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

As defined in Section 3 of Title 1 of the US Code, the word ‘vessel’ includes “every description of watercraft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water”. Any vessel weighing at least five net tons that is not documented under the laws of another country is eligible for registration with the National Vessel Documentation Centre (NVDC) of the US Coast Guard, provided that it is owned by a US citizen. Who or what is the definition of a ‘citizen’ depends on what type of registry endorsement is sought for the vessel to be registered. For example, if the vessel is intended for use in the US coastwise trade, in addition to other criteria (ie, being built in the United States), the entity that owns the vessel must ultimately be 75% legally and beneficially owned by US citizens. If the vessel is intended solely for US international trade and does not trade between points in the United States, various corporate formalities must be met to be entitled to registration (eg, having a US citizen chief executive officer and US citizen board control), but there is no minimum citizenship beneficial ownership requirement.


What are the procedural and documentary requirements for registration?

The process to register a vessel under the US flag begins with the filing of an “application for documentation” (USCG-1258) with the NVDC. Other documentary requirements include the submission of evidence of ownership and build, tonnage and dimensions.

Grounds for refusal

On what grounds may a registration application be refused?

There are no age requirements for the registration of US flag vessels. Therefore, assuming that all other requirements are complied with, the vessel will be registered by the NVDC.


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

US flag vessels bearing a coastwise registry endorsement are the only vessels that may transport persons or cargo for hire between points in the United States. In addition, US flag vessels are entitled to certain cargo preferences, including US Agency for International Development and military cargoes.

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