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British Virgin Islands (member of the Red Ensign group)

Shipowner Eligibility 

Citizens of and, Bodies Corporate registered in the BVI or, any of the following countries, are qualified to own a Virgin Islands vessel:
United Kingdom and its Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories
Nationals of and bodies corporate incorporated in:
Member State of the European Community (EC)
European Economic Area (EEA)
Overseas Territories of the Members of EC or EEA.
(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)
A Body Corporate must submit a valid Certificate of Incorporation issued by the respective Registrar of Companies. Individuals must provide certified proof of nationality (Passport, etc.)
The Owner(s) must produce satisfactory evidence of title to ownership in the form of:
Builder's Certificate; with descriptive details of the vessel, showing quite clearly the full name(s) and address of the person(s) or body corporate on whose account the vessel has been built and/or,
Document /Bill of Sale or Transfer (prior to registry) if the vessel has passed through more than one owner's hand before registry.

Forms for Bill of Sale can be obtained from the Registrar of Shipping in the Virgin Islands or at any British Registry of Ships. In case of vessels condemned by a competent court, a Bill of Sale given by the Admiralty Marshall or such other competent person may be accepted as foundation of title. With the documents produced as evidence of title to ownership, every owner is required to make a Declaration of Eligibility. Such declaration can only be made after the vessel has been acquired by the applicant. Therefore, the date must not precede the date in the Builders Certificate or the Bill of Sale.
A form entitled "Appointment of Authorized Officer" (SR101-03) which enables naming of an Individual to sign Declaration of Eligibility etc., is required in respect of Body Corporate
Bodies Corporate or Individuals not resident in the BVI are required to appoint a company, or individual residing in BVI as its Representative. This facilitates ready correspondence between the Registry and the vessel's owner.

Pursuant to our "Know Your Customer" principles, a form entitled 'Undertaking to Act as Representative Person' (RP), to be completed by the RP and submitted with every application.

The various types of forms for Declaration of Eligibility, Appointment of Authorized Officer, Appointment of BVI Resident Representative Person and undertaking by RP are obtainable from the Registrar of Shipping in the VISR.

About the Flag

The British Virgin Islands (“BVI”) are an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom (UK) located in the Caribbean Sea east of Puerto Rico. Road Town is the capital, and English is the official language. The Queen of the UK represented by the Governor is the Head of state, and the Chief Minister is the head of government. There is a unicameral Legislative Council and an Executive Council. The legal system is English law. The British Virgin Islands are a member of CARICOM and OECS and, through the United Kingdom, a member of the British Commonwealth, the EC, NATO, the OECD, the UN, and the IMO.

The economy, one of the most prosperous in the Caribbean area, is largely dependent on the tourism and the international financial services industries.

Breeding livestock is the most significant agricultural activity. The US Dollar is the official currency of the Territory. Chief trading partners are the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and the United States. The principal exports are rum, fresh fish and livestock. The main port is Port Purcell on the island of Tortola.

Vessels are registered in BVI are British Ships and, except for fees, the procedure is basically identical to the main UK system. The law covering the registration of ships is the BVI Merchant Shipping Act 2001 which is modeled after the UK Merchant Shipping Act 1995. Registration and ship safety and environmental protection regulation mirror corresponding UK regulations.

The BVI Registry specializes in the registration of yachts.

Company Formation

The Companies Act (Cap 285) governs domestic companies while the International Business Companies Act 1984 governs international business companies ("IBCs"). Domestic companies may be limited by guarantee. No minimum authorized capital is necessary; neither for domestic companies, nor for IBCs .
In order to form a company, the Memorandum and Articles must be submitted to the Registrar of Corporate Affairs, subscribed in the presence of a witness. For an IBC, subscribing is done by a registered agent. The registered agent forming a company must be named in the Memorandum and must be locally licensed. Incorporation takes 24 hours, but may be expedited in cases of emergency.
Two minimum shareholders are required for local companies and one for an IBC. Both types of companies must have at least one director, and no secretary is required. A registered office in the BVI is necessary at which a copy of the register of members is maintained. IBCs must have a registered agent in the BVI.
Local companies must have an annual general meeting. IBC directors' meetings may be held in or out of the BVI and may be held by telephone. IBC members meet when directors consider it necessary or on demand by holders of at least 50% of member votes.

There is only an annual license fee form for IBCs while local companies must file annual returns. Audits are not necessary. Public local companies must disclose profits by filing balance sheets with annual returns.


