Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatU.S.) is advising boaters with vessels that have a U.S. Coast Guard Certificate of Documentation to be wary of any letter arriving by U.S. mail that offers renewal.
While the Coast Guard does send official annual renewal notices by U.S. mail, BoatU.S. reports that members have been receiving notices that are not from the Coast Guard but from third-party companies whose names or return addresses may appear similar to that of the official U.S. Coast Guard National Vessel Documentation Center (NVDC).
These letters direct the recipients to websites that mimic the actual Coast Guard NVDC, but with a significant increase in the annual fee to renew Coast Guard documentation.
The USCG is aware of the issue and in 2017 issued a bulletin warning boat owners that the third-party companies have no affiliation with the Coast Guard and are not endorsed by the federal agency.
While third-party companies may legitimately provide services to assist with vessel documentation renewals, the Coast Guard’s own renewal process is simple for most vessels and the price ranges from $26 for one year up to $130 for a 5-year expiration, which is often much lower than what third-party services may charge.
To renew with the USCG, go to the Coast Guard National Documentation Center website at https://www.uscg.mil/nvdc, click on “instructions and forms,” and then click on “Certificate of Documentation Application for Renewal.”
To be documented, a vessel must measure at least five net tons and, with the exception of certain oil-spill response vessels, must be owned by a U.S. citizen. Boats about 27 feet in length or longer generally meet the weight requirement.
Some boat owners choose to federally document vessels with the U.S. Coast Guard because a lender may require it, or because the boat may travel beyond U.S. waters. A Certificate of Documentation is internationally recognized and makes it easier for American vessels to enter and leave foreign ports.
If a boater received mail that they believe is misleading or deceptive, they can contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 877-876-2455 or through https://postalinspectors.uspis.gov.