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Simple & Secure Shipping Registration in the BVI

Flags on the charter boat White Squall II wave in support for the BVI, Canada and Willy T. Photo by Dan O’Connor.

By Willa Tavernier, O’Neal Webster

From the US to the UK and beyond, the amount of flags waving in BVI waters could have a seafarer wondering the advantages of registering allegiance to one nationality or another. For many reasons, those waving a red Union Jack might be at an advantage.

The BVI has the distinct advantage of being a Category 1 Red Ensign jurisdiction. This means that it is one of only 10 centres worldwide where mega-yachts and superyachts of up to 3000 gross tonnage, and cargo ships of unlimited tonnage can be registered. In addition, ships flying the BVI flag are entitled to British Consular support, Royal Navy protection, and access to the resources of the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency. The Virgin Islands Shipping Registry offers the highest standards in technical expertise and safety management, and registration certificates are recognized worldwide.

Most importantly registering a vessel is simple and secure. The main procedural elements are name availability and qualification; vessel qualification; evidence of qualifying owner and proof of legal title; and physical details.

VISR can register the following;

  • General cargo ships of unlimited tonnage;
  • Yachts of up to 3000 gross tons; and
  • All Vessels registrable by Red Ensign Category 2 jurisdictions i.e. Recreational craft and yachts of up to 400 gross tons (about 45m in length); Cargo and commercial craft of up to 150 gross tons (roughly 24m in length); and Domestic passenger ships on domestic voyages.

Local firms are well equipped to handle vessel registrations, vessel sales and purchases, and other changes and transfers of ownership, financing, ships mortgages and discharge of mortgages, and admiralty related litigation.

The vessel must be registered in the name of a BVI company or in the name of a BVI or British citizen. Those of other nationalities may satisfy this requirement by incorporating a BVI company, but this is no cause for worry since the BVI is the world’s leading company incorporation centre. It has been estimated that, since 1984, over one million BVI companies have been incorporated, placing its status as a leading offshore jurisdiction beyond dispute. There are several factors which contribute to the BVI’s attractiveness as an incorporation centre. A BVI company is easily formed, has a flexible organizational structure, and is exempt from taxation and excessive financial reporting or public filing requirements.

Boat Registration BVI Process

An application is made to the Registrar of Ships using prescribed forms which are readily available. The proposed name of the vessel must first be approved (to prevent duplication). To register a boat in the BVI, you will need to provide the following:

  • The proposed name of the vessel and an alternative name;

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(ii)  A Certificate of Survey and Tonnage from an authorized organisation for survey and tonnage measurements, verifying the specifications of the vessel to be registered, provided by the VISR or one of the following :

  • Lloyds Register of Shipping (LR)
  • Bureau Veritas (BV)
  • Det Norsake Veritas (DNV)
  • Germanisher Lloyd (GL)
  • American Bureau of Shipping (ABS)
  • Registro Italiano Naval (RINA).

(iii)    Builders Certificate or Bill of Sale;

(iv)    A Deletion Certificate if the vessel has previously been registered in another port.

The vessel owner must complete what is know as an “appointment of authorized officer to make the application on the owner’s behalf and the appointee must complete “an undertaking to act as representative person”

Once the application is filed, an official number is assigned to the yacht, and the carving and marking note reflecting the vessel name, port of registry, official number and registered tonnage, which are required to be carved/marked on the vessel in accordance with the instructions on the Note; when the marking is complete the Note is completed, signed and returned to the VISR. The VISR then issues the Certificate of British Registry (Blue Book) and this completes the registration. From there, you should be ready to reap the benefits of proudly waving that BVI Ensign. Happy sailing!

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