PDF Print E-mail

An International HIN Nightmare

What began as one Boat U.S. member's complaint about difficulties getting warranty service on his German built sailboat has brought to light a world of problems or, more accurately, a problem of global proportions about the official hull identification numbers (HINs) boat builders use to identify their vessels.

It all started when the owner of a brand new 2004 Hanse 411 sloop told Boat U.S. that he was having trouble getting his dealer in Milford, CT, to correct some problems that showed up at the time he took delivery. Simple, we thought. Get in touch with the manufacturer in Greifswald, Germany, or the Hanse importer here in the U.S. and, before we could whistle Danke Schoen, our member's problems would be solved.


When we attempted to locate the manufacturer using the U.S. Coast Guard's database, there was no match for the manufacturer's code, YZG, shown in the boat's hull identification number. As the story unfolded, it became apparent that Coast Guard has some problems with marine police and marine investigators both in the U.S. and abroad.

A word of explanation. Federal regulations require that every boat built in the U.S. must be identified by a unique 12-digit number. The Coast Guard assigns each commercial boat builder a three-letter identification code, which is followed by the boat's serial number, the date the boat was certified to meet manufacturing regs and its model year. Numbers must be placed on the starboard side of the transom and in a hidden spot inside the boat. The HIN rules enable manufacturers to identify boats in the event of a defect recall. It is illegal to alter a boat's HIN once it has left the place where it was built.

Although HINs can help identify lost or stolen boats, it is difficult to track stolen boats once they cross state lines or national borders. A U.S.-wide Vessel Identification System similar to the decades-old National Crime Investigation Center database for cars and heavy equipment has never been established because each state collects different boat data and, authorities say, it would be impossible to compile comprehensive information.

Back to the Hanse 411. A Coast Guard spokesman told BoatU.S. that the agency had been trying to work with the German builder. "They have to establish an agent in this country," he said, so that the Coast Guard can assign them a U.S. manufacturer's code. It appears the German boats are coming into the U.S. through the Hanse distributor in British Columbia. U.S. customs agents mistakenly assume Hanse boats are Canadian-built because the manufacturer's identification code, YZG, starts with the letter "Y," which the Coast Guard assigns to boats built in Canada for importation here.

So, if you are wondering where the YZG code came from and how a boat owner would go about locating an overseas manufacturer in the event of serious safety defects, you're on the right track. And if all of this has the whiff of a significant security lapse, you are getting close to the heart of the problem.

With the creation of the European Union and with the expansion of the world-wide market for recreational boats, builders in about 70 countries--including some in the U.S.--have adopted manufacturing standards developed by the International Organization for Standardization, or ISO, for short ("ISO" means "equal" in Greek). Embedded in ISO is a HIN standard that is identical to the 12-digit system used here in the U.S. Some builders add a two-letter country of origin code to the HINs, for example, "US" for boats built in this country. Apparently, this wasn't the case with the Hanse 411 number.

"This is definitely a problem!" said a Coast Guard spokesman. "All those EU countries are now assigning manufacturer's codes which of course duplicate ours. [Hanse] was assigned 'YZG' by the German authorities. We are seeing boats coming in from all over the world with manufacturer identification codes assigned by their country of origin.

"This is giving us and state law enforcement people fits," he said. "At first glance, they look like valid HINs, in fact, they are valid HINs according to ISO. But when you run the manufacturer's code, they look suspicious. Some people have actually had their boats impounded by the cops until it gets straightened out."

This naturally raises the question of why the Coast Guard doesn't favor expanding the HIN format, as has been urged by state marine police and insurance investigators for over 15 years. Both the National Association of Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) and the International Association of Marine Investigators (IAMI) favor adopting a 17-digit format similar to the uniform Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) format used worldwide for automobiles. The format would include information about the boat's country of origin, its design and hull material, as well as a "check digit" to prove authenticity.

"The boat manufacturers can't get the 12-character HIN right," we were told by the Coast Guard spokesman. "Can you imagine if we add five more characters? When we count violations every year, HINs are always number one."

"Changing over to a 17-digit number appears to be manageable, given the right set of circumstances," counters Dave Marlow, quality control director for Brunswick, parent company of Sea Ray, Bayliner and a number of other builders. "It is not a large leap for some boat makers, in fact, we are currently up to 14 digits [i.e., regular 12-digit HIN plus a two-digit country code] with the international requirements."

