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As The Bahamas is a coral archipelago of approximately 700 islands and more than 2,000 rocks and cays; it comes as no surprise that The Bahamas is a favored destination of many mega yacht owners. Owing to this, The Bahamas Government has made concerted efforts to facilitate the registration of mega-yachts under the Bahamas’ flag. This is evidenced by the fact that this growing sector of shipping has its own separate space and structure within the Bahamas Maritime Authority (“BMA”). The BMA is the government agency responsible for The Bahamas’ ship registry, including yachts.

Bahamas Yacht Codes

The BMA has three yacht codes namely the Bahamas Large Charter Yacht Code, Bahamas Small Charter Yacht Code and the Bahamas Passenger Yacht Code, all of which provide design criteria and construction standards to minimize the risk to such vessels, persons onboard them and the surrounding environment.

Yacht Registration

Any private and charter yacht may be registered under the Bahamas Flag provided they are 12 meters’ in length and above.

The BMA bulletin on the “Registration of Yachts in The Bahamas” (the “Bulletin”) states that a yacht means a vessel engaged on international and unrestricted voyages which:(i) does not carry cargo, (ii) does not carry more than 12 passengers; and (iii) does not carry fare-paying passengers on pre-defined routes or itineraries.

A Private Yacht is defined as a yacht: (i) wholly owned by an individual or individuals, only for the sport or pleasure of the owners or the owner’s guests; or (ii) owned by a body corporate, only for sport or pleasure of officers, directors, or beneficial owners of the corporate entity, or their guests; and on a voyage or excursion which is one for which the owner does not receive money for, or in connection with, operating the yacht or carrying any person, other than as a contribution to the direct expenses of the operation of the yacht incurred during the voyage or excursion.

Additionally, the definition Private Yacht also includes any yacht wholly owned by or on behalf of a members’ club formed for the purpose of sport or pleasure which, at the time it is being used, is used only for the sport or pleasure of members of that club or their guests, and for the use of which any charges levied are paid into club funds and applied for the general use of the club.

A “Charter Yacht” is defined in the Bulletin as any yacht engaged in trade and which is not a Private Yacht.

The BMA provides a straightforward, cost effective and efficient registration procedure for private and charter yachts. Once all registration requirements are fulfilled, the yacht will be provisionally registered, and issued with a provisional Certificate of Registry which is valid for six (6) months giving the owner/manager time to comply with all conditions for full registration.

The Certificate of Registry will describe the yachts use or category. If an owner wishes to change the use of a yacht from ‘non-commercial’ to ‘commercial’, or visa versa, the owner should notify the BMA and apply for a replacement Certificate of Registry.

The BMA assumes, unless notified otherwise, that all yachts are intended for commercial use. Owners of yachts to be used exclusively for their private pleasure and deemed to be ‘non-commercial yachts’ are required to complete a “Declaration of Non-Commercial Use” and adhere to the obligations contained in the said Declaration.

Advantages of The Bahamas Flag

Yacht registration in The Bahamas presents a number of benefits to owners including: (i) Individuals of any nationality can register a yacht in the Bahamas as there are no ownership requirements, limitations or conditions of nationality, residence, or company incorporation for yacht registration;(ii) Existing yachts can operate as soon as they have been provisionally registered;(iii)Yachts may be registered while under construction; (iv) Opportunity for small and larger private yachts and passenger to also engage in restricted chartering for not more than 84 days per calendar year;(v) Bareboat/dual registrations are permitted; (vi) Yachts certified to LY2/LY3 or similar codes are accepted; (vii) Access to a wide global network of maritime experts; (viii) Personal service and flexibility, even outside of normal business hours; (ix) No restrictions on sale and mortgaging; (x) No restrictions on nationality of crew; and (xi) Competitive fee structure with low annual cost.

Memberships

Bahamas Shipowners Association (“BSA”)

Membership to the BSA is open to all yachts registered with the Bahamas Flag. The purpose of the BSA is to promote the common interests of its members. Members pool knowledge and experience, and collectively provide a clear voice in the development of the maritime industry.

The benefits of BSA membership includes: (i) Support to members by acting as liaison between the owner and the flag state; (ii)Regular reports on developments in the International Maritime  Organization (“IMO”); (iii) Regular reports on developments through the International Chamber of Shipping (“ICS”); (iv) The possibility to affect developments through high level meetings with organizations such as the United States Coast Guard, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, as well as through the BMA and ICS; (v) Quarterly BSA Newsflash Newsletter; and (vi) BSA Website including IMO & ICS reports as well as a document library for members only.

Fees

Currently, all initial registration fees are waived, and the Bahamas offers competitive annual fees, which are as follows:

  • Private Yachts – $700.00
  • Charter Yachts – $1,000.00 plus $0.20 per ton

For further information, please contact a specialist in the Maritime & Aviation practice group.

The information contained in this article is provided for the general interest of our readers, but is not intended to constitute legal advice. Clients and the general public are encouraged to seek specific advice on matters of concern. This article can in no way serve as a substitute in such cases.
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