IF YOU’RE PLANNING to go foreign from America, most countries you sail to will require you to have a passport. Your boat needs one, too, and the best kind is a documentation certificate from the U.S. Coast Guard.
A U.S.-documented boat has privileges. Under international law, she is a piece of the United States, and therefore not to be trifled with. Documentation affords her the protection of U.S. consular officials anywhere in the world. She also earns the right to fly the special Yacht Ensign in home waters (but, incidentally, not in foreign waters, where Old Glory must be flown).
Federal documentation legally establishes both her ownership and her nationality beyond a doubt. It’s true that plenty of U.S. vessels with nothing more than state registration have sailed around the world, but the recognized and accepted standard (when a boat is big enough) is U.S. Coast Guard documentation. State registration is not legal proof of nationality even though it’s accepted for convenience in America’s neighboring countries.
The minimum volume for documentation is 5 tons net, and for practical purposes in this case the Coast Guard measures net tons as 9/10 of gross tons. That translates to a heavy-displacement vessel of about 25 feet, or a moderate-displacement craft of about 30 feet in length. A Cape Dory 25-footer I once owned just made it for documentation purposes.
If you’re the sort of person who worries about these things, a documented vessel is safer to buy because her certificate must reflect all liens, mortgages, and liabilities against her. And because a vessel’s debts follow her around the world, not the owner, it’s possible for an unscrupulous seller to saddle you with large unseen and unpaid debts if the boat is not documented. Caveat sailor.
The sea finds out everything you did wrong.— Francis Stokes
TailpieceAn attractive woman playing bridge with three men felt a foot run up and down her calf.
“If that’s my husband,” she said calmly, “I bid three no trumps. If it’s anyone else, I bid you watch out for my husband.”
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)