New Law Allows Patriotic American Superyacht Owners to Finally Fly U.S. Flag

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President Trump this week signed a bill that will allow American owners of large yachts to finally register their vessels under the United States flag.

Until now, U.S. law defined a yacht as a vessel whose volume was a maximum of 300 GT. The law was written in 1920 but never updated to reflect larger yachts of today.

This, in turn, has prevented most Americans who own private yachts exceeding the 300-GT limit from registering their vessels in the United States. Instead, they have have been forced to register under a foreign flag, or register their yacht as a commercial vessel.

Another option, only for the most determined owners, was to pursue a waiver to the rule from Congress. But, for obvious reasons, only a handful have done so and today there is only one yacht which holds such waiver: MY Limitless.

Editors Note: A previous version of this article said the yacht MY Freedom had obtained a waiver from Congres, however, that was not the case. The owner of the MY Freedom actually petitioned the Coast Guard and, after a lengthy process, in 2014 it was able to obtain the first Certificate of Inspection given to a privately-owned yacht over 300gt. Read more about how the MY Freedom obtained the Coast Guard COI here

According to the U.S. Superyacht Association, which helped develop the bill, the new legislation modernizes outdated laws and brings the United States in line with current times.

“This has been a significant issue that the U.S. Superyacht Association (USSA) has spent nearly a decade working to correct,” said Kate Pearson, USSA chair and vice president of business development of Safe Harbor Marinas. “We are thrilled to have been an integral part of helping to finally make it a reality and are pleased that yacht owners will no longer be chased from American shores to other countries to flag their vessels.”

The legislation, an amendment included on the bill that was signed by President Trump, received bipartisan support in Congress during its development.

“I am very pleased that the President has signed legislation that will increase the number of large recreational vessels which fly the U.S. flag,” remarked Congressman Duncan Hunter, representing California’s 50th District and chair of the subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation. “This will lead to more U.S. jobs in the ship repair and supporting industries.”

“The economic impact of more large yachts flagging U.S. could be significant, as these large vessels would now provide more high-profile opportunities for American crew, keep yachts traveling in U.S. waters, and spend more time in our repair and refit yards,” stated Kitty McGowan, president of the USSA.

Although there is no apparent economic benefit from registering under the U.S. flag, for some owners, the idea of flying the American flag is more about patriotism than the money. 

“For at least a half century, ridiculous regulations prohibited American citizens from displaying their patriotism by flying an American flag on their yacht,” remarked Tilman J. Fertitta, a longtime yacht owner, star of the TV show Billion Dollar Buyer, and sole owner of Landry’s Restaurants and the Houston Rockets. “With the new legislation, that ends. American yacht owners can now proudly proclaim their citizenship on their yachts. Thank you to all those that made this possible and to President Trump for eliminating over 50 years of bureaucratic red tape. This is truly an historic day for American yacht owners and the yachting industry.”

“Getting this accomplished wouldn’t have been possible without the vision and support of Mr. Fertitta, an American yachtsman now building his fifth yacht, and his team, who wanted nothing more than to register his yacht in the United States,” added McGowan. “Mr. Fertitta could have gotten an exemption for his yacht individually, but he chose to help the entire U.S. industry and for that, we are extremely grateful. This legislative action, spearheaded by Congressman Rob Bishop of Utah, is the icing on the cake that dozens of volunteers from our organization have been working on for years and is evidence that cooperative work between both the private and public sectors can truly effect positive change for our industry in the United States.”

While a specific U.S. Large Yacht Code is now being developed by the U.S. Coast Guard to go into effect in 2020, in the interim, a private yacht over 300 GT that is MCA compliant, will now be able to fly the U.S. flag.

“We look forward to continuing our efforts with the U.S. Coast Guard to help develop and establish the new U.S. flag registry as the best in the world,” said Jay Dayton, USSA Advocacy Co-Chair.