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Which ships are eligible for registration in the national shipping register(s) and which parties may register ships?

Eligible for registration in the national shipping register are commercial or other seagoing ships which are obliged or permitted to fly the German flag. The shipping register is administered by the lower court of the home port or, if there is no home port in Germany, at a place to be chosen by the applicant. Inland navigation craft are registrable in a separate register.

The German flag must be flown by every seagoing ship longer than 15 metres that belongs to a German owner (a natural person or certain German corporations) whose habitual residence or seat is in Germany. The German flag may be flown in some other cases, particularly by residents of other EU member states whose residence is in Germany. Corporations that were formed in accordance with the legal provisions of an EU member state can register their vessels in Germany, provided that they appoint one or more responsible persons whose habitual residence is in Germany or a representative or seat in Germany to ensure compliance with the applicable technical, social and administrative provisions.


What are the procedural and documentary requirements for registration?

The owner must provide the court with certain data regarding the ship. Further, the owner must:

  • prove its acquisition of title in the ship; and
  • state the legal grounds for this acquisition of ownership and the basis of its right to fly the German flag.  

Most of the prescribed information must be disclosed by means of public or certified deeds. The assessment of compliance with international regulations or conventions falls within the competence of the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency in Hamburg (for further details please see the Register of Ships 1940, as redrafted in 1994).

Grounds for refusal

On what grounds may a registration application be refused?

In particular, registration may be refused on the following grounds:

  • lack of right to fly the German flag;
  • entry of the ship in a foreign shipping register; or
  • non-compliance with applicable international conventions or regulations in respect of technical, social or administrative matters.


Are there any particular advantages of flying your jurisdiction’s flag?

Among other things, flying Germany’s flag:

  • creates the presumption that the vessel is a ship (and not an inland navigation craft with different legal characteristics);
  • provides proof that the ship has the right to fly the German flag;
  • creates the presumption of the registered owner’s ownership (to exclude bona fide acquisition by a third person, which is possible even when a ship is not included in the register);
  • provides commercial advantages (as a ‘white list’ flag state); and
  • is a prerequisite for registration of mortgages on the ship. 

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