Ireland’s Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Leo Varadkar has announced the publication of the Merchant Shipping (Registration of Ships) Bill 2013.

The Bill is one of the Minister’s legislative priorities and is part of an overall objective to update and enhance the national maritime legislative code, and to ensure the safety of maritime transport services. 


This Bill is set to bring Ireland’s ship registration system in Ireland up to date and will replace the existing arrangements that have been in place since 1955 

According to the department, the importance of ship registration is that it confers Irish nationality on ships, allowing them to fly the Irish flag and to register ownership. The new Bill will provide a basis for the introduction of an updated and modernised ship registration system in Ireland.


Among the new categories of vessels for which the Bill proposes registration are fishing boats less than 15 metres in overall length; personal watercraft (jet skis), small fast powered craft and small angling boats. 

“This Bill will bring the ship registration system in Ireland up to date. It will replace the existing arrangements that have been in place since 1955 and allow us to introduce a new, centralised, electronic Irish Register of Ships,” remarked Minister Varadkar.

The Bill sets out a new registration process for vessels; most ships operating domestically in Irish waters will be registered on this new register.

The current arrangements for the registration of ships will continue until such time as the new Register is in place and the relevant provisions of the Bill and subsequent regulations are commenced.


In general terms, current registration applies to ships of more than 15 net tons, and fishing boats of 15 metres or more, wholly owned by Irish citizens. Certain exemptions apply, including ships owned by Irish citizens not ordinarily resident in the State.

Key points:

  • The new Irish Register of Ships will comprise different parts for the registration of different types of ships and for different registration purposes, e.g. a new system of visitor registration is proposed. 
  • The different parts can be established if necessary at different times on a phased basis. The specific registration requirements for different types of ships will be set out in regulations that would be made under the Bill following enactment.
  • Mandatory ship registration will be extended to additional ship categories including fishing boats less than 15 metres in length overall, personal watercraft (jet skis), small fast powered craft and some small angling boats.  In general, subject to some exemptions, all ships operating domestically will be required to be on the Register or to have a current valid registration conferring nationality from another country.  Other than the small vessels mentioned, registration of all leisure craft less than 24 metres is not proposed.
  • A system of visitor registration is proposed for recreational craft 24 metres in load line length and greater, personal watercraft (jet skis) and small fast powered craft, where such craft are not registered in another country and wish to operate in Irish waters for short periods not exceeding three months.  This will be a simplified form of registration and for a nominal fee, so as not to impact negatively on tourism.
  • The proposed extension of a registration requirement to jet skis takes account of the increase in the numbers of such craft in recent times, the risks that can be involved in the operation of such craft and, in particular, responds to a recommendation made by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board following a number of marine casualty incidents involving jet skis in recent years. 
  • Both ship registration renewal and a facility to refuse ship registration or remove ships from the Register are being introduced, to improve the quality, integrity and accuracy of the Ship Register.  A ship registration will have to be renewed up to five years after initial registration and at intervals of up to ten years thereafter. 
  • Under the Bill, Irish ships that are registered under the current regime will be transferred free of charge to an appropriate part of the new register for an initial period of up to five years and, subject to compliance with the requirements of the Bill, will then become eligible for consideration for renewal of their registration.

Improvements to enforcement provisions include:

  • increases in penalty levels;
  • a power of detention given to surveyors for ship registration related offences;
  • the introduction of a system of fixed payments (€150) for certain offences involving personal watercraft, small fast powered craft and smaller angling ships; and
  • the designation of a range of State personnel as authorised persons for enforcement purposes.

The next stage following publication of the Bill is its consideration by the Oireachtas, which will take place in 2014.