Australian Maritime Safety Authority

Australian General Register

When a ship is registered it receives legally recognisable Australian nationality, evidenced by its registration certificate.

A registered ship is granted Australian protection on the high seas and in foreign ports.

What are the benefits of registering your ship?

Registration of title in the vessel
  • When you register your vessel the ownership cannot be overturned by the holder of an earlier interest unless you had notice of that interest when you purchased the vessel. The title of your vessel is recorded on the Register.
Australian nationality for the vessel
  • A vessel on the high seas is required under international law to have nationality.
  • A registered vessel receives Australian protection on the high seas and in foreign ports.
Ability to sail overseas
  • It is an offence for an Australian-owned vessel to sail to a foreign port unless it is registered on the Australian General Shipping Register.
  • Vessels purchased overseas by Australians must be registered before they sail for Australia or another foreign country.
Ease of re-sale
  • Registration will make re-sale easier and can add value to your vessel because the purchaser can be assured of ‘good title’.

What ships must be registered

  • All Australian owned commercial ships 24 metres and over in tonnage length, capable of navigating the high seas
  • Any ship undertaking an overseas voyage, regardless of size.

What ships may be registered

  • Ships less than 24 metres in tonnage length, government ships, fishing vessels and recreational craft
  • Any ship on demise charter to an Australian based operator
  • Any craft less than 12 metres in length owned or operated by an Australian resident.

Ships that were registered in Australia before 1982 and under the British system, were automatically transferred to the new register subject to nationality eligibility.

What is an Australian owned ship?

If you are an Australian citizen or resident, or a body corporate established under Australian company law, you can apply to have your ship registered if it is:

  • a ship owned by an Australian national or nationals
  • a ship owned by three or more people as joint owners where the majority of owners are Australian nationals
  • a ship owned in common where more than half the shares are owned by an Australian national or Australian nationals.

For the purpose of registration, the property in the ship shall be divided into 64 shares, which  can be divided among the owners as specified by them.

Ships cannot be registered under trade names, trusts or partnerships.

How to register your ship

You can apply to register your ship at the Shipping Registration Office. Forms can be downloaded and completed online, but are required to be signed and witnessed then sent in hard copy to the Shipping Registration Office. They can also be submitted at any AMSA office around Australia.

Please see a Ship registration – forms and information for more information on registering a ship.

After registration

Once a ship has been registered, the owner/registered agent must comply with the requirements in both the Shipping Registration Act 1981 and the Shipping Registration Regulations 1981.

So that the Register remains current, the Registrar must be informed:

  • if you intend to change the name or home port of your ship
  • of any change in the name or address of the owner or registered agent
  • if the ship or a share in the ship is sold
  • if any alterations are made to the ship
  • if the Registration Certificate is lost or destroyed
  • if the ship is lost or destroyed.

Heavy penalties apply for non-compliance, including fines and prison sentences for owners and registered agents who do not comply with the registration rules. The rules apply until a ship has been removed from the register. Ships no longer eligible to be registered or that are lost, taken by an enemy, burnt or broken up or sold to foreigners, will be removed from the register following notification from the registered owner. If a ship isn’t required to be registered, the registered owner may remove the ship from the register at any time.

Flying the flag

Registered commercial ships over 24 metres in tonnage length must fly the Australian Red Ensign. All other registered ships have the choice of flying either the Australian National Flag or the Red Ensign.

An unregistered Australian owned ship can be issued with a certificate allowing it to fly either flag. Some ships are allowed to fly other flags in Australian waters. These include a State or Territory flag, a flag or ensign authorised by warrant under the Flags Act 1953, and the British Blue Ensign if the owner has a warrant valid under British law.

Comings and goings

An unregistered vessel that is entitled to be registered can’t leave an Australian port for an international destination. Customs officials will not issue a vessel with a Certificate of Clearance. A temporary pass may be issued in some circumstances, or provisional registration can be arranged so it can start a voyage before the registration procedure has been fully completed.

A ship is also not allowed to leave a foreign port where there is an Australian diplomatic representative unless it has either been registered or issued with a provisional registration certificate.

Protection of interest

If the ship’s owner is unhappy about a decision that AMSA or the Registrar has made about a registered vessel or the registration of an unregistered vessel, they can appeal to the Supreme Court in the relevant state or territory or in some cases to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

A person with an interest in a ship can make sure that no transactions are registered which affect his or her interest in the vessel. This is done by taking out a court order preventing the Registrar from making any amendments or additions to the Register for a set period. A person can also lodge a caveat requiring the Registrar to notify the person of any application to register a dealing in a ship.

A ships' registration is not always be a simple matter, especially in multi-ownership situations, or where second hand vessels are involved. Parties seeking registration should consider seeking legal advice to make sure their interests are protected.

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