and a logical explaination...they don't have the CFRs memorized and really don't want to get into a paperwork tangle.
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Old 08-21-2015, 03:10 PM   #16
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I agree with Kevin. Have the broker prepare a "Traveling Letter" which states you are the owner, have applied for documentation through the USCG. When I had my boat inspected by the USCG for safety, they accepted the bill of sale and the traveling letter as proof of ownership. No worries buddy! Go enjoy your boat....
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Old 08-21-2015, 05:00 PM   #17
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I've had my own horror story with the NVDC. I tried to make a change to my documentation midyear, and faxed them all the paperwork last February. Last August, while we were out at the islands (way out of cell range) I got a nasty voicemail from the NVDC telling me that my application was incomplete, and I had 72 hours to remedy it or I would forfeit my money and my place in line. Well, a week later when we got back I called them.

It turns out the fax machine had jammed during the call and one of the pages was incomplete. Needless to say, I was speechless. I work for local government, so I've got no illusions as to their efficiency, but this was a new low. At this point I should mention that I've worked on the end of a phone line before, so I prefer not to yell or mistreat someone who's personally not at fault just to make myself feel better. But the treatment I got from the lady at the CG was outrageous. I finally broke my own rule, and in a calm determined voice told her to shred my application and keep my money, I was going to refile with a documentation company, and to consider my fee a cheap learning experience in governmental incompetence. I expressed my gratitude that the operational folks at the CG didn't operate in a similar fashion, as I'd hate to wait four months after calling for help to hear they were busy and not coming to get me. That it was a joke to wait four months to tell me I had 72 hours to fix a problem on their end. And after all that, I didn't even feel better.

So I paid a documentation company to resubmit, but with an additional change. Low and behold, a few weeks later I got a certificate of documentation in the mail. Without the additional change. My best guess is that the lady at NVDC realized the ridiculousness of the whole thing and completed my "incomplete" application.

At any rate, the folks with the boots on the ground (or is it deck in this case) are well aware of the shortcomings of those in the rear echelon. I can't imagine that you would have any issue unless you force their hand by being a knucklehead during the inspection.
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Old 08-21-2015, 05:09 PM   #18
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You ARE talking about a DC Governmental entity!

Everything you stated is correct. However there is a work around. Get the state documentation. Register your boat with NY (or wherever home state is) and then your legal. Then let the state reg lapse once the COD comes in the mail.

I didn't state register my boat. I kept the original documentation aboard and (if stopped) was going to plead that I was the owners son operating the vessel. Doh. Legal? No. But, unless I peeved off a boarding officer they don't look that hard at the details. They just want 'some' info to fill up their boarding report, and most importantly want to ascertain sobriety, flares, PFDs, Overboard valve and fire extinguishers. Then there gone to the next hapless victim. I think the key to the issue is to not tick off the boarding officer. When you hear someone getting mouthy, that's when they get more inquisitive.
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Old 08-21-2015, 05:11 PM   #19
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I will have to say I have always been treated with respect when I have called the documentation center. Even when the company I hired screwed up my documentation application, they were always helpful and courteous toward me.
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Old 08-21-2015, 05:16 PM   #20
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As others have said, register the boat and put the state numbers on until you get the new documentation certificate. Not a big deal.
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