How to go about identifying a boat owner with step by step instuctions.
BoatWiki - Guidelines.
Finding a boat owner has become ever more difficult given that many jurisdictions are now withholding such data from the general public. This is due to newfound issues about privacy concerns. Although ownership data is readily available on USCG documented vessels, the same can not be said for boats registered on the state level. Access to boat registration records in most state jurisdictions is now restricted to certain privileged parties as defined by law. These may include the owner and those with a legitimate interest in the boat. The following steps will identify the best procedures for determining the owner of a particular boat. Please note that reference links for these guidelines can be found in the WikiTags for this page.
Step 1 - Gather information about the boat.
In order to begin an ownership search, it will be necessary to gather as much information about the boat as possible. Most importantly, this should include the hull identification number along with a state registration number and USCG official documentation number as applicable. It would also be helpful to note any known data such as a vessel name, hailing port, manufacturer, year built, type of vessel, and its usage.
Step 2 - Determine how the boat is registered.
The nature of a boat's registration status can usually be determined trough a visual observation. State registered boats that are non-documented, must display registration numbers on each side of the bow. The first two letters will indicate the state in which such records can be found. Sticker tabs indicating the expiration date should also be present. If the boat is longer than 25' with a vessel name and hailing port shown on the stern, this may suggest that it is USCG documented. Documented vessels that are also state registered, will display the state issued sticker tabs. However, they are not allowed to show the bow numbers. Foreign registered boats will typically show markings, numberings, sticker tabs, or flags which do not conform with those registered in the United States.
Step 3 - Locate USCG vessel documentation records.
It is best to begin with a vessel documentation lookup if the boat is large enough to have ever been documented ( over approximately 25' in length). This is because resources for searching USCG records are really available online for the general public. These can be found under our Database and Resources categories. Such records are typically accessed by the official documentation number, hull number, or vessel name as shown on the stern. These preliminary searches will not however, show owner names and addresses. In order to obtain such data it will be necessary to order an Abstract of Title and or a copy of the Certificate of Documentation These are openly available for a fee from the National Vessel Documentation Center. Ordering alternatives can be found in our Guidelines and Forms categories.
Step 4 - Locate state boat registration records.
Owner lookups for state registered boats in an entirely different story. These are difficult because of strict consumer privacy laws in most jurisdictions. In any event, most state records must typically be accessed by the state registration number or hull identification number. Only in rare instances will will they facilitate a search by the owner's name, vessel name, or sticker tabs. The Resources category of BoatWiki has an excellent resource for finding such information under the Boat Registration Summaries.
Step 5 - Locate foreign registration records.
Foreign registration or registry records are the most difficult to search. This mainly due to time, language, and currency constraints. The Foreign Registration Summaries found in the Resources category of BoatWiki will provide a good starting point.
Step 6 - Check other sources.
The Database section of BoatWiki will provide supplemental lookup sources which may offer clues as to where and how a boat may be registered. You can also contact a local or regional law enforcement agency to see if the boat shows up in their national crime database.
Locating a boat owner may be next to impossible under some circumstances. This is especially true if you do not have a legitimate purpose for contacting such party. Consumer privacy laws have been enacted not only because of unwanted solicitations, but for the safety of those concerned. If all else fails, the services of a professional vessel documentation or boat registration company may be worth looking into. The assistance of a professional investigator may also be another option.
Credits and References
12/16/2021 - Initiated by Team BoatWiki. 3/26/2022 - Revised by Team BoatWiki.