If you operate a charter boat or "vessel for profit" and are planning to travel through the British Virgin Islands soon, take heed of the marine regulations. As of February 1, 2010, the BVIs have begun enforcing a more stringent set of safety requirements for "small commercial sailing and motor vessels." This includes not only boats that operate out of BVI ports, but also those that are passing through the territory's waters. All are expected to be in compliance with The Merchant Shipping (Safety of Commercial Sailing and Motor Vessels) Regulations, which were issued in 2004.
Originally, the document was slated to go into effect on February 1, 2005, but the deadline for compliance was pushed back in order to give boats time to get their registration and safety checks in order. According to a Marine Circular put out by the Virgin Islands Shipping Registry (VISR) on November 1, 2009, "A recent study of the current status of compliance of BVI's small commercial vessel fleet has revealed that while a large number of vessels have gained the required commercial certification, there still exists a substantial number of vessels which have failed to obtain the necessary certification to be able to operate legally, as commercial vessels, in the BVI." Those that are not in compliance may be subject to possible legal sanctions.
Changes in requirements include the necessity for a life raft – an operational dinghy does not count – as well as a stability test, which often includes a haul-out. Erik Ackerson of the Virgin Islands Charter Yacht League in the U.S. Virgin Islands said that charter boats scrambled to comply by the required date, but it has been difficult to accommodate such large demands in the middle of the charter season.
According to VISR, a small commercial vessel is classified as a "vessel that is less than twenty four (24) metres in load line length and in commercial use for sport or pleasure and which does not carry cargo or more than twelve (12) passengers." This may include anything from bare boats to fishing boats and even larger yachts on charter in the BVI. However, if the hull is under five years old, then the boat is exempt.
Reportedly, the USVI government's Governor is seeking to intervene on behalf of the St. Thomas charter community. Stay tuned for further developments.
For more info and a complete listing of requirements and marine notices on the subject, you can visit www.vishipping.gov.vg or email [email protected]. The VICL also has MCA forms available online at www.vicl.org.