Virgin Islands Shipping Registry: A Steady Hand on Choppy Waters

By Paul Joseph

Like a duck’s legs working hard under water, invisible to those above the surface, behind the scenes of the world of superyachts is a bustling hive of activity that enables owners and charterers to enjoy ocean life to the maximum.

In the British Virgin Islands, central to the complex rules and regulations that oversee the superyacht industry – and the shipping sector as a whole – is the Virgin Islands Shipping Registry (VISR).

The islands have a proud and rich maritime heritage and each year about 25 to 30 superyachts register with the VISR, with as many as about 225 smaller yachts choosing the VISR as the flag of choice. At the time of writing, the largest yacht in the BVI register books is 82 metres long and has a Gross Tonnage of about 2700.

These facts are unusual for one key reason. While most countries have a Shipping Registry where owners can register their ships, extremely few specialise in superyachts. But slowly but surely, the VISR has built up a world class shipping registry with a deep knowledge base for registration, certification and survey of superyachts.

VISR is part of the Red Ensign Group (REG) of British Registry and all of the vessels registered is entitled to fly a modified Red Ensign. The VISR draw their authority to register ships from the government of the United Kingdom, ensuring that BVI flagged vessels are synonymous with "quality shipping" by maintaining high technical, social and administrative standards.

The major benefit of this is that all vessels flying a Red Ensign flag are entitled to British Diplomatic and Consular support worldwide, while yachts passing through the Arabian Gulf are entitled to British Naval Protection.

Previously, ships and yachts were registered in the owners’ country of residence, nowadays owners have become more aware of the advantages of registering their vessels in countries such as the BVI for beneficial tax laws and ease of administration.

There are other advantages too. Politically and socially stable, the BVI is recognised world -wide as a reputed offshore financial centre. It is extremely easy for companies registered in the BVI to have their ships and yachts registered, while fees are reasonable and with no hidden surprises.

And it is the VISR that provides the steady hand and logistical support that threads together the various layers of bureaucracy required to ensure the smooth running of yachts and ships operating – either commercially or recreationally – in the BVI. 

Ship registration is the process by which a ship is documented and given nationality. The nationality allows a ship to travel internationally as it is proof of ownership of the vessel. International law requires that every merchant ship be registered in a country, called its flag state. Ship registration is similar to a person receiving a passport. You can find out more about the Virgin Islands Shipping Registry here.

By Paul Joseph