Boat Buyer's Guide:
You've found the boat of your dreams, the price is right and you've paid the seller, so the boat is yours free and clear — or is it? Well, it isn't until the seller signs over the title or provides other legal proof of ownership. In states that don't require titling, ask to see the seller's bill of sale from his seller. Other documents that help confirm ownership are insurance policies and boat registration cards. Crosscheck the boat's Hull Identification Number (HIN) against the numbers listed on the seller's records to make sure it's the same boat.
Search the boat's title and registration with the state in which the boat is registered. If the boat is documented, call the U.S. Coast Guard's documentation division, 800-799-8362, to see if any liens have been recorded.
Vessel documentation is a national form of registration. To be documented, a boat must measure at least five net tons — most boats over 27 feet long will meet this criteria — and must be owned by a U.S. citizen. If the boat you want is documented, ask the seller to complete a U.S. Coast Guard Bill of Sale (CG- 1340), a copy of which must be submitted with an application for Documentation (CG-1258). Information about documentation is available at the Coast Guard's web site, www.uscgboating.org, or by calling 800-799-8362.
A nationwide Vessel Identification System (VIS) is in the works, but at present there is no national clearinghouse for state title and boat registration information. This makes it difficult to track boats that cross state lines when owners move or when thieves "launder" stolen boats from another state.