The Hailing Port


Wanderlust, hailing port in view, below the Chateauneuf lock on the Rhône in 2017.

To register a boat with the United States Coast Guard a “hailing port” is required. The name of this place must be displayed at stern of the boat below the boat’s name.

It turns out that the “port” for a hailing port doesn’t actually have to be a real port. In fact it doesn’t actually have to be a place on the water. In just has to be on a particular Federal register of places, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Federal Information Processing Standards Publication 55DC. Good luck finding a copy of 55DC. We never did.

We had a decision to make when registering Wanderlust: What hailing port would we use? At the time our house was located in Belmont, a bedroom community on the San Francisco peninsula in California’s Bay Area. We considered using landlocked Belmont as the hailing port, but we anticipated endless conversations where we explained that Belmont was a town near San Francisco. It seemed boring. In the end it seemed easier to cut the conversations short and use San Francisco as the hailing port. Everyone knows about San Francisco.

Pompero, a vinyl chloride carrier that was disabled in an accident in 2020, does not have a hailing port because it is not required for a French flagged vessel.

The Maltese registered Laguepe uses Valletta as its hailing port.

That’s not to say that San Francisco was not our top choice. There were two other places we preferred: Gooseberry Mesa and Death Valley. We found the concept that our barge in France could “hail” from the top of a red rock mesa mountain biking destination in southern Utah or from a hot dry desert in California to be humorous. Like Belmont, both names would start conversations about where exactly Wanderlust was from. But for Gooseberry and Death Valley, the dialog promised to be way more fun.

Wanderlust would have hailed from Death Valley or Gooseberry Mesa except for one detail. Publication 55DC was not readily available to us. As far as we could tell, it is not online. If we wanted to find the list of places we could use as a USCG hailing port we would need to go to a large public library and search for this years old book. That promised to be an open-ended, time-consuming task with no guarantee of success. If we had just gone for it and chosen a place assuming that it would be on this Federal list we risked finding out at the last moment that it wasn’t. This would have nixed our registration, which in turn could have kept us from cruising until the issue was resolved, or at least that is what we thought. In the end using less entertaining San Francisco as the hailing port seemed a safer bet.

Alcatraz would have been a good choice for Wanderlust’s hailing port.

Wanderlust in Dole

Our choice of a hailing port became self-fulfilling when we later purchased a condo in San Francisco. It wasn’t part of a long-range plan to have our residence match our hailing port. It just happened that way. Maybe it was fate. Maybe we were destined all along to hail from Wanderlust’s hailing port. Maybe we if we had used Gooseberry Mesa or Death Valley for the USCG registration we would have ended up moving there instead.


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