Registration of yachts and sea vessels is a standard procedure that gives protection to marine vehicles and their owners on the part of international laws and conventions. The base agreement which regulates the principles of ownership and protection measures, including those for private vehicles, is the UN Convention on the High Seas adopted on September 30, 1962.
Articles 4-7 of this document describe the concept of the state flag that the yachts and vessels are flying. It means that the ship assigned to a particular country shall be considered its territory and is under the protection of national and international laws. This approach ensures a sufficient level of safety on a wide scale, including the yacht or vessel, crew, and owner. Marine vehicles without a flag are considered to belong to no one, so they may be attacked by pirates or separate states.
See the information on the world’s top 10 most expensive yachts.
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In a general case, the yacht registration procedure will not require considerable financial expenses (no more than USD 1500 on average, but the amount is smaller in most cases). It will take 1-2 days in the majority of jurisdictions to execute the documents. The conditions of yacht registration differ in detail from country to country, but the general principles remain the same.
Here are some aspects to pay attention to when you choose a jurisdiction to register your yacht or vessel:
- Registration validity term – a yacht is registered for 1 year in the majority of countries, but there are exceptions: San Marino and the United Kingdom register vessels for 5 years, while France, Poland, and Langkawi provide registration for an unlimited term
- Registration procedure duration usually takes no more than 5 days (if all the documents are in order and the country where the owner is a citizen is not on sanctions lists)
- Types of vessels that can be registered include private and commercial vessels, as well as bareboats
- Conditions of yacht registration extension
- The need to inspect the yacht or vessel before registration
- Restrictions by owner’s nationality
- The need to pay a VAT upon yacht or vessel registration
- Restrictions associated with the flag of a particular country (the most popular jurisdictions that offer yacht registration services do not have them, but there may be exceptions in several cases)
Types of vessels subject to registration:
- Yachts and superyachts
- Motor boats
- Home boat
- Inflatable boats, rigid and soft inflatable boats
- High-speed boats
- Jet skis
- Lifeboats and small-sized boats
Choice of a Jurisdiction for Yacht Registration
Standard criteria do not always provide a maximum level of comfort for the yacht or vessel owner. However, they mark a general direction and an approximate range of jurisdictions for registration, with unsuitable options discarded. As soon as you’ve done that, make a careful assessment of individual requirements for the flag and set the priorities competently to understand which options are critically important.
Read our article on choosing a jurisdiction to register your vessel.
Yacht registration in Poland:
- A quick, straightforward and inexpensive procedure
- There are no inspection/examination requirements if the yacht is shorter than 24 m
- The registration is provided for an indefinite term
- This is one of the most affordable options if the owner is interested in the flag of the European Union
- Preliminary yacht registration is provided within 48 hours, and it takes legal effect right after you receive it
Yacht registration in the USA (Delaware):
- This is one of the most affordable options
- There are no yacht or vessel inspection/examination requirements
- Minimum package of documents to be submitted
- Registration is very quick (no more than 3 days)
- Delaware’s status as an offshore state may give additional advantages to the yacht’s owner
- The US flag has a high reputational status
Yacht registration in Langkawi (Malaysia):
- The requirements are not very strict
- Malaysian flag is a part of the prestigious Red Ensign Group
- No mandatory inspection of the yacht/vessel is required
- It is suitable for a bareboat charter
Yacht registration in the UK:
- The jurisdiction has an exclusive reputation
- It is the core of the Red Ensign Group
- The registration is provided for 5 years
- The costs are not very high
- The details of the registration procedure for the private and commercial application are practically the same
Read our article on the best jurisdictions for yacht registration and the best-known marinas in Europe.
