The BVI Customs Charter Update

Many of you woke up this week to see photos online of yellow tape around catamarans in The British Virgin Virgin Islands. Headlines stating “CUSTOMS DETAINS OVER 100 CATAMARANS ON TORTOLA” aren’t exactly what people envision when daydreaming about their upcoming crewed yacht vacation in The BVI’S. I am sure it was a distressing sight as the 2nd busiest stretch of the year quickly approaches.

First and foremost: If you have booked a crewed yacht charter in the British Virgin Islands with Where Land Meets Sea Charters (Wlms Charters)-you are 100% set for your charter. Your vessel HAS NOT been impounded. If you want to know the broader story…read on!

If you have booked a charter with us in the last year, you have likely heard me refer to current situation in The BVI’S as “The COVID hangover.” The reason I have stated this is that just as the Caribbean and specifically the BVI’S was getting ready to fully open its sea borders after 18 months of closures due to COVID, they followed up with updated information for commercial charter vessels wishing to charter in the BVI’S. The first announcement of reopening came out in early October. Initially the region rejoiced as we all thought we could resume booking charters as we did in “the good old days” (PRE COVID). We thought the sea borders were open and that charter vessels could freely enter and exit as they did before March 25th, 2020.

And then….the additional updates came out regarding new requirements for commercial vessels. All vessels wishing to run a charter needed to be based in the BVI’S, inspected by customs and crews needed their BVI work permits. That quickly eliminated a large chunk of the crewed charter vessels based in neighboring regions such as the USVI’S. That said, many people familiar with the topic weren’t surprised by this requirement. For example: I started booking BVI crewed charters that were based in The BVI’S starting in early 2021 as there indications this was likely to become a requirement.While the new requirements didn’t sound too challenging the paperwork process to get your vessel properly inspected, licensed and crews issued work permits took on a new level of pain. The crewed yacht charter industry largely dealt with this in October and November in attempts to get vessels legal to operate in time for the holidays. It was stressful, confusing and everyone involved wanted to bang their heads on the table at times. In truth it took a sincere effort on the part of the owner, dedicated crews and booking managers (often referred to as the stakeholder or central agent) to get the vessels legal to operate in such a short amount of time.

As the 2021/2022 season has worn on, the crewed charter vessels who wanted to get their commercial licenses and work permits slowly did so. Vessels who were legal to operate in the USVI started the season over there and chipped away at the process when they had time between charters. Other charter vessels simply chose to stay in the USVI if they were legally able to do so.

Fast-forward to this week and what has made headlines are the large bareboat companies who were notified in October but were given some extensions due to the size of their fleets. Unfortunately for bareboats, it really takes effort to get each vessel licensed and inspected. Those boats who do not have a individual owner and assigned crew likely did not have personnel resources to tackle the new regulations. The additional supply chain issues have only added to the headache.

While the bulk of Wlms Charters business is based on the crewed yacht charter industry, I can certainly appreciate the situation for the bareboat companies who find themselves impounded.

The reasons for the change in BVI customs and regulations dates further back and is part of a much larger issue. For what it’s worth, I do believe the BVI’S are trying to make their vessels safer. That said this week’s events have proven to be incredibly stressful for stranded travelers who were excited about their upcoming vacation. Many people haven’t gone on vacation in over 2 years!

If you find yourself stuck and/or stranded in an airport heading to the BVI’S, we are happy to help if possible.

IF….you are reading this and booked your charter with a different company, I would encourage you to check with your charter company to find out if your boat is compliant and legal to operate in the BVI’S.

For more information feel free to contact us directly.