For a non-EU passport holder, the yacht registration of a privately or corporate owned boat in the EU can be quite an undertaking. The options being offered are for a large part determined by the purpose for which the yacht will be used and the geographical area you want to sail.
Ships Registrars in the EU
There are basically two categories of ships registrars. The official ships registrar, which is either administrated by a ministry of the flag state or an agency appointed by the ministry. In the official ships registrar pleasure crafts as well as merchant ships of all sizes and configuration are registered.
Then there is also the unofficial registrar, which countries like Germany and the Netherlands, amongst others, offer. Only pleasure crafts shorter than 24 meters can get registered in the unofficial registrar. Such a registration is however nothing more than a proof of ownership of the boat. In no cases is the boat given the nationality of the flag state, as is the case when registered in the official ships registrar. In some cases, like in the Netherlands, the unofficial registrar does not even allow you to physically sail under the Dutch flag.
Type of registration
Focusing on the official ships registrar, each flag state offers different types of yacht registrations, depending on the size of the boat and the purpose for which it is used.
Some countries differentiate between boats longer and shorter than 7 meters, others distinguish between yachts longer or shorter than 15 or 24 meters.
Then there are commercial and non-commercial yacht registrations. Non-commercial registrations are meant for pleasure crafts used for personal purposes only. Commercial registrations are issued for boats which are commercial exploited in the form of charters with or without a crew.
Mind you there are flag states that permit you to commercial exploit your yacht with a non-commercial registration, provided you meet certain criteria.
Who can register?
Every EU passport holder or company registered in the EU can register their pleasure craft in any of the ships registrars in the European Union. There are exceptions. Some countries require that the vessel is owned for 50% or more by a citizen of their country or registered company. Examples are the ships registrars of Belgium, Sweden and Finland.
Yacht registration in any of the EU flag states is more difficult for non-EU passport holders than for the average EU citizen. Some countries let non-EU passport holders with a permanent residence visa, register their boat in the ships registrar, other registrars do not accommodate such EU residents at all.
When primarily sailing the inland waters of the EU or in and around the Mediterranean Sea, an EU flag is so much more convenient, for several reasons. So what are your yacht registration options as a non-EU passport holder, living and working outside of the EU?
What are the yacht registration options in the EU for non-EU passport holders?
Say you live outside of the European Union and you do not have a permanent residence permit for one of the EU states. What options do you then have?
There are basically two options. Here again the purpose for which the boat is used and the waters you want to sail, influences the flag states you can choose from.
The most common construction is establishing a company in the EU after which the ownership of the boat is transferred to the EU registered company. The yacht is then registered, under the name of the company, in the ships registrar.
Whether the company owner is an EU passport holder or not is of no importance. Depending on the country, the company can be owned for 100% by you as a non-EU passport holder.
This construction does require annual tax declarations and everything else involved with running and maintaining a company. To be noted that the company does not need to be commercially active in any way. So theoretically the annual tax declaration can be €00,00 each year.
In case you only sail the inland waters of the EU, there is an option of registering the boat to you personally, without having to set-up the company construction. That means that the boat is registered in the formal ships registrar under your own name.
This type of registration does have a restriction and that it is only meant for boats sailing the inland waters of the EU. Secondly the boat has to moored in a harbour of the flag state and you have to prove that through a contract with the marina.
Flag states that offer this option are very limited.
Despite the fact that the yacht registration options in the EU are rather limited for you as a non-EU passport holder, first determine which waters you want to sail as the financial consequences of the company construction or personal registration can make substantial difference. Only then make the decision under which flag you wish to sail.
Other matters to take into consideration when registering your yacht, when following the corporate construction route, can be found in the article Choosing the right flag for your yacht.