Just like a person, a yacht or a ship wishing to travel between countries needs a passport.
Rules and registries
Depending on the size and intended use of the vessel it may be required to meet classification, code or flag regulations (like SOLAS, MARPOL, IMO) in which case the buyer’s team will need to ensure these are adhered to. A first stage, especially for new-build projects, is to decide which flag the yacht will fly. Those buying second-hand should consider the ramifications of this before agreeing a purchase.
Captain Desmond Howell is deputy director (technical and registry) at the Antigua and Barbuda Department of Marine Services and Merchant Shipping. He said, “Just like a person, a yacht or a ship wishing to travel between countries needs a passport. This is set out in basic maritime law – the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The idea is that by assigning a nationality to a ship, it is then subject to the laws of that country when on the high seas. They are not part of the sovereign territory of that country, but are subject to that country’s laws when on the high seas, and local laws when visiting another country.“
Owners are free to select their vessel’s nationality from a wide choice, and the business of registry and assigning nationality is a competitive and complex one. Choosing the right one from the outset is vitally important in delivering a yacht that can operate successfully.
Howell explained, “Registries can be divided into two basic types; open and national. Open registries make no demands in so far as owner or crew nationality is concerned, but are in business to make money. National registries usually do have restrictions on nationality and domicile but are often cheaper. If a superyacht owner is resident in a country with a national register and wants to fly that country’s flag, he has that right. Open registries come in a great many flavours, from the excellent to the truly awful.”
The Red Ensign
Dick Welsh is director of the Isle of Man Registry. He believes that to best protect the owner there is nothing better than a Red Ensign – namely flags including the UK and its Crown Dependencies and UK Overseas Territories. He said, “While open registries have their advantages, the security offered by well-established closed or National (British) registries in registering their title in a secure and stable jurisdiction is more suited to owners and the ownership structures of superyachts.”
The Red Ensign group of British registers leads the world in establishing standards and codes for the construction and operation of superyachts. They recognised that superyachts simply didn’t fit with any established shipping conventions and so drafted codes to provide equivalence in safety, survivability, equipment and manning which have undergone revisions to keep them current.
Welsh advised, “The earlier the relationship is established, the easier it is through the entire process up to delivery and afterwards in operation. Given the unique design of these yachts, a great deal of the day-to-day communication with our surveyors is discussing how to reach an equivalence with the code and how to achieve compliance in a pragmatic manner.
“It is no surprise that the Red Ensign group has the lion’s share of the world’s registered superyachts. It is the advantage of the established large yacht and passenger yacht codes which set us apart in practical terms, as well as the comfort and stability of registering in a British jurisdiction.”
Don’t get caught short
Regs4yachts Surveyors are recognised by a number of flags to perform statutory surveys. Alongside these services, they are ideally placed to offer ISM safety and ISPS security surveys and audits to highlight any areas that may be deficient on board a vessel. A scheduled inspection and audit regime is key to ensuring that the vessel is operating safely, securely and compliant with the various mandatory flag state and international regulations.
There will always be an inherent risk when operating any sea-going vessel and although for some the risk of sailing is part of the fun, by commissioning experts such as Regs4yachts surveyors you will be dramatically reducing the risk of having an accident and you may even find you save money and your reputation.
A Regs4yachts surveyor visited a yacht shortly after it had been aground which had resulted in considerable damage. The grounding occurred whilst the Master had attempted to avoid another yacht already aground on the northern edge of a sandbank. Unfortunately, the route chosen by the Master had taken the vessel on a track south of the aground vessel, resulting in being more aground than the grounded vessel. Upon investigation the surveyor found that sadly it wasn’t the skipper’s first incident. He had been aground on a previous vessel, not only running it up the beach but also running up a multi-million Euro repair bill.
When asked what Cert of Competency he had, the master proudly produced a yacht skipper’s endorsement limited stating “not more than 200 miles from land.” In the light of the skipper’s previous performances the surveyor asked, without a hint of a smile, whether there was a misprint on the ticket and perhaps it should have read “not within 200 miles of land.”
A fantastic true story, proving that however well qualified your crew are, even a superyacht can suffer from human error and decisions regarding the people you work with can effect even the most sturdy of ships.
Flying the flag
Flag choice should be made very early in the process, and is a balancing act between legal jurisdictions, security of title, reputation, price, quality of service and support when things go wrong. A good registry will have a sound and clear set of technical standards for yacht construction, a well understood set of national laws securing title and rights, a marine administration that is knowledgeable and available to provide advice and support, and it will deliver the above unobtrusively and at a modest price. The final yacht will be safe, well constructed, properly documented and acceptable anywhere. A poor choice of registry will have none of the above. If local customs officers in a far-flung place demand certification which isn’t on board, or if there’s an accident involving the loss of a crew member, support and advice might not be there.
Flag choice should be made very early in the process, and is a balancing act between legal jurisdictions, security of title, reputation, price, quality of service and support when things go wrong.