British Virgin Islands: Ship Registration

Last Updated: 24 September 2018
Article by Walkers  


Road Harbour in the British Virgin Islands ("BVI") is a British Port of Registry and all ships registered here are designated British ships and fly the BVI Marine Ensign (British Red Ensign with the BVI crest). The BVI is amongst a select group of Caribbean destinations that enjoy the benefits of being part of the United Kingdom's Red Ensign Group of Registries and are now recognised worldwide as having an international Category 1 ship registry operating to the highest standards of a British Port of Registry. This is as a result of similar British Merchant Shipping legislation and the adoption of standards applicable to United Kingdom ships enforced under the International Maritime Organisation Conventions for:

  1. loadline (1966);
  2. tonnage (1969);
  3. MARPOL (International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships) (1973 and 1978 Protocol);
  4. SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) 1974 and 1978;
  5. ILO (International Labour Organization) (92 and 133) for Crew Accommodation; and
  6. STCW (International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers) (1978) (adoption of which is in process).

Leading international banks are no strangers to undertaking the financing of yachts, whether under construction or already built, owned by BVI companies. The BVI are now able to provide ship owners with an internationally accepted registry as an alternative venue to Bermuda, Isle of Man and Hong Kong; and the advantages of registering as a British ship in the BVI are coupled with low fees and fiscal planning advantages.

Advantages of the BVI ship registry

  1. Ships flying the Red Ensign, such as BVI registered ships, are entitled to British Diplomatic/Consular support and Royal Navy protection. BVI has access to the range of technical expertise of the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency.
  2. Low initial registration and annual renewal fees.
  3. Internationally accepted yacht registration and certificates – BVI is not a flag of convenience.
  4. Availability of provisional registration to meet varying circumstances.
  5. Simple and secure registration of ship mortgages, discharge of mortgages, change/transfer of ownership and other proprietary interests and services.
  6. Reasonable ownership qualifications (including ownership by a BVI company).
  7. Full corporate, legal, telecommunications and courier services readily available in the BVI.
  8. Political and social stability in BVI and British judicial system.
  9. Prompt, courteous and efficient service and fully computerized fleet management system and database.
  10. Convenient berths, accommodation, supplies and dock side services if planning to sail in BVI waters.
  11. BVI is recognised worldwide as a reputable international financial centre, and one of the world leaders in company formation and related corporate services.

Ownership through a BVI company

For a ship to be registered in the BVI as a British ship, it must be owned as to at least a majority by a "qualified person". Given BVI's international reputation as a jurisdiction of choice for the domiciling of international companies, clients invariably form a BVI business company for the purpose of owning BVI registered yachts (as well as yachts registered elsewhere). However, it is possible for other persons, both corporate and individuals, to also qualify to own a BVI registered ship. So, for example, citizens and/or bodies corporate registered in the United Kingdom and its crown dependencies and overseas territories also qualify. Also qualifying are nationals of, overseas territories of, and bodies corporate incorporated in, member states of the European Union or European Economic Area, although bodies corporate must have a place of business in such member state or overseas territory. Bodies corporate incorporated in a member state of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) or the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and registered in the BVI also qualify to own a BVI registered vessel.

Registration procedure

The following is a brief outline of the general steps to complete the registration procedure.

Approval of name

An application for approval of the ship's name must be submitted to the Registrar of Ships in the BVI (the "Registrar"), who will approve or decline the proposed name in accordance with regulations for names of vessels.

Appointment of authorised person

All bodies corporate must appoint at least one individual as its authorised person to sign all registry documents. It is therefore typical to include all directors in such appointment(s). The appointment of the authorised person must be notarised if it is not authorised under the common seal of the company.

Application to register

This application is required to be made either by the owner personally or, if the owner is a company, through its authorised person.

Appointment of representative person

The applicant is required to appoint a person resident in the BVI as its representative person. The representative person maintains the beneficial ownership information in respect of the applicant and is also the local point of contact when the Registrar needs to communicate with the applicant. Most registered agents in the BVI will agree to accept such an appointment.

First Registry – title documents

  1. It is necessary to produce a builder's certificate, that is to say, a certificate signed by the builder of the ship containing:
  1. a true account of the proper denomination and of the tonnage of the ship, as estimated by him;
  2. the time when and the place where she was built;
  3. the name of the person (if any) on whose account the ship was built; and
  4. (d) if there has been any sale, the bill of sale under which the ship has become vested in the applicant for registry.

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The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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