Yacht registration in the Netherlands:
- The jurisdiction is recognized worldwide
- It provides preliminary registration within 1-3 weeks
- The inspection of the yacht/vessel is mandatory, but you will have no problems if you prepare it carefully
- There are no restrictions by nationality of the owner
Yacht registration in Panama:
- This is one of the most popular jurisdictions
- The registration is provided for 2 years
- The extension procedure is as simple as possible
- The registration cost is extremely affordable
- There are no requirements for yacht/vessel examination
Yacht registration in Gibraltar:
- Gibraltar is a member of the Red Ensign Group
- The flag is respected in the world community
- The package of documents required is minimal
- The registration is given for 5 years
- The extension procedure is simplified and subject to minimal requirements
- The vessel examination is mandatory, but it can be done in the jurisdiction where the owner has the citizen’s status
Yacht registration in the British Virgin Islands (BVI):
- The country has a high reputation (and is a member of the Red Ensign Group);
- There are no special requirements for documents
- You can get certificates of survey and tonnage certificates in the owner’s country of residence
- The cost is really affordable
Yacht registration in the Cayman Islands:
- The country is a full member of the Red Ensign Group
- This is one of the best options if the balance of characteristics is a priority
- There are no restrictions on the owner’s nationality
- It is suitable for a bareboat charter
Yacht registration in Belgium (it is only available to Belgium residents since September 1, 2019):
- The prices are very low
- There are no limits on the vessel type or ownership form
Yacht registration in Malta:
- It has a high reputation
- It is well-suited to register a large-tonnage yacht/vessel if commercial use is a priority
- Wonderful living conditions if the owner decides to relocate to Malta
Consolidated information on yacht or vessel registration under a required flag (* – preliminary decision. Unless otherwise specified, the form of ownership may be private, commercial, or a bareboat charter):
|Country||Validity term||Time required, days (standard, express)||Registration extension, conditions||Preliminary examination / inspection of the yacht (vessel)|
|Poland||Unlimited||2-5 / 1||Not required||Not required (up to 15 m)|
|San Marino||5 years||2* / 2*||–||Not required (up to 24 m)|
|Langkawi||Unlimited||5* / 5*||USD 95 (displacement up to 150 tons)||Not required (up to 24 m)|
|United Kingdom||5 years||3-4* / 3-4*||–||Required (can be done locally)|
|Panama||1 year||1* / 1*||Payment of annual taxes||Required (can be done locally)|
|Netherlands||Unlimited||4-8 weeks / NA||Not required||Not required (up to 24 m)|
|BVI||1 year||1* / 1*||–||Required (can be done locally)|
|Gibraltar||1 year||1* / 1*||Payment of annual taxes||Required (can be done locally)|
|Malta||1 year||1* / 1*||Payment of annual taxes||Required (can be done locally)|
|Cayman Islands||1 year||1* / 1*||Payment of annual taxes||Required (can be done locally)|
|Delaware (USA)||1 year||1* / 1*||Payment of annual taxes||Required (can be done locally)|
|Belgium (51% of the yacht or the vessel should be owned by a Belgian citizen or resident)||5 years||4 weeks / NA||–||Not required (up to 24 m)|
|France||Unlimited||30 / NA||Every year||Not required|
|Germany||5 years||5 / NA||–||Not required (up to 24 m)|
|Marshall Islands||1 year||2-3 weeks / NA||–||Not required (usually)|
|Cook Islands||1, 2 or 5 years||5-7 / 5-7||–||Not required (up to 24 m)|
|Tuvalu||1 year||4 weeks / NA||–||Not required (up to 15 m)|
|St. Vincent||1 year||5-7 / 5-7||–||Required|
|Cyprus||1 year||5-7 / 5-7||–||Required|
|Seychelles||1 year||5-7 / 5-7||–||Required|
|Bahamas||1 year||5-7 / 5-7||–||Required|
|Belize||5 years||3-4 / 24 hours*||– (every year)||Required|
|Croatia||1 year||5-7 / 5-7||–||Not required (up to 15 m)|
|Hong Kong||5 years||4 weeks / 5-7||–||Required for large vessels only|
|Montenegro||1 year||2-3 weeks / 5-7||–||Not required (up to 15 m)|
|Serbia||5 years||3-4 weeks / NA||– (every year)||Required|
All jurisdictions that provide this service will complete the procedure quickly and without much hassle involved – but only if the documents are in order. Independent registration of the yacht/vessel is possible in theory, but it is not recommended in the majority of cases. There is no point in being personally involved in all the intricacies. You will bear practically the same expenses, but the risk of error or time and effort being wasted will be considerably higher.
There is no single algorithm of actions that would be suitable for each jurisdiction. This is also true with regard to organizational peculiarities of the procedure, sequence of steps, and requirements for the package of documents. We will provide information on the registration of yachts and vessels in San Marino to show you an example of how it is done. The details may differ in other countries, but these difficulties will be connected with intricacies that do not influence the general situation with the registration of yachts.
Read our article on the countries with the largest number of yachts, boats, and cruise ships in 2023.
Registration of yachts in San Marino: the essentials
- The data is entered into the SMSR (San Marino Ship Register)
- The registration is open from July 2021
- San Marino has been a member of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) since 2002
- The registration is valid for 5 years
- The yacht (vessel) owner receives considerable tax privileges
- Really quick registration procedure that takes up to 2 days in the majority of cases (this is the time for preliminary approval, while execution of all documents may require additional time)
- The registration fully complies with all international standards
- Simplified control in the port
- San Marino has a high reputation
- Low cost of registration and support, especially for small yachts
- Annual registration extension is not required
- The vessel needs to undergo inspection at registration (the length should not exceed 24 m)
- The rules of commercial yacht registration in San Marino do not make any distinction between a charter with the crew or without it
- You can engage in trading operations, but you should not do so for more than 90 days
- You can suspend commercial yacht registration and transform it into private property (the procedure is completed online)
- San Marino’s register is open, so you can register a yacht on behalf of an individual or a legal entity (it can be an existing company or the one incorporated right before vessel registration)
- The right to direct registration of a yacht/vessel is only granted to San Marino residents and local companies, and in all other cases you will have to engage a certified agent
- Respected intermediaries provide the services of preliminary company set-up with subsequent registration of the yacht/vessel on behalf of the newly-established legal entity, and this strategy is more profitable in some cases in terms of taxation optimization.
