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Thread: Old boating registration systems

  1. #1
    Join Date
    May 2010
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    Default Old boating registration systems

    I'm doing some historical research, and understanding US boat registration systems would be helpful in dating some old photos.

    The current US boat registration system was implemented around 1960... it is state-run, but nationally defined (I even have the reference to the law in the Code of Federal Regulations). This of course is the system generates numbers like "CF 1234 AB" for a boat in California.

    Prior to this, there was another system that also seemed to be nationally defined and possibly state run, which had numbers like "28A123".
    >> Anyone know what this was called, when implemented, where defined?

    And even earlier, in California at least, there was another system... photos from the teens and 20's show small fishing boats in California marked with numbers like "B.289".
    >> Anyone know about this system?

    Here's an example of the last one:
    https://montereyclippers.wordpress.c...-of-the-wharf/
    (Click on image to see the numbers)


    Thx,
    PM

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Old boating registration systems

    As you indicate, before the state registration system boats were registered through the USCG. ( Not to be confused with vessel documentation which still exists today).
    I think it was somewhat voluntary state by state when the change from USCG to state registration took place. I grew up in NJ and just barely remember going with my dad to renew the boat registration at the USCG station, that couldn't have been longer ago than aboutt 1964. I also think I have pictures of the boat from about then with the USCG numbers on her.
    I have no idea if there was any deciferable meaning or logic to the USCG system.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Old boating registration systems

    Sort of building on your information, I wonder if in the early years there were individual disjointed state systems, then at some point (20's-30's??) the uniform USCG system implemented. (Just a question.)

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Old boating registration systems

    Disjointed state systems: Very possibly! I read an account about the implementation of Calif Fish & Game tags for fishing boats (in the 1930's), which mentioned the chaos around the current state system there.

    Thanks for the tip on USCG involvement in the mid-century system... time to go diving into the CFR, where such things are defined!

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Old boating registration systems

    Here's a (partial) example... Hemingway's "PILAR", showing most of PILAR's old style reg number, "18E74x".


  6. #6
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    Default Re: Old boating registration systems

    Here is my family's boat with the USCG numbers, and I know this is the fall/winter of 1960. (She was is in the middle of major repair work from Hurricane Donna damage in Sept 1960.)


    I have other pictures with examples of USGC registrations from N.J. I have never looked to see if there seems to be any sort of commonality to them.
    Last edited by nedL; 05-15-2017 at 08:39 AM.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Old boating registration systems

    The new system must still be somewhat flexible, state to state: My family's boat, in Maine, did not have the double-letter at the end; she was ME 5017 B in 1997, when I last saw her. I don't remember other Maine boats having double letters, either. And I vaguely recall some much older boats having only three numbers, e.g. ME 123 A.

    Alex

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Old boating registration systems

    And here's that Cal F&G document I mentioned, from the 1930's:
    http://content.cdlib.org/view?docId=kt5z09n7zp;NAAN=13030&doc.view=frames&c hunk.id=d0e380&toc.depth=1&toc.id=&brand=calispher e

    It makes mention of the earlier system (the first of the three discussed here), says it was run by Federal CUSTOMS folks:

    "
    The federal number is issued by the local Custom House office to boats making home ports in their respective districts. In numbering the smaller craft, the federal government uses several series of numbers: four figures in some cases but more often three figures with a letter as a prefix or suffix, B and C in the northern half of the state and C and V in the southern. These numbers did not remain permanently with the boat; they changed when the boat moved from one district to another or when the boat changed ownership. There was endless confusion with this system of numbering. Although many of the boats in this class had names, the duplications were so numerous that the names were of little use as means of identification."

    And indeed, I have photos of boats at San Francisco with numbers like "B.289".


    The current system was passed into law by Congress in 1958 ( Federal Boating Act of 1958 ). It was voluntary by state, with states implementing it into the 1960's... but it defined the state abbreviations... which of course the Post Office had to do differently when it codified its own two letter abbreviations... so we now have Michigan as MC and MI. Oy.

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