What is the Red Ensign?
The Red Ensign (or "Red Duster" as it is occasionally known) is
a flag that originated in the early 17th century as a British
ensign flown by the Royal Navy and was later adopted specifically
by British merchantmen to be flown as the civil ensign of the
British merchant fleet.
What is the Red Ensign Group?
The Red Ensign Group (REG) is comprised of the international
shipping registries operated by the United Kingdom, three Crown
Dependencies (Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey) and eight UK
Overseas Territories (Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands,
Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, St Helena
and the Turks & Caicos Islands).
Any vessel registered in the UK, a Crown Dependency
(CD) or an Overseas Territory (OT), is a "British
ship" and is entitled to fly the British Merchant Shipping
flag the 'Red Ensign' (or a version of it defaced
with the appropriate national colour).
The 1995 Merchant Shipping Act (section 8, Part II) provides for
the central register of British ships on the UK Ships Register, as
it is currently known. Section 18 of Part II of the 1995 Act,
allows by Order in Council, British possessions (both CDs and OTs)
to establish different categories of register with restrictions on
vessels according to the tonnage, size and type. Presently under
the Merchant Shipping (Categorisation of Registries of Relevant
British Possessions) Order 2008 (Statutory Instrument 2008 No.
1243), these registers are divided into the following
British Virgin Islands
Isle of Man
Turks & Caicos Islands
What is the difference between Category 1 and 2
Category 1 administrations operate large international registers
and may register ships of unlimited tonnage, type and length.
Category 2 administrations can register commercial ships of up
to 150 gross tons (GRT) and pleasure vessels, that is, those not
operated commercially of up to 400 GRT (pleasure vessels, by
definition, refer to ships used for sport or pleasure, which are
not operated commercially).
Which register is right for me?
The Red Ensign Group of ship registers has long been associated
with quality within the maritime sector, and remains the flag of
choice for many owners seeking high standards to ensure the safe
running