The main jurisdictions for yacht registration are:
Details of a some of the most popular flags:
The Red Ensign Group
- Main EU jurisdictions: UK, Malta, Madeira, France, Italy, Cyprus, Monaco
- Main non EU jurisdictions: Isle of Man, BVI, Cayman Island, Hong Kong, Marshall Island, Panama, St Vincent, Jersey, Guernsey
The Red Ensign Group is a group of British shipping registers. The registers are operated by:
- The United Kingdom;
- The Crown Dependencies (Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey) and;
- The UK Overseas Territories (including Anguilla, Bermuda, BVI, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Monserrat, St Helena and Turks & Caicos Islands.
The registers are divided in to two categories relating to the size of the yacht and the jurisdiction:
- Category 1 – Registries for ships of unlimited tonnage and type
- Category 2 – Registries of commercial ships and yachts of up to 150 gross registered tons (GRT) and non-commercially operated ships and yachts of up to 400 GRT dependent on signing Memorandum of Understanding with the MCA.
The countries under each of the above Categories are as follows:
- Category 1 – BVI, Cayman Islands, Isle of Man, UK, Gibraltar, Bermuda;
- Category 2 – Anguilla, Flakland Island, Guernsey, Jersey, Montserrat, St Helena, Turk & Caicos Islands.
The Isle of Man and Cayman Islands Registries allow the change of a yacht from commercial to pleasure and vice versa; also known as ‘flip flop’.
The LY II / LYIII codes are applicable to commercial yachts over 24m and transporting up to 12 passengers / The Passenger Yacht Code is applicable to pleasure yachts of any size, in private use or engaged in trade which carry 13-36 passengers and which do not carry cargo (where more than 12 passengers are carried more onerous passenger ship regulations apply).
Malta is a very popular registry for navigating within EU territorial waters offering a pragmatic approach and various tax advantages. The Registry has developed a strong reputation as a sound legal and regulatory system which has helped to develop the Registry as one of the largest in the world. Yachts are regulated under the Merchant Shipping Act 1973, as subsequently amended, the last amendment being in 2010, in addition to comprehensive rules and regulations.
The Maltese flag is well accepted by financial institutions and offers an efficient and straightforward mortgage system on the registration and release of charges against yachts.
Since 2006 the Maltese Commercial Yacht Code has included commercial yachts in the benefits applicable to commercial trading ships registered in Malta. The benefits include freedom from corporate tax, capital gains tax and no withholding tax.
Class is not compulsory for yachts below 500 GT but a report submitted by a Government approved surveyor is required at each survey.
No Mini ISM (‘International Safety Management’) s required for commercial yachts below 500 GT.
There are no compulsory manning requirements for private yachts for the time being, though this may change in the future.
Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI)
The Marshall Islands is an attractive jurisdiction for yachts sailing in the US. Yachts registered in the Marshall Islands benefit from an automatic right to a cruising permit to sail in US territorial waters.
In common with St Vincent and the Grenadines, the Marshall Islands allows qualifying private yachts to charter up to 84 days a year, subject to the yacht passing a detailed survey on safety, firefighting, lifesaving and minimum safe manning and ISM requirements when on charter (MLC to be confirmed depending upon the area of operation).
These two registries could be a good option for yacht owners who are not ready to adopt the procedures required that follow commercial registration and operation. The Registry is open to both commercial and private yachts of 12 metres or more in length.
For yachts navigating in Asia this is a popular registry though, it does not currently distinguish between pleasure and commercial yachts. The Register is operated by the Government of the Special Administrative Area of Hong Kong through its Marine Department. The Registry has been in existence since 1990.
Langkawi International Yacht Registry
This is a new registry, launched in 2003 and based in Telaga Harbour Park, Langkawi. It is operated by the Director General of the Marine Department Malaysia.
The major advantage of Langkawi is that it is the only registry in South East Asia to have adopted a real commercial yacht registry. As an open registry there are no restrictions or limits affecting the ownership of a yacht and is open to individuals, joint owners, corporations, and yachting entities, which can be an advantage to some owners wishing to operate under such a registry.
The registry offers flexibility and allows various types of registration including full and interim registration, bareboat charter registration, the registration of yachts under construction and mortgages.