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Vessel documentation fraud lurks online, says Coast Guard

Staff Writer |
A new scam is targeting boat owners looking to save a little time online, but it’s costing them hundreds of dollars: Websites offering documentation renewal services for a fee.

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These websites lure boaters with the appearance and convenience of an official government website, but, just because a site looks like the Coast Guard and works like the Coast Guard, that does not mean it’s the Coast Guard.

Boaters using these websites can end up spending three times the standard fee, and Coast Guard boarding officers will not accept their vessel’s documentation as valid.

Why? The U.S. Coast Guard’s National Vessel Documentation Center, located in Falling Waters, West Virginia, is the only authorized entity to issue Certificates of Documentation required for vessels engaged in commercial trade and optional for vessels weighing five or more net tons engaged in recreational use and activities.

The NVDC is aware there are commercial entities that offer to manage the certification and renewal process on behalf of vessel owners for a fee. The Coast Guard does not endorse any of these companies, and the companies do not operate on behalf of the Coast Guard in any way.

The services they provide are legal, but the certificates issued are not deemed in compliance.

Any fees charged beyond the $26 renewal fee or other agreements offered by such companies are in no way associated with the NVDC certification process.

In addition, these companies are not authorized to issue any form of documentation, including travel letters and/or permits that authorize operation of any vessel.

“These are legitimate companies similar to the DMV [Department of Motor Vehicles] that have satellite offices open on the weekends and after hours. They’ll give you your tags, but it’s going to cost you twice as much because you’re paying for their service,” said Russell Hazlett, commercial fishing vessel examiner for Coast Guard Sector Anchorage.

“These companies are not issuing the certificate, but rather, they are the middleman who charges a fee for processing the paperwork on your behalf.”

According to Hazlett, many fishermen in Alaska sign up with a company to handle their annual documentation and end up paying hundreds of dollars. They often realize too late they are not dealing directly with the Coast Guard.


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