How Superyachts Boost the BVI's Financial Services

By Paul Joseph

While the British Virgin Islands attracts all kinds of visitors, ranging from business travellers to pleasure seekers, the majority come and go by sea. In fact, in 2016 among the record 406,000 overnight visitors who came for social or business reasons, charter boats were the most popular method of transport.

Whether you are drawn in by its white-washed shores or the plethora of luxury resorts scattered across the 60 tropical islands, islets and cays, the BVI doesn’t have to work hard to sell itself as a world-leading sailing destination.

Despite this, beautiful surroundings and luxury aren’t the only things pulling people towards the territory – the BVI is one of the world’s largest centres for the incorporation of companies and its thriving international business and finance centre is enabling individuals to synchronise their social and business commitments more efficiently than ever before.

Moreover, the British Virgin Islands is more than a holiday destination; it is home to part of a group structure of over 140 major businesses listed on the New York, London or Hong Kong stock exchanges.

The impact of this wider offering is illustrated by a recent report conducted by London-based consultancy Capital Economics which found the BVI’s levels of prosperity to be among the highest performers in the Caribbean and Latin American region, with gross domestic product of roughly US$32,500 per capita. Companies that facilitate cross-border trade and investment such as financial, legal and accounting firms have long benefitted from the BVI’s structure with investment in its shipping industry helping to make it even more accessible.

The BVI has made clear that maritime investment is a priority. Those who visit the jurisdiction on charter boats spend almost double those who stay in their own accommodation on island, and tourists aside, the commercial contribution of businessmen and women arriving by sea is considerable.

A 60 foot-wide, 1,312 foot long pier opened on the island of Tortola in February 2016, strengthened the BVI’s tourism offering but also its ability to cater for those operating within the international business and finance centre. While this is one very obvious tangible example, there is no question that the professional services required to support the superyacht industry are also helping to develop the quality and depth of professional services on island and even abroad. For example, BVI marine mortgages have quickly become recognised and enforced worldwide.

Today, over 3,000 internationally-owned vessels are registered by the Virgin Islands Shipping Registry (VISR) under the BVI Merchant Shipping Act 2001 and this continues to rise as Category 1 Red Ensign status classifies the BVI as 1 of 10 centres worldwide where megayachts and super yachts of up to 3000 gross tonnage can be registered.

In addition to marine mortgages, there are many benefits yacht owners can enjoy when registering in the territory. 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. Since it obtained its licence to cater for superyachts in 2006, the BVI has built a strong reputation as a trusted pair of hands when it comes to safety at sea, allowing people to get on with their commitments – work or pleasure – without worrying about their vessel.

Accommodating superyachts perfectly complements the BVI’s financial and professional services. The islands mediate over US$1.5 trillion of investment globally, and its reputable international business and finance centre supports infrastructure that allows high net worth individuals to be a part of its economy.

The islands have always been a favourite with sailors, but as the superyacht offer continues to evolve we are seeing it both coexist alongside and strengthen the territory’s financial services sector.  

By Paul Joseph