In the year 1838, the British Government passed the Bombay Coasting Vessels Act, 1838. Bombay was the hub of shipping activities as it was the prime spot of British Mercantile activities. Their aim was to introduce a system to ensure the safety, survey of vessels at sea, etc. This was a time when there was a growth in shipping and also in the technical development of ship building and the existing regulations were not sufficient.This was when the Act was promulgated. The Act’s purpose was to register fishing vessels and harbour crafts.Sea Customs in all ports were required to register vessels under this Act. On gaining Independence, the Indian Parliament amended this Act in 1952 as Act no. XXIII of 1952 and it contains 15 Sections. The earlier Act only had 10 Sections.

The Bombay Coasting Vessels Act, 1838 was amended in the year 1952 as Coasting Vessels Authority Act, 1838. However, in all states other than in Bombay, registration was still done by Sea Customs or by persons appointed for this purpose and thus, the Coasting Vessels Act has been applicable only in the Bombay Presidency. In the very beginning this act was applied only for fishing vessels and harbour crafts and not for any other vessels.

There were many other Acts, like the Indian Ports Act 1908, the Sea Customs Act 1878, and the Public Conveyances Act 1863. However, the certificate of registration, under these Acts, had only one year validity and had to be renewed annually. But under the Coasting Vessels Act, it was permanent certification.

The Coasting vessels Act, 1838, extended at first only to the territories which till before 1st November, 1956 belonged to the states of Bombay, Kutch and Saurashtra. Ever since, the Act has come into force in Pondicherry, Goa, Daman and Diu, Laccadive, Minicoy and Amindivi Islands. This Act shall apply to vessels belonging to any citizen of India, and employed on the coasts or trading coast-wise of the states that come within the extent of this Act, especially to owners of fishing vessels and harbour crafts. The owners of such vessels are required to mark or brand the craft with the name of the place which she belongs to and the number that will be assigned to her on registration. Each figure and letter should be of 6 inches length. The name and number of the vessel and the names of the owners shall be registered in a book by the authorised person. In Bombay the registration is done by the Principal Officer of the Mercantile Marine Department. In other states, it is done by Collector of Sea Customs. Whenever a vessel is registered at a subordinate port, such information shall immediately be passed on to the Principal Officer in Bombay. It is the responsibility of these officers to ensure that the vessels registered in their respective ports have been marked and branded with the name of their place and the registration number.

The owner of the vessel should get a certificate of registration once the registration is done. The format in which the application for the Certificate should be filed is given in the Schedule of this Act. If a certificate is lost, he may apply for a renewed certificate in the same manner. The certificate of registration shall contain the seal of the Government and shall also comprise the signature of the person authorised to do the same.

There is a fee structure provided according to the capacity of the vessel, which has to be paid for acquiring the certificate. For a vessel of 5 tonnes of burthen, the fee is 1 rupee. If the burthen exceeds 5 tonnes, but is below 25 tonnes, then the fee is 5 rupees. If the burthen exceeds 25 tonnes, but is below 100 tonnes, then the fee is 7 rupees. Lastly, for more than 100 tonnes, the fee is 2 annas. In case of neglect to obey rules, a fine will be charged.

This comes under the Union List of the Constitution and thus the Central Government has sole right to take decisions regarding the same. India being a peninsula is covered on 3 sides with water. There are also some islands which are a part of India. Traveling or sending goods by water is a major mode of transport and thus, there are many private vessels of different types. It is important that the Government has a proper record of all these vessels.