It is the purpose of this guide to provide information on the registration of yachts in the US State of Delaware and to make existing and prospective users aware of the potential for the system to be challenged by foreign jurisdictions.
Delaware is a U.S. state located on the Atlantic Coast in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. The state is a popular jurisdiction for the formation of companies and corporations.
The Division of Fish and Wildlife Office of Boat Registration is the vessel registration authority for the State of Delaware.
It is not uncommon to encounter Delaware registered yachts cruising internationally and in the Eastern Mediterranean it is arguably one of the most commonly found ‘foreign’ yacht registrations.
The prevalence of so many Delaware registered yachts in these countries is often as result of the low costs of the system and the apparent ease of the process. The perceived strength of an attachment to and the support of one of the world’s leading superpowers is also attractive to many yacht owners.
Although the Delaware yacht registration is a popular system, both existing and potential users should be aware that a Delaware vessel registration is a State Registration which is a local registration applying only to vessels that are principally used within the coastal and inland waters of the issuing state’s jurisdiction.
Importantly US state registration does not grant US nationality to the vessel and thus does not automatically afford access to any international treaty rights, privileges or the protection of the USA.
Delaware regulations provide that a vessel is deemed to have its state of principal use in Delaware if it is to be used, docked, or stowed on the waters of Delaware for over 60 consecutive days.
Vessels registered in the State of Delaware are accordingly issued with a credit card sized ‘State of Delaware Registration Certificate’, the reverse of which states the state of principal use is Delaware.
It is therefore possible for a foreign jurisdiction to declare the Delaware registration of a vessel to be invalid on the basis that a state registration is not valid for cruising outside US waters and/or the vessel is not used principally within Delaware waters.
If a vessel’s registration is declared invalid then the vessel itself is effectively stateless and in contravention of international maritime law.
In January 2020 The State of Delaware introduced new procedures to crack down on the abuse of the Delaware yacht registration system by owners who are keeping their vessels outside the State of Delaware.
The new procedure requires owners to declare as follows:
“I declare under penalty of perjury that I / we am / are the legal owner(s) or agents thereof, of the vessel described in this application and that “DELAWARE IS THE STATE OF PRINCIPAL OPERATION” for this vessel.”
“I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of Delaware that the forgoing is true and correct.”
“I also acknowledge that I must notify the Division of Fish & Wildlife within 15 days of the owner(s) change of address and/or if the vessel is sold. Destroyed, abandoned, becomes documented or IS NO LONGER PRINCIPALLY OPERATED IN THE STATE OF DELAWARE.”
The procedure also carries the following notice:
“FALSE STATEMENTS MADE HEREIN ARE PUNISHABLE BY LAW PURSUANT TO 11 DEL. C. § 1233.”
Making a false written statement under this law is a class A misdemeanour in the State of Delaware. The sentence for a class A misdemeanour in the State of Delaware may include up to 1 year incarceration and a fine, restitution or other conditions as the court might deem appropriate.
Awareness of the limitations of the Delaware registration system is growing amongst foreign port authorities and owners of Delaware registered vessels that are kept and primarily used outside the State of Delaware can expect increased scrutiny that may result in their vessels being controlled and potentially detained.
As the Delaware registration is not an internationally valid registration it follows that Delaware registered vessels that are operating primarily outside the State of Delaware can be treated as unregistered or stateless vessels meaning that local authorities can impose their own jurisdiction on the vessel which can effect the tax status of a vessel and the rules under which it must operate.
There are also potentially issues in other areas such as the validity of a vessel’s insurance policy.
For any owner wishing to change their Delaware registration to an internationally valid registration we here at Oceanskies are ready to help.
Oceanskies is a marine consultancy specialising in the registration and documentation of yachts of all sizes in all of the main yacht registry jurisdictions but primarily under the British ‘red ensign’ flag which is the world's most prestigious and universally accepted registration for the operation of yachts sailing internationally.
We are always happy to provide free no obligation proposals to any client wishing to change their Delaware registration. To provide a proposal please follow the steps contained within our flag selector tool on the following link:
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Today Duncan has been in a sunny and warm Monaco for the tonnage survey of an @PrincessYachts Princess 82 undergoing red ensign registration by Oceanskies - we are a leading yacht registration agency working with the world’s best yacht registries #yachtregistration #tonnagesurvepic.twitter.com/PUl9Sy4L9a9a