About Vessel Certification


The United States relies on tankers, barges, and other vessels to transport oil and chemical-based products on our nation’s waterways. An oil spill or hazardous chemical release from these vessels can have a devastating impact on our environment. Congress has made clear, in the Oil Pollution Act and other environmental statutes, that the parties responsible for water pollution should bear the cleanup costs. The Certificate of Financial Responsibility (COFR) program reflects this guiding principle.

The U.S. Coast Guard’s National Pollution Funds Center (NPFC) administers the COFR program. The Vessel Certification Division of the NPFC ensures that responsible parties are identified and held responsible for the expenses incurred during a water pollution incident.

A COFR is issued to vessel operators who have demonstrated their ability to pay for cleanup and damage costs up to the liability limits required by the Oil Pollution Act. With a few limited exceptions, vessels greater than 300 gross tons and vessels of any size that are lightering or transshipping oil in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) are required to comply with the COFR regulations in order to operate in U.S. waters.

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Limits of Liability

The limits of liability are based on a particular vessel’s tonnage. The Delaware River Protection Act of 2006 (Title VI of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2006) amended the limits of liability under OPA for discharges and substantial threats of discharge of oil from vessels. For the liability limits of oil spills, see our OPA FAQs page.

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Operators who do not comply with the COFR requirements are subject to:

  • Detainment
  • Denial of entry into U.S. ports
  • Civil penalties of up to $44,539 per day
  • Seizure or forfeiture of the vessel