Superyachts, or yachts longer than 24 metres are becoming increasingly prevalent in the luxury yachting world, with high profile members of society such as Bill Gates and Roman Abramovich partaking in the trend. However, until recently under Spanish law these vessels have fallen into a grey area, with unclear rules on their licensing and regulation.

In addition, with the new SOLAS convention international ruling on recreational vessels, created a great deal of a great deal of uncertainty over rules for captaining mega yachts, or any vessel over 24 metres long. This is because it made a distinction between boats and ships, with the former being legally defined as being less than 24 metres long, with a gross tonnage (gt) of less than 3000gt. Under this system, superyachts would be classified as ships, and therefore be subject to the stricter rules governing these.

Mabrouk Superyacht

Mabrouk Superyacht

Greater clarification

Last month however, a little reported change in legislation was implemented by the Spanish government providing for greater regulation of superyachts, inspired by a similar British ruling. While this may sound like a bigger headache for yacht owners, it has actually clarified a great deal of legal jargon for owners of superyachts. Put simply it extends existing legislation concerning recreational craft to yachts over 24 metres long, classifying the latter as Buques de recreo or recreational ships.

Mangusta 108 Superyacht

Mangusta 108 Superyacht

This circumvents the restriction imposed by the new international ruling, whilst still respecting its provisions in regards to yachts less than 24 metres long. Prior to this, superyacht owners needed to have a professional sailing licence, as superyachts were legally deemed to be ships.

One point to remember is that despite the removal of restrictions regarding the vessel’s length, to be considered a recreational vessel a superyacht must have a gross tonnage of less than 3000gt.

But what does this mean for superyacht owners in Spain?

These rules only apply to Spanish flagged vessels, and people resident in Spain therefore if you own a UK flagged yacht, only a Yacht Masters Certificate with translation into Spanish or an ICC (International Certificate of Competence) is needed. In addition the new rules do not apply to craft sailed exclusively in regattas, small boats, wooden-hulled boats or sailing historic boats.

Azimut 116 Superyacht

Azimut 116 Superyacht

This broadly means that superyacht owners now only need to obtain the ‘Capitán de yate’ licence, the highest recreational licence, which is easier to obtain than the professional licence required to captain a commercial ship. This licence still allows yacht owners to sail anywhere in the world.

However it is worth noting that as this is the highest such type of licence required, it still requires a great deal of dedication to obtain. To charter a superyacht, you need to be in possession of:

  • Patrón de Yate licence (yachts up to 24 metres long and 150 miles sailing distance from the coast)
  • PER license (yachts up to 15 metres long and 12 miles sailing distance from the coast)

Each of these licences, as well as the Capitán de yate licence carries additional requirements such as medical tests and practical and theoretical exams. You can find out more about how to obtain these here.