Commercial boats are not recreational boats and may not be sold for recreational use!

That may sound rather obvious, but apparently it is not because many commercial boats have been sold to recreational boaters, mainly because the sellers advertise them as cheaper than recreational boats.  Commercial boats are not required to meet the same safety standards as recreational boats, and so they typically do not meet the flotation requirements, capacity and labeling requirements.  Selling them for recreational use is prohibited.  The following is a quote from the US Coast Guard Boating Safety Circular #88 Fall 2014. See Boating Safety Circulars

Verification of Hull Identification Numbers

Since the changes to 33 Code of Federal Regulations §174.16 were published [USCG]2003-14963, 77 FR 18701, Mar. 28, 2012] we have received numerous calls regarding hull identification numbers that are non-compliant for a vast array of reasons. By-and-large, the majority of issues are minor and require simple adjustments by the manufacturer to a boat’s manufacturer statement of origin (MSO) as well as their future MSO’s. Other cases involve non-recreational boats that should not have a HIN applied to the boat in accordance with 33 CFR §181 Subpart C. Most commonly, these are boats from manufacturers building boats that are non-compliant with our minimum safety standards found in 33 CFR Part 183. This presents quite a problem in that these boats mostly end up in recreational service; being sold to knowing or unknowing persons seeking a “cheaper” boat.

 The Boating Safety Product Assurance Branch has been fighting an up-hill battle with manufacturers that build boats that are most often identified as “commercial only” boats but are selling them in the recreational boat market. In truth, there is very limited “commercial” application for these boats. True “commercial only” boats can only be used as bridge tenders or for working around construction barges, dry-docks, and mobile off-shore drilling platforms. Uninspected passenger vessels are required to meet the recreational boat regulations and commercial fishing vessels have their own requirements regarding minimum safety standards currently being developed by the Coast Guard. If a manufacturer is found to be building only “commercial” boats but has a recreational boat manufacturer identification code (MIC) action is taken to revoke the recreational boat MIC by providing written notification of the action to the manufacturer and the MIC database is amended to reflect this action.

This all seems a little complicated; however, it’s important to know where this all comes from. 46 USC §4307 Prohibited Acts states “(a)(2)...A person may not – affix, attach, or display a seal, document, label, plate, insignia, or other device indicating or suggesting compliance with standards of the United States Government on, in, or in connection with a recreational vessel or item of associated equipment that is false or misleading; or....”

What the above means is this – if a manufacturer affixed a HIN in accordance with 33CFR Part 181, the manufacturer is certifying that the boat is a recreational boat and is compliant with the requirements of 33 CFR Part 183. Non-recreational/commercial boats manufactured in, or imported to, the United States must not have a 12-character hull identification number affixed to the upper starboard transom of the boat or inscribed on the boat’s MSO. 

The most recent issues with HINs that the States have found have been formatting involving the placement or spacing of characters, correct characters (incorrect MICs being used), or finding that a MIC is being used from a manufacturer that does not exist. These cases involve some research to resolve along with a letter to memorialize the results but others are a little more complex. The more troublesome cases involve a consumer that purchases that “good deal” boat for an unbelievable price and gets an MSO that lists the boat as “commercial only.” The State cannot register a commercial only boat using a HIN that should only be affixed to a recreational boat that complies with the recreational boat regulations. In cases such as these, the boat cannot usually be registered for recreational purposes and the manufacturer gets a letter from the Coast Guard advising of the “prohibited act” and the attendant civil penalties for continued infractions.

The Product Assurance Branch is formulating policies and regulatory projects to better deal with these types of issues. Our corps of Compliance Inspectors will be inspecting boats at retailers and boat shows to ensure compliance and our Coast Guard compliance team will begin issuing Notices of Violation (NOV) to those that fail to comply. The Coast Guard needs the States to help us ensure compliance as well. Refer to page 2 to read the entire text of 46 USC 4307 – Prohibited.

So the message is simple. If you manufacture and label boats as "For Commercial Use Only" you may not sell them to persons for recreational use. This can net you a penalty from the Coast Guard. In addition you may have to deal with a very disgruntled customer who has found they cannot register their boat because it is not a recreational boat.

Rules applicable to Commercial Boats 

For the latest and most accurate information you need to contact the USCG Marine Safety Office in your area USCG: Marine Safety - Contacts  or the Marine Safety Center

 The commercial world is divided into inspected and un-inspected. Un-inspected are usually work boats or boats with six or less passengers for hire. Work boats have been described above. Boats carrying six or less passengers for hire, also called six pack boats have to meet the same standards as recreational boats, however the skipper or captain of the boat must have a license to carry 6 or less passengers. The license goes to the person, not the boat.

Fishing Vessels: Commercial fishing vessels have their own set of standards. 

"T" Boats: Larger passenger carrying boats are inspected vessels and could be considered a Subchapter T vessel, that is, a vessel to which the rules in Title 46 Code of Federal Regulations, Subchapter T apply.  See contacts listed above.  These are passenger vessels carrying more than 6 passengers and are less than 100 gross tons displacement.

Additionally there are rules for specialty passenger vessels like pontoon boats, or duck boats (DUKWs of WWII vintage often used in large port cities for tours.)

For the latest and most accurate information you need to contact the USCG Marine Safety Office in your area USCG: Marine Safety - Contacts  or the Marine Safety Center

As of March 2015 the US Coast Guard has published rules for vessels carrying up to 12 passengers for hire.  Currently these only apply in the US Virgin Islands. See the Over 100 Ton Guide

Copyright 2014 All Rights Reserved. Revised 10/26/2018