He adds, "Many brands in the Brunswick Boat Group also emboss additional information on their transoms, such as model designations and hull ID numbers. This is evidence that we are used to controlling a lot of information in that area.

"One of the questions for the industry is whether existing computer operating systems can accommodate a 17-digit HIN, along with the two additional country code characters required by ISO," Marlow says. "If current computer capacity is insufficient, that could mean significant investments to upgrade those systems."

But, if a 17-character HIN is what is required to sell boats in foreign countries, it stands to reason that manufacturers will figure out how to comply.

"There would be a learning curve at first, but those concerns seem to be counter to significant support for the measure being offered for the additional identifiers by law enforcement officials and marine investigators," says Marlow.

"A National Boating Safety Advisory Council (NBSAC) subcommittee has been set up to discuss the suggested format," Marlow says. Members of the subcommittee come from the Council, the National Association of Boating Law Administrators, the International Association of Marine Investigators, the ISO group responsible for the standard on HINs, the American Boat & Yacht Council, the Coast Guard and the National Marine Manufacturers Association. "The main challenge they have is how to make sure if the change is made, it is agreed upon worldwide," Marlow concludes.

If adopted, manufacturers would be given a date, probably several years in advance, by which they would need to comply with the new requirements. Older boats with different HIN formats would be grandfathered.

"The HIN issue has become a nightmare because the Coast Guard will not make a ruling on a 17-digit format," according to Karlton Kilby, president of IAMI and director of the BoatU.S. Seaworthy insurance program. "If they did, ISO would follow suit.

"The EU is having a tough time with stolen boats being remarketed or used for committing other crimes. The problem is so bad that ISO and the German government have decided to implement a new numbering format, with the thought that it would certainly be better than what is now in place. The 12-digit HIN seems to be making things worse globally."

His comments are echoed by Fred Messman, Nevada boating law administrator and president of NASBLA, who says HIN expansion will aid in law enforcement, identifying lost or stolen vessels and in accident reporting. In a letter to the Coast Guard, Messman wrote, "The present 12-character HIN has been outdated and obsolete in our global marketplace."

The Coast Guard does not support modifying HIN format, Messman told BoatU.S. "It never has and, even when Congress told them to do it, it has not been a priority to get it done."

"The Coast Guard's excuse that manufacturers wouldn't comply is because the current inspection system is also inadequate, which is not necessarily their fault, due to lack of funding like everything else," he commented. "The old argument that manufacturers are unwilling has been rebuked.

"Even [the Coast Guard's] flawed cost benefit study said it would cost less than a dollar per boat for companies to make the changes," Messman concludes.

Following the September 11 attacks and the transfer of the U.S. Coast Guard to the Department of Homeland Security, a significant portion of Coast Guard resources has been devoted to protecting the nation's ports, coastlines and shipping from attack. Making it easier to identify boats by expanding the current HIN requirements seems like a logical security measure. And, it could also be a big help for folks who just want to protect their investments.

© Copyright 2004 Boat Owners Assn
© Copyright 2004 Gale Group  


Secured by Rapid SSL
ProtX Secured

Payments by Paypal

Major Credit Cards Accepted

Valid XHTML 1.0 Strict
YAMC0022I415 YAMAHA 242LTD stolen on May 16th, 2017

SXST0548I213 SEA HUNT SXS Center Console stolen on May 1st, 2017

YSIH0851C313 SEMINOLE Sailfish 220CC stolen on March 11th, 2017

SOESJ505A515 SHEARWATER 25LTZ stolen on December 6th, 2016

NVY53C15G900 NAVIGATOR 5300 stolen on October 7th, 2016

BUJ02249A808 TRACKER Fishing Barge stolen on September 7th, 2016

US-000000017741 TUNNEL HULL 1982 stolen on August 17th, 2016

LCJA1859G404 LAVEY CRAFT Party Prowler stolen on July 9th, 2016

RJD00765B606 EVERGLADES 243CC stolen on July 4th, 2016

RGR05011H415 RANGER Z520 stolen on July 1st, 2016

US-MBCNRBN2K910 MASTERCRAFT X2 stolen on June 12th, 2016

SSUY8115I213 TIARA, PURSUIT 385 stolen on May 10th, 2016

CIR35046E000 CARROLL MARINE ONE DESIGN Racing Sailboat stolen on April 19th, 2016

