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BoatWiki - Definitions


A vessel abstract of title represents all recordings attained during periods when a vessel is actively Coast Guard documented. Such entries are listed in chronological order and may include ownership transfers, mortgages, claims of lien, and related supplements. Abstract printouts are readily available from the National Vessel documentation Center upon payment of the respective fees.


Vessel title abstracts are similar to those found in real-estate transactions. In the marine industry however, they are only available for vessels that have been Coast Guard documented. Although there is no such equivalent for state registered boats, most jurisdictions can produce printouts of current and prior registration records. Foreign countries may provide abstracts for nationally flagged vessels, but these are commonly referred to as "Transcripts of Registry."


An index for qualified recordings is initiated by the Coast Guard's National Vessel Documentation Center upon documenting a vessel for the first time. This is maintained indefinitely, even  though a vessel may have dropped out of documentation. Older and obsolete records remain available from the government's archives by special request.


Copies of vessel abstracts can be obtained by submitting a request to the National Vessel Documentation Center along with the appropriate fees. Such requests may be transmitted by email, facsimile, and regular mail. They may also be ordered online by visiting the documentation center's website. The documentation center is very responsive when it comes to providing abstracts.


The primary reason for obtaining an abstract is to determine the last owner of record and to identify any outstanding liens or encumbrances. There is also great value in knowing the historical aspect of ownership when applicable. Abstracts for newer vessels with only a few entries are fairly easy to follow and understand. Older vessels, especially those with multiple recordings, are a different matter. This is because many entries are inter-connected and the type of such recordings may be coded. The WikiTags for this page will provide a link for a list of such acronyms and further information about abstracts.


An abstract of title is a must-have requisite for any transaction involving a currently or previously documented vessel. If interpretation is a matter of concern, there are a couple of options other than doing it yourself. The documentation center can also compile a "Certificate of Ownership" that provides a condensed version of an abstract showing only the last owner of record and any outstanding encumbrances. Another option would be to seek the assistance of a vessel documentation professional. These will however, require additional fees and may invoke some minor delays.

Credits and References

12/16/2021 - Page initiated by Team BoatWiki.
8/10/2022 - Page revised.

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