Approximate price of yacht/vessel registration under a San Marino flag (the figures do not include additional commissions and remuneration of the intermediary company):
- Yacht registration for private use, up to 10 meters – EUR 525
- Yacht registration for private use, from 10 to 24 meters – EUR 1600
- San Marino’s special certificate of conformity for small yachts – EUR 500
- Radio station license – EUR 200 (you can get it in San Marino without taking any special courses or passing an exam).
Package of documents required to register a yacht or a vessel in San Marino (for a company or an individual without local registration):
- Confirmation of registration in the Chamber of Commerce (for legal entities)
- A form that confirms the appointment of a local agent
- Applicant’s passport
Package of documents required to register a yacht or a vessel in San Marino (for a company or an individual with local registration):
- A standard ID document/the document that confirms the registration of a legal entity in the Chamber of Commerce
- Applicant’s passport
Additional documents and forms required to register a vessel or a yacht under a San Marino flag (ask the agent whether you will need copies and/or originals):
- Registration application form
- A formal application to receive a special radio station license
- A document that confirms the agent appointment (a San Marino resident)
- Power of attorney (if the registration is done by a person who is not the actual owner)
- All insurance policies
- Shipyard’s certificate or bill of sale
- The document that confirms refusal of the previous jurisdiction where the vessel or yacht was registered
Additional documents that may be required in some cases (if applicable or available):
- Vessel/yacht mortgage
- Old/current tonnage certificate
- Charter agreement
- Letter of base flag approval
- Class certificate
- Old/previous synopsis records
- Agent appointment
Can a Yacht Be Registered in Two Countries?
This is a question asked quite frequently. The short answer is “No”: you cannot register a yacht under two flags at once, at least if we are talking about solid jurisdictions and abiding by the law. However, owners often have situations when this option would be extremely desirable. The only legal possibility to register a yacht or a vessel under an alternative flag is Bareboat Charter (Demise Charter).
This is actually an agreement on the temporary charter of a yacht (vessel, ship) without a crew or all gear required to transport passengers and/or cargo. The charterer can dispose of the vehicle as an owner for the whole term of the lease, which gives the possibility to register a yacht in two countries.
The laws that regulate the Bareboat Charter may differ considerably in different jurisdictions. In some countries, the temporary charter possibility is prohibited or its practical realization may face serious limitations. Therefore, general recommendations and descriptions will only be useful to understand the Bareboat Charter format.
A typical example of a country with well-thought-out laws that regulate the issues of a yacht charter is Norway. The rules adopted in offshore jurisdictions are somewhat milder, but the main features are usually the same. However, it should be noted in any case that the Bareboat Charter strategy is the only possibility of yacht registration in two countries at once (even considering all of its limitations). Therefore, the owner interested in this option simply has no choice.
Basic Information on Bareboat Charter in Norway:
- The vessel can be registered without a crew since July 1, 2020
- The Bareboat Charter is available to the yachts registered in the Norwegian International Ship (NIS) Register or Norwegian Ordinary Ship Register (NOR)
- If the yacht is registered abroad, the owner may independently choose the required register (if all the qualification requirements are met)
- The yacht cannot use the flag of the main jurisdiction during the term of the charter agreement
- Yacht registration using the Bareboat Charter strategy divides the legal consequences between the two countries
- Charter without a crew is only available to the vessels whose total length exceeds 15 m, and you can also register mobile offshore units in NIS/NOR
- There are no limitations connected with the Bareboat Charter jurisdictions (the yacht can be registered under a second flag of any country)
- The maximum term of yacht or vessel registration in two countries is 10 years with a possibility of a one-time extension for 5 years
- The actual vessel owner should give his or her written consent to the Bareboat Charter.
The legal peculiarities of yacht or vessel registration and the effective national laws make it impossible in the majority of cases to complete the task. It is also important to understand that the difficulties are connected with the choice of a suitable jurisdiction more than the registration procedure itself. Therefore, seeking professional help is a practically inevitable condition of successful registration.
Read more information on yachts and their registration:
- Why are most yachts registered in the Cayman Islands?
- Registration of yachts in the Seychelles, Cook Islands, and Jersey
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