Every year vessel owners must renew documentation with the US Coast Guard as to the boat’s name, ownership, tonnage, home port and other basic criteria. It costs $26 – unless  you get scammed by a private provider that charges three times as much. Fishing groups are warning that is the case with an online company called US Vessel Documentation.

 “You know, it’s serious business. If you don’t file your Coast Guard papers, they can end your voyage right there.”

Fisherman Norm Hughes of Haines received a letter saying he needed to renew his documentation at a website called uscgdocumentation.us.and paid $150 for a two year renewal.

Then he learned it was a legal scam.  US Vessel Documentation is sending misleading  letters to boat owners across the country, says Steve Ramp with the Coast Guard   in Sitka.

“This company is making themselves look very closely to be an official letter from the Coast Guard when they’re not.   They’re not doing anything illegal.   They’re offering a service to the owners of documented vessels and they are performing that service.”

US Vessel Documentation is not trying to be the Coast Guard, said spokesman  Zachary Johnson, calling any mix ups ‘regrettable.”

“We don’t have the same logos or anything.  We have a completely unique and trademarked logo. We aren’t on a government URL or anything like that.”

Johnson says a disclaimer in small print at the bottom of the company website states that it is a private service, and it also is specified in the terms customers agree to when renewing their registration.

He would not say why the company charges three times as much as the Coast Guard or reveal the number of complaints they’ve received.

They extend beyond commercial fishermen and the Coast Guard.

Charles Fort  is director of consumer protection at the Boat Owners Association of the United States

 “We are actively trying to get the company to change their policies to make it more transparent. “These third party companies are permitted to do this obviously. The issue we have is they tend to look like they are US Coast Guard official website and letters.”

As for Haines fisherman Norm Hughes, he sent a message to US Vessel Documentation demanding his money back.

“I sent them a nasty-gram.

Calling it too important to trust to a third party, Hughes  renewed his vessel documents on the real US Coast Guard website.

Thanks to the assist from KHNS in Haines, AK.