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Rules of the Road: Jamaica joins flag registrations

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Rules of the Road: by Capt. Jake DesVergers

We have a new player in the field of international standards for yacht safety and registration. The island nation of Jamaica joins an ever-increasing pool of flag options with the launch of a megayacht division by the Jamaica Ship Registry.

Steeped firmly in the annals of history, Jamaica’s participation in the maritime world dates back hundreds of years to its importance as a major Caribbean port of call. The famous Captain Morgan became renowned as a privateer for the British Navy from Port Royal, at the mouth of Kingston Harbour.

In today’s world, Jamaica is a ranking member of the executive council at the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Its technical knowledge and expertise were exhibited as chairman of the committee responsible for development of the STCW Code. Its shipping fleet ranks high amongst all port state control authorities, including the U.S. Coast Guard and European Maritime Safety Agency.

Being a former colony and current member of the British Commonwealth, Jamaica is afforded access, participation, and reciprocal acceptances in the yachting world’s various regulatory bodies, including those promulgated by the UK’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA).

However, its independence as a sovereign nation allows Jamaica to develop its own interpretation of international rules. This is in contrast to the restrictions imposed on those British dependencies in the Red Ensign group (Cayman Islands, Isle of Man, Bermuda, etc.) This autonomy allows Jamaica to be selective in using the best practices of the yachting world, while eliminating any negative or bureaucratic actions that may hinder an efficient program. This is most easily seen in its acceptance of the MCA’s Large Yacht Code, but its own interpretation to allow well-built, unclassed yachts the opportunity to achieve commercial certification for charter.

Another interesting option for yachts under the Jamaican flag is the choice of ports of registry. While most flags have one, two, or possibly even three choices, Jamaica boasts 18 ports to choose from, including famous locales such as Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Port Antonio.

Jamaica offers yachts three types of registrations, based upon the owner’s needs: private, private charter, and commercial.

First is the traditional type of registration for a pleasure yacht, private use. The owner and his immediate family will use the yacht for recreation. There is no intention to employ the yacht for financial activity.

Second is an option for limited charter use of the yacht. Known as private charter, this allows the yacht to recoup its operating expenses through limited charter operations not to exceed 84 days per calendar year. Yachts wishing to use this option must be inspected to verify compliance with the commercial standards for safety, lifesaving, firefighting and manning.

Jamaica’s private charter registration is similar to the limited charter program offered by the Marshall Islands and St. Vincent & the Grenadines. The major difference appears to be the realistic approach by Jamaica to fine tune its requirements based upon a yacht’s size and number of crew. Jamaica identifies that a single blanket standard is not acceptable for a 45m power yacht in comparison to that needed on a 20m sailing yacht.

Third is the traditional commercial registration. With this type of registration, the yacht is afforded the full rights and privileges associated with a commercially trading vessel. Incorrectly referred to in some circles as being “MCA,” commercial registration allows a yacht to charter unlimited in those parts of the world where it is required, particularly Europe.

Also important to note, yachts under construction or being put into an extended lay-up period are allowed modified registrations to facilitate an owner’s needs that may be dictated for financing, insurance, or a reduction in use.

Manning requirement is are always a hot topic for yachts, especially those that charter. Jamaica appears to have recognized the unique nature of yachts, while ensuring that the international rules are still adhered to. There is no restriction on nationality. Practical and realistic manning levels are assigned based upon the size, area of operation, and intended use of the yacht.

Licenses and certificates issued by other “white-listed” nations that are signatory to the STCW Code are recognized without the need for further examination. Jamaica has also created a mechanism for certain national licenses, such as those issued by Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, to be accepted without the need for re-examination.

Moreover, with a collective sigh of relief, Jamaica recognizes the MCA’s Y-system of crew certification without restriction or additional requirements of training.

There are several other interesting points that Jamaica is marketing, but that may not be at the forefront of a prospective owner’s needs.

Jamaica is a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). This association between most independent islands in the region provides preferential treatment to its members, including those vessels flying its members’ flags.

Jamaica is one of only 30 nations in the world to be authorized a cruising license by U.S. Customs. This facilitates a yacht’s movements while in US waters.

Existing foreign corporations are not required to re-domicile to the island. For example, if a Maltese corporation owns a yacht, that ownership structure may remain in place without the need to re-establish it in Jamaica. This allows a yacht to maintain its legal ownership and, where applicable, VAT registration while sharing in the advantages offered by the Jamaican flag.

There is an additional listing of important facts at www.jamaicayachts.com.

As we see every few years in the yachting world, things move in cycles. Favorites become has-beens and old-forgottens become new again. This latest entrant into the megayacht arena appears to have taken the best qualities of the current flag choices, wrapped them into a nice one-stop option, and eliminated the bad traits.

Jamaica will certainly fill a hole that exists. It will be interesting to see the growth of this new up-and-coming flag and how it can positively move our industry ever forward.

Capt. Jake DesVergers is chief surveyor for International Yacht Bureau (IYB), an organization that provides flag-state inspection services to yachts on behalf of several administrations. A deck officer graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, he previously sailed as master on merchant ships, acted as designated person for a shipping company, and served as regional manager for an international classification society. Contact him at +1 954-596-2728 or www.yachtbureau.org. Comments on this column are welcome below.

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