Documentation is the federal registration of a boat with the US Coast Guard. US Coast Guard vessel documentation is recognized internationally as a certificate of ownership and nationality. Therefore, documented vessels are protected as Vessels of The United States.
To be federally documented, the owners of the vessel must be citizens of the United States. Usually, any boat over 26 feet in length qualifies for documentation. A documented vessel is identified by an 'Official Number' which is carved or bonded to the hull of the vessel. This permanent numbering system acts as a theft deterrent. If stolen, a documented vessel falls under federal jurisdiction for recovery and prosecution, rather than state or local.
A complete vessel file, including the chain of ownership and all recorded liens and mortgages, is maintained at the USCG National Vessel Documentation Center. Also, documented vessels do not have to clear Customs when returning to or leaving the United States. Instead, a Report of Departure or Arrival is made to the Customs office, and a permit is signed by the master.