Rules for the Charter of Yachts Under 24 Metres under the British Flag - A Guide


The purpose of this guide is to provide information concerning the flag state rules applicable to British registered yachts of up to 24 metres in Load Line length that are operated for charter.

Any yacht undertaking a charter at sea regardless of its flag is considered to be a vessel that is in use for a commercial purpose and should therefore hold a valid Load Line Certificate and be operated in accordance with the international regulations applicable to a vessel of its physical characteristics and distance of operation from a safe haven.

As an alternative to Load Line certification and compliance with applicable international regulations which would be unachievable for many small vessels the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) have developed a code or practice specifically for vessels of up to 24 metres Load Line length which are engaged at sea in the performance of activities of a commercial nature which includes yachts carrying not more than 12 passengers (i.e. excluding crew).

The UK MCA are an Executive Agency of the UK Government’s Department for Transport holding responsibility and accountability for UK merchant shipping regulations and their enforcement.

The code is known as the Small Commercial Vessel Code of Practice and is published as Marine Guidance Note (MGN) 280 with the full title of ‘Small Vessels in Commercial Use for Sport or Pleasure, Workboats and Pilot Boats – Alternative Construction Standards’.

A copy of the code can be accessed at the following link:

Small Commercial Vessel Code of Practice – MGN 280

The code has been adopted by all members of the Red Ensign Group (REG) which is the collective working party for the shipping registries that comprise the British Register of Ships which includes the UK, the Crown Dependencies (Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey) and eight UK Overseas Territories (including the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands).

Any vessel registered in the UK, a Crown Dependency or UK Overseas Territory is a “British ship” and is entitled to fly the Red Ensign. The Red Ensign is the most popular international flag flown by yachts due to its high level of quality, prestige and universal acceptability.

The assimilation of the Load Line convention and international regulations that would otherwise apply to a charter yacht under 24 metres in length carrying no more than 12 passengers in a ‘yacht friendly’ format through the Small Commercial Vessel Code of Practice is just one example of how the British Register of Ships has proactively set out to assist yacht owners with the safe operation of their vessels.

It should be noted that it is not only likely to be an offence to operate a yacht for charter under the red ensign at sea carrying not more than 12 passengers without meeting the requirements of the code but it is also likely that the yacht’s insurance could be invalidated as a result of a failure to operate in accordance with flag state rules.

It should be remembered that the coding of a yacht used for charter is only one stage of the process and that advice should always be taken in respect of local legal and fiscal obligations prior to the commencement of any commercial activity.

Oceanskies in conjunction with our partner surveyors is able to provide a complete charter yacht registration package combining commercial British flag yacht registration under red ensign with coding certification and the employment of crew through Oceanskies Crew Limited in a Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) environment.

Please do not hesitate to contact us for further information.

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