IBCs are not taxed. There are no exchange control regulations in the BVI.

Registration and Documentation

The Virgin Islands Shipping Registry is a branch of the General Registry of British Ships and ships registered fly the renowned Red Ensign. It is responsible for all registration matters.

The first step toward registration is to reserve a ship's name. A name may be refused if it could be regarded as offensive or if it could cause confusion in an emergency. The name chosen must also not be that of a ship already on the register. If the name is available, it will be reserved for a period of six months during which time steps must be taken to register the vessel or the name may be reallocated.

Then, the following original documents should be submitted to the Registrar of Shipping in BVI:
- Application for approval of name, for all ships
- Application to Register Ship, for all ships
- Declaration of Ownership Individual / body corporate owner(s), as appropriate
- Certificate of Incorporation, for bodies corporate only
- Appointment of Authorized Officers Form, for bodies corporate only
- Appointment of Representative Person, if applicable
- Certificate of Survey and Tonnage Certificate, for all ships
- Statement of Intended Use of vessel (e.g.: trade, commercial, cargo, passenger or private pleasure)
- Closed Transcript or Deletion Certificate (if applicable for ships previously registered), showing inter alia, name and address of last owner of record
- Proof of Ownership: Builders' Certificate for new ships, Bill(s) of Sale as applicable to show clear chain of title, for all ships.

After the Registrar is satisfied the above requirements have been met, an official number will be allocated and a Ship's Carving and Marking Note issued. The Note will contain instruction on how the ship is to be marked with her name, port of registry, official number and tonnage in accordance with the Merchant Shipping Act. After the Note, certified by an approved authority is returned to the registry, registration will be completed and a certificate of registry issued. All fees must be paid before registration is completed. It is customary to submit the registration fee with the documents.

Provisional registration is permitted only in special circumstances, and even then for a period of not more than three months. Procedures and conditions must be discussed with the registrar.

Transfers within the Red Ensign Group of ship registries are feasible. Such transfers must be agreeably between the Registrar of the original port of registry and that of the receiving port. Respective fees are charged.

Transcripts and Extracts of the Register are obtainable from the Registrar Blanks of all Statutory Forms are obtainable from the Office of the Registrar in Tortola. Documents are to be submitted in original and where necessary, translated into the English Language.

Bareboat charter registration is not allowed for vessels of the size currently permitted on the BVI Register. Further enquiries may be addressed to the Registrar in BVI.

Bareboat Charter Registration

Bareboat charter registration is not allowed for vessels of the size currently permitted on the BVI Register. Further enquiries may be addressed to the Registrar in BVI.

Vessel and Yacht Eligibility & Survey Requirements

The BVI Registry is especially oriented to the registration of yachts.
Except for ships transferring directly from another Red Ensign registry, all ships must undergo pre-registration surveys to determine the descriptive particulars, size and tonnage. In applicable cases, safety and pollution prevention surveys will be required. All surveys are to be carried out in accordance with applicable conventions and regulations by a Surveyor appointed by the BVI Administration, a Surveyor of the MCA (UK), a Surveyor of other Red Ensign Administration or a surveyor of any of the following organizations:
- Lloyd's Register of Shipping
- American Bureau of Shipping
- Bureau Veritas
- Det Norske Veritas
- Registro Italiano Navale

RYA (UK) and YBDSA (UK) are authorized to conduct surveys only for Yachts under 24 metres in overall length.

Yachts under 24 metres (79 feet) in load line length, engaged in commercial use must hold a "Certificate of Compliance" issued under the relevant MCA Code of Practice (Blue Code, Yellow Code or MGN 280) to operate as commercial vessels. The survey/examination necessary to issue such a certificate may be conducted by surveyors from VISR, Classification Societies or a Certifying Authority approved by the MCA. Other surveyors may be appointed by the VISR, if required, on a case by case basis.

In order to initiate a Statutory Survey an application must be made to VISR in writing. On receiving the application, the Chief Marine Surveyor will contact the Owner or his representative to discuss the survey procedures, and make the necessary arrangements to carry out the survey and issue the required statutory certificates.


Requirement of qualifications and training for seafarers working on ships depends on size of ship, type of ships, area of operations and at what capacity the seafarer working on board.

