Requirements to Register a Ship in Hong Kong

6 min read|Last Updated: September 13, 2021|

Who regulates the registration of ships?

The autonomy of the Hong Kong shipping register is enshrined in the Basic Law. It provides the constitutional right and legal basis for Hong Kong to continue to maintain a Shipping Register and to issue related certificates under its legislation under the name ”Hong Kong, China. The register is run by the Marine Department of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government and is separate from the Chinese Register.

The Merchant Shipping (Registration) Ordinance governs vessel registration. One unique feature of the Hong Kong Register is the requirement to hoist two flags at the stern of a Hong Kong ship. One flag is for the nation of the Peoples’ Republic of China, and the other is the regional flag of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

Application for Registration

An application for registration of a ship shall be made by the person or persons applying to be registered as the owner, as follows-

  1. By one or more persons or by an agent, in the case of individual ownership or charterer, or
  2. By an authorized individual in the case of a corporate.

The application for registration of a ship shall be made by both the demise charterer and the owner.

The authority of an agent acting on behalf of an owner or demise charterer shall be testified in writing. If the agent is acting on behalf of a corporate not possessing a common seal, then the agent shall include a declaration that the body concerned does not possess a common seal. He/she shall also include written consent to be an agent.

Refusal of Registration

If the requirements are not made as per the laws of registering a ship, the Registrar may serve the applicant or the agent with a notice informing him/her of such information necessary for determining whether the ship is registrable. Upon lack of clarification within 30 days since the date of the notice, the Registrar may refuse registration.

A ship that has met the requirements for registration may still not be registered if:

  • The ship’s condition for safety and risk of pollution are not met, or
  • It does not meet the safety health and welfare of persons employed or engaged in any capacity onboard the ship
  • The nature of the use of the ship is deemed inappropriate to Hong Kong or Hong Kong’s laws
  • There is difficulty in providing supervision and control of that ship or that class/type of chip in Hong Kong.

Upon successful registration, the Registrar shall grant a certificate of registry, in the specified form, containing the particulars relating to the ship registered.

Registrable Ships

A ship is registered if –

  1. A majority interest in the ship is owned by one or more qualified persons; or
  2. The ship is operated under a demise charter by a body corporate being a qualified person (whether or not a majority interest in the ship is owned by one or more qualifies persons).

A registered ship ceases to be registrable if –

  1. A majority of interest in the ship ceases to be owned by one or more qualified persons;
  2. The ship ceases to be operated under a demise charter by a qualified person. Note that,
    • The ship or any share in or part of the ship is transferred or transmitted; or
    • The rights of the demise charterer under the demise charter are assigned under a sub-demise charter;
  3. The ship is taken in war or hostilities, as a result of which the owner or demise charterer has lost control over the operation of the ship;
  4. The ship is broken up, or is an actual or constructive total loss such that it is no longer capable of being used in navigation;
  5. The ship at the time of registration remains registered in a place outside Hong Kong;
  6. The ship subsequently becomes registered in a place outside Hong Kong; or
  7. A representative person ceases to be appointed in relation to the ship.
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Ship Names Regulations

The Chief Executive in Council may make regulations-

  1. Requiring the name by which it is proposed to register a ship to be approved by the Registrar before the name is marked on the ship or entered in the register;
  2. Empowering the Registrar to reserve a name for a ship;
  3. Empowering the Registrar to refuse to register any ship by the name by which it is proposed to register that ship if the name-
    • Is already registered or reserved, or is in the option of the Registrar so similar as to be likely deceiving; or
    • Is in the opinion of the Registrar undesirable for registration in Hong Kong.

Rules as to Ship names

  1. A person shall not describe a registered ship by any name other than that by which the ship is for the time being registered.
  2. The owner or demise charterer of a registered ship shall not change the name of the ship, or cause or permit any such change, without the previous written permission of the Registrar.
  3. An application for permission of the Registrar shall be in writing.
  4. Upon the grant of permission to change the name-
    • The Registrar shall enter the ship’s new name in the register; and
    • The owner or demise charterer shall cause the new name to be marked on the ship’s bows and stern
  5. The ship’s name shall not be changed without the consent of the Registrar; if that happens, the Registrar shall direct that the ship’s name be altered into the previous name.
Ship Name

The license of Pleasure Vessels in Hong Kong

A pleasure vessel must be registered and insured. The boat owner first applies for the Operating License for the vessel and fills an application form. He/she then submits the form to the Marine Department along with the following documents:

  • Letter of approval from the Director of Marine, where applicable;
  • The identity card/certificate of incorporation of the owner of the vessel in original;
  • Proof of the owner’s name and address;
  • Certificate or document proving the emission level of the diesel engine, where applicable
  • Copy of the vessel’s third-party risk insurance policy;
  • Photographs of the vessel; and
  • License fee.
license of Pleasure Vessels in Hong Kong

If the owner is not making the application in person, other documents will be required.

Penalty for non-compliance

  1. A person who contravenes the law that directs on appropriate naming of a ship commits an offense and shall be liable to a fine of $5,000.
  2. An owner or demise charterer who contravenes the rules of ship names commits an offense and shall be liable to a fine of $5,000.
  3. The Director may detain the ship that contravenes the above requirements.


A ship may be registered on a provisional basis according to the application requirements of provisional registration, and the successful applicant shall be furnished with a certificate of provisional registration.

No person having possession or control of a certificate of registry of a ship shall detain it because of a claim by an owner mortgagee, charterer, or any other person to any title. And he/she shall not fail without reasonable excuse, to deliver the certificate on request to the person entitled to the custody of it for the lawful navigation of the ship.

The registration process of ships in Hong Kong is simple but thorough to ensure no illegal usage or navigation takes place.

Closure of registration can be made upon the request of the owner or as deemed by the Registrar when it has ceased to be registrable or when the ship or ship-owner has failed to comply with the registration ordinances.

Requirements to Register a Ship in Hong Kong  FAQs

Do I need to purchase insurance for my ship?2021-01-06T02:03:53+00:00

Yes, your need to purchase insurance for your ship from a third-party insurance agent. The amount is no less than HKD 5,000,000. For the ships carrying more than 12 passengers, your insurance will cost you approximately HK$ 10,000,000. 

What is the annual tonnage charge for a ship in Hong Kong?2020-10-22T05:48:14+00:00

The annual tonnage charge for a ship in Hong Kong is dependent on the net tonnage, and the charges are broken down as follows; 

The net tonnage of ships 1,000 or below is charged at KG$ 1,500, 5,000 net tonnages also at HKD 1,500. The net tonnage of 10,000  is HKD 33,000. The net tonnage of 15,000 is HKD 50500, while the net tonnage of 20,000 costs HKD 65,500, and the net tonnage of 24,000 and above will cost you 77,500. 

What is the fee for registering a ship in Hong Kong?2020-10-22T05:47:52+00:00

The registration fee for a ship is determined by its Gross Tonnage (GT). The break down is as follows500 GT and below costs HKD 3,500, and over 500 GT costs HKD 15,000. 

Who regulates the registration of ships?2020-10-22T05:41:18+00:00

The Hong Kong registry was set up in 1990. The merchant Shipping Ordinance is responsible for the ship registration process in Hong Kong, and the Marine Department of Hong Kong manages it. 

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