Basing your yacht in the BVI

Perhaps you have decided to make a lifestyle change; sell it all, buy a boat, cruise the Caribbean and make a few dollars while you are at it by taking passengers on board. Or maybe you are cruising elsewhere in the world and would like to explore chartering in BVI waters.  Before you pack it all in and set sail for this tropical sailing paradise you need to be aware of the intricacies of operating a charter business in the British Virgin Islands.

This brief outline serves the purpose of giving you a general overview of what you should know before you arrive to charter in the BVI.

Trade License

Just as if you were opening a shop, boutique or restaurant ashore somewhere, no one may operate a commercial recreational vessel in BVI waters without first obtaining a license.

You don't have to flag your vessel in the BVI to base here, but if you do decide to the following is a good link http://boatregistrationbvi.com/#why_register_boat_bvi

If you are intending to be a BVI-based charter yacht, application forms can be obtained from and returned to the government’s Trades and Consumer Affairs office. Yacht owners should anticipate waiting approximately 3 months for their license to be approved. There are two ways to file for a license.

  • File direct with the Trade and Consumer Affairs office
  • Use the services of an agent or a lawyer to assist in the process.

Click here for a Trade License Application check list.

Click here for a sample Crewed Yacht Trade License

Business trade Licenses are renewed annually in January

Small Commercial Vessel Certificate

In February 2004 the BVI passed the THE MERCHANT SHIPPING (SAFETY OF SMALL COMMERCIAL SAILING AND MOTOR VESSELS) REGULATIONS. Any vessel chartering in BVI waters, whether the yacht is BVI based or foreign-based, is expected to be compliant with the MCA Blue or Yellow Code. The codes are concerned with the construction of a vessel, its machinery, equipment and stability, and the correct and safe operation of the vessel. It affects all vessels chartering in BVI waters, whether the yacht is BVI based or foreign-based.  

The “Blue Code” relates to passenger (non-cargo) sailing yachts less than 24 metres long and carrying 12 or less passengers.

The “Yellow Code” relates to passenger (non-cargo) power yachts less than 24 metres long carrying 12 or less passengers. The SCV (Small Commercial Vessels) Code for the Caribbean relates to commercial vessels which are cargo, and passenger vessels of less than 24 metres, carrying no more than 150 passengers.

The Blue and Yellow codes are available in PDF format and can be found on the Virgin Island Shipping Registry site. Hard copies can be purchased at the CYS office.

Additional documents required include:

  • BVI Radio Station License
  • Operator’s License

Licenses are obtained through Telecommunications Regulatory Commission located in Road Town.

Annual Recreational Commercial Vessel License

Once you have approval through the Trade Department and have paid $500 for your Trade License you may go to Customs where you pay your annual Recreational Commercial Vessels License (effectively, an annual importation tax). This license is due for renewal on the 1st of November each year. It is dependent on the size of vessel and ranges from $400 - $800. Mark the above date on your calendar. Missing payment can cost you $5,000.

Note:

  • Non BVI based yachts pay this license on a per charter basis upon entrance into the Territory. Again, depending on the size of the yacht the fee will cost betweeen $35 and $45.
  • A yacht must have a Cruising Permit for their party when on charter. It is a “per person per day” tax payable to customs. BVI Based: $6 pp/pday 
  • Non BVI Based: $16 pp/pday 
  • If you are going to pick up National Park Mooring Buoys during the charter, you must have a National Parks Trust permit. Annual or per charter available.
  • If fishing is permitted on a yacht (whether it is with rental gear, personal gear or the yacht's gear), a registration number is required for the yacht and every person wanting to fish must have a fishing license.  Yacht Registration, Fishing license 

The Skipper

Aside from the requirements of having to enjoy hosting people, being outgoing and possessing great élan, the standard building blocks of a great charter captain, the marine safety code requires all BVI-based skippers to hold a VISR recognized captains license with STCW certification.

The 1st Mate/Chef

The first mate/chef should also be hospitable, and very flexible. Formal culinary qualifications are certainly an asset. All crew working on a crewed yacht based in the BVI are required to have completed the STCW basic qualifications course.

Work Permits

In order to work in the BVI as crew of charter vessels (ie. allowed to do limitless charter pick ups), crew (non BVI citizens) must hold BVI work permits.  The order of things is first the Trade License, and then comes the work permits. This order only differs if one chooses to operate under the trade license of a yacht management company. Work permit applications are obtained from and returned to the Labour Department.

The process seems daunting, but it’s no different from what non-citizens go through to enter the US or the UK to work legally.  The name(s) on the trade license is the employer; therefore if you are the holder of the trade license you require a Self-Employed work permit whereas an Employee Permit is required for hired crew. Upon approval, permission is granted to enter the territory.  Immigration status is then granted and the charter vessel becomes a viable BVI-based operation.

Work permits in cost about $1000 - $1200 each and must be renewed annually. A cash bond of $1000 - $3000 (dependent on country of citizenship) per person must be posted.  The bond will be returned upon departure from the territory.