YAMCO154K314 YAMAHA 242LTD stolen on April 14th, 2016

FVZC2875B515 PIONEER stolen on March 28th, 2016

ONC45045H001 SONIC 45SS stolen on March 25th, 2016

DSOA3003E707 RENEGADE Sportfish stolen on March 16th, 2016

AOL36001K011 AVANTI 36 stolen on February 10th, 2016

MB2K0778G900 MALIBU Wakesetter stolen on December 11th, 2015

FLZDE600G100 JUPITER 34 FS stolen on November 30th, 2015

DMA06221E808 EDGEWATER Center Console stolen on November 19th, 2015

XMO84034F213 AB RIB stolen on November 11th, 2015

GMA651780378 RANGER stolen on October 30th, 2015

CEC16505H607 SEA-DOO Speedster 200 stolen on October 4th, 2015

SDADC048M74L SCHIADA Day Cruiser stolen on September 3rd, 2015

JLU00054J910 OCEAN WAVES Seahawk stolen on July 22nd, 2015

SE-RYDAY737E808 RYDS 535 DL stolen on July 21st, 2015

USCB29BFD696 BAYLINER 2252 CAPRI LS stolen on July 18th, 2015

PL-SLEX1864A203 ORNVIK 500 CLX stolen on July 17th, 2015

US-LSY10315J809 KAWASAKI 260 ULTRA JT1 500 B stolen on July 17th, 2015

FI-FMSAE147B313 FINNMASTER 62 BR stolen on July 17th, 2015

BE-QSVDA070A212 QUICKSILVER 430 ACTIV CABIN stolen on July 16th, 2015

SERA4174J394 SEA RAY 22 OVERNIGHTER stolen on July 14th, 2015

NO-HLMF2331F000 HYDROLIFT F-26 stolen on July 14th, 2015

US-KAW39744B808 KAWASAKI ULTRA 250 X stolen on July 12th, 2015

FI-AMT18613E000 YAMARIN 5810 BOWRIDER stolen on July 10th, 2015

US-YAMA2471A414 YAMAHA FZS SVHO WAVERUNNER stolen on July 10th, 2015

CA-ZBI485O3H506 CAMPION ALLANTE 485 CD stolen on July 10th, 2015

YDV31619C111 SEA-DOO SEA DOO GTS stolen on July 9th, 2015

MVIPW017H213 PATHFINDER 2200TRT stolen on July 8th, 2015

NL-MAVV0478D201 MAKMA 700 stolen on July 7th, 2015

US-MXPA57NGC404 MAXUM 2100 SC stolen on July 5th, 2015

CA-YDV04955C111 SEA-DOO SEA DOO RXT AS XRS stolen on July 4th, 2015

YAMCT217C505 YAMAHA AR230 stolen on July 3rd, 2015

CN-HFM37084A515 HIGHFIELD OM 350 stolen on July 3rd, 2015

1B158001C101 CAMPION 580 CHASE BOWRIDER stolen on July 2nd, 2015

CA-YDV15869C212 SEA-DOO SEA DOO RXT-X 260 RS stolen on June 30th, 2015

SE-UTBAL024A505 UTTERN S 64 stolen on June 28th, 2015

YDV47142L708 SEA-DOO SEA DOO RXT-X 255 stolen on June 27th, 2015

NO-SKPSH480J304 SKIBSPLAST 655 stolen on June 26th, 2015

Report a Loss Info
Apple Apps Available
Apple Boat HIN App Boat HIN
Decode the HIN
Apple Boat History App Boat HISTORY
Check the History
Apple Boat Valuer App Boat VALUER
Get the Value
Android Apps Available
Apple Boat HIN App Boat HIN
Decode the HIN
Android Boat Valuer App Boat VALUER
Get the Value
FREE Apps - iPhone, iPad, iPod and Android device compatible.

Click App Icon to view in store.
Gadgets for your Desktop

Select 'download' to add a HIN Validator to your desktop.
(Only works with MicroSoft Windows)

To add a HIN Validator to your website click here.
Updated: Jul 21 at 23:52.   v.4.6
Forgot Password?
Register address: