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After nearly 100 years, U.S. yacht owners can now fly the American flag

Freedom is one of only two U.S.-flagged vessels of more than 300 gross tons.

Freedom is one of only two U.S.-flagged vessels of more than 300 gross tons.

Last week, President Donald Trump signed legislation that allows yachts of more than 300 gross tons to be registered as recreational vessels in the United States. Since 1920, American-flagged yachts above that volume have had to be registered as commercial vessels. Instead of going through the process of building to commercial standards, many owners instead flagged their yachts in offshore jurisdictions, such as the Cayman Islands or British Virgin Islands.

The U.S. Superyacht Association said the new law supersedes one that was written in 1920, which had never been updated to reflect the growing sizes of superyachts.

“This has been a significant issue that the U.S. Superyacht Association has spent nearly a decade working to correct,” Kate Pearson, USSA chair and vice president of business development of Safe Harbor Marinas, said in a statement. “We are pleased that yacht owners will no longer be chased from American shores to other countries to flag their vessels.”

According to USSA, only two yachts above 330 gross tons are currently U.S.-flagged. Pearson said the 1920 law made it problematic for owners to register their yachts under U.S. codes because they are viewed as commercial vessels. Commercial vessels, such as cargo ships, are held to different operational and construction standards than yachts.

A handful of owners pursued acts of Congress to have their personal vessels listed as exemptions. Pearson said that was both “arduous and expensive” and not a good solution for most superyacht owners.

The legislation received bipartisan support in Congress. “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,” said U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, 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,” added Kitty McGowan, USSA president, in the statement.


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