Yacht Registration

The purpose of this blog is to highlight the international requirement for all yachts operating on the high seas to be registered, to provide information on the historical background of vessel registration and to highlight some of today’s main jurisdictions for yacht registration.

It is a requirement of the 1956 Geneva Convention of the High Seas that all vessels sailing internationally must be properly registered and carry on board officially issued documents as evidence of their registration.

One of the fundamental principles of International law is that no nation can extend its jurisdiction past the limits of its own territorial waters, ‘the freedom of the high seas’.

Therefore International law sets out rules to ensure that vessels operating upon the high seas remain governed by law, by according them a nationality.

The most direct way of attributing nationality to a vessel is through its registration within a particular nation, known as the ‘flag state’.

The effect of registration is that the vessel becomes subject to the laws of the chosen flag state, creating both an obligation to comply with these laws and the conferral of certain rights, namely the right to:

  • Fly the national flag
  • Diplomatic protection and consular assistance
  • Naval protection from the flag state
  • Engage in certain activities within territorial waters of the flag state

The concept of registering vessels can be traced back to Roman times. Registration is essentially the act of recording within the public records of a jurisdiction, the particulars of a vessel.

In addition to attributing nationality to a vessel, the act of registration provides a mechanism through which its ownership can be determined.

Whilst not conclusive, registration provides prima facie evidence of the registered owner being the true owner.

This results in shifting the burden of proof in any dispute over ownership, as the prima facie evidence of registration must be displaced by the protagonist.

In effect registration acts as proof of title, (in the register and not on the Certificate of Registry).

The yacht owner faces an extensive and potentially bewildering choice of registration options for their vessel.

The yacht may be one of the most valuable possessions of the owner and it therefore follows that the decision on where to register their vessel should be well informed.

The chosen jurisdiction should offer universal acceptance whilst providing political and economical stability without subjecting the owner and the yacht to unnecessary regulation and bureaucracy.

Looking past the different registration options available, the choice for the yacht owner lies between registering the yacht in a home state, where they have a genuine connection by way of national or economic ties, or alternatively choosing to register in a flag state that may offer them benefits not afforded by the home state.

The British Register of Ships has traditionally been recognised as an International register for yachts, largely as a result of the ease of forming companies either within the United Kingdom, or more popularly in the British Overseas possessions such as the Cayman Islands and Channel Islands, to enable yacht owners who ordinarily would not be able to qualify for the registration of their yacht in their own name under the British flag to obtain such registration.

In recent years the rules for qualification have been widened, with the mainland United Kingdom register and some of the British offshore ports of registry now accepting applications from European Union nationals and European companies exercising their rights of freedom of movement.

The qualification rules for Cayman Islands registry have widened even further to extend internationally making it a truly global register.

Other nations have also developed their registers in recent years with the Malta, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in addition to the U.S. state of Delaware becoming commonplace.

With the choices of available options for yacht registration to a yacht owner never having been so wide a primary function of Oceanskies’ service is to advise and assist on the best choice of registry.

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