STCW 95 Convention provides training and certification requirements for sea-going officers and ratings. Virgin Islands Shipping registry issues Endorsement to the holders of STCW Certificate of Competency issued by IMO ‘White List' countries. The Endorsement is issued in accordance with regulation I/2 of the STCW 78 Convention as amended in 1995.

Virgin Islands Shipping Registry (VISR) issues Boat Master and Boat Engineers Licence described in Chapter IX, Part A of the Caribbean Small Commercial Vessel Code. VISR issues licence as Boat Master or Boat Engineer, as appropriate to persons who meet the requirements of the regulation stipulated in the SCV Code.

Further information can be found on the Registry's website.


The registration, transfer or discharge of mortgages are governed by the Merchant Act and are in accordance with British legal system and customary English practice. The deed and recital must be in the approved form. Blank forms with sample recitals are obtainable from the Registrar. Completed deeds and any supporting documents are to be submitted to the Registrar, with the appropriate fee.


For more information, including fees for commercial vessels over 3000 gt, please contact the Registry.


Virgin Islands Shipping Registry
Mr John Samuel
Director of Shipping
1st floor Ritter House
Wickhams Cay II
Road Town
British Virgin Islands (United Kingdom)


Stockholm Agreement 96
IMO Convention 48
* IMO amendments 91 
* IMO amendments 93
SOLAS Convention 74
SOLAS Protocol 78
SOLAS Protocol 88
LOAD LINES Convention 66
LOAD LINES Protocol 88
TONNAGE Convention 69
COLREG  Convention 72
CSC Convention 72
CSC amendments 93
SFV Protocol 93
STCW  Convention 78
STCW-F Convention 95
SAR  Convention 79
STP Agreement 71
STP Protocol 73
IMSO Convention 76
INMARSAT amendments 94
INMARSAT amendments 98
IMSO amendments 2006
IMSO amendments 2008
FACILITATION Convention 65
MARPOL 73/78 (Annex I/II)
MARPOL 73/78 (Annex IV)
MARPOL 73/78 (Annex V)
MARPOL Protocol 97 (Annex VI)
London Convention 72
London Convention Protocol 96
INTERVENTION Convention 69
CLC Convention 69
CLC Protocol 76
CLC Protocol 92
FUND Convention 71
FUND Protocol 92
FUND Protocol 2003
NUCLEAR Convention 71
MARPOL 73/78 (Annex III)
PAL Protocol 76
PAL Protocol 90
PAL Protocol 02
LLMC Convention 76
LLMC Protocol 96
SUA Convention 2005
SUA Protocol 2005
SALVAGE Convention 89
OPRC  Convention 90
HNS Convention 96
Cape Town Agreement 2012
SUA Convention 88
SUA Protocol 88

IMO Conventions

Status of Conventions British Virgin Islands (member of the Red Ensign group)

IMO Convention 48 x
SOLAS Convention 74 x
SOLAS Protocol 78 x
SOLAS Protocol 88 x
SOLAS Agreement 96 x
LOAD LINES Convention 66 x
LOAD LINES Protocol 88 x
TONNAGE Convention 69 x
COLREG Convention 72 x
CSC Convention 72 x
CSC amendments 93
SFV Protocol 93
Cape Town Agreement 2012
STCW Convention 78 x
STCW-F Convention 95
SAR Convention 79 x
STP Agreement 71 x
Space STP Protocol 73 x
IMSO Convention 76 x
IMSO amendments 2006
IMSO amendments 2008
FACILITATION Convention 65 x
MARPOL 73/78 (Annex I/II) x
MARPOL 73/78 (Annex III) x
MARPOL 73/78 (Annex IV) x
MARPOL 73/78 (Annex V) x
MARPOL Protocol 97 (Annex VI) x
London Convention 72 x
London Convention Protocol 96 x
INTERVENTION Convention 69 x
INTERVENTION Protocol 73 x
CLC Convention 69 d
CLC Protocol 76 d
CLC Protocol 92 x
FUND Protocol 76 d
FUND Protocol 92 x
FUND Protocol 2003 x
NUCLEAR Convention 71
PAL Convention 74 d
PAL Protocol 76 d
PAL Protocol 90
PAL Protocol 02 x
LLMC Convention 76 d
LLMC Protocol 96 x
SUA Convention 88 x
SUA Protocol 88 x
SUA Convention 2005
SUA Protocol 2005
SALVAGE Convention 89 x
OPRC Convention 90 x
HNS Convention 96

x: Accession/ratification
d: Denunciation

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