Last October the Bahamas Maritime Authority (BMA) announced the official launch of the Bahamas Yacht Registry. Writing recently for the International Law Office, [Laura D. Harris]( of Lennox Paton’s UK Office says The Bahamas is an ideal location for enhanced yacht services, with its well-established tourism industry, attractiveness to high-net-worth individuals, availability of wealth-management services, desirable tax regime, premier cruising waters and expanding marinas.

The expansion of the authority, and of the yacht sector itself, resulted in the need for a more focused and autonomous infrastructure dedicated to this area. The authority was formed in 1995 to administer the Bahamas Ship Register, which currently constitutes one of the largest in terms of tonnage worldwide. The authority has offices in Nassau, London and New York, representative offices in Piraeus and Leer, and an agency in Tokyo. The authority recently opened an office in Hong Kong and plans are afoot to open an office in Greece.

The Bahamas is perhaps best known for its cruise passenger ships. However, the Ship Register encompasses a wide range of vessel types. The majority of vessels on the register are tankers or general cargo and bulk carriers, but containers, offshore support vessels, reefers, passenger ferries and roll-on/roll-off cargo ships also feature. The authority always has registered yachts, but traditionally within the confines of the general Ship Registry.

Under the previous system, the registration, survey and management of yachts was regulated by the Bahamas Maritime Authority Bulletin 102, which largely applies the provisions of the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency Large Commercial Yacht Code for yachts over 24 metres load line length. However, vessels in commercial or non-commercial use for sport or pleasure did not fall easily within a particular class and safety standards did not always apply.

The new Bahamas Yacht Code, which is now being passed through Parliament, will govern the registration of commercial yachts which:

* are at least 24 metres in load line length;

* weigh less than 3,000 gross tons;

* are in commercial use for sport and pleasure;

* do not carry cargo; and

* carry no more than 12 passengers.

The code will govern safety standards, security and the prevention of pollution. The code is still mainly based on the UK code, with a few minor exceptions. Non-commercial pleasure yachts will be urged to adhere to these standards. Yachts which are shorter than 24 metres long will be governed by the UK Small Commercial Vessel and Pilot Boat Code of Practice. Bulletin 102 will also be updated accordingly.

The registry will enable a new numbering and more appropriate classification system to be introduced for yachts. An expert team of yacht surveyors, along with the authority technical team, will be available to assist with yacht owners’ survey and safety issues.

The addition of the Bahamas Yacht Registry adds a new dynamic and quality component to an already well-rounded, well-developed and expansive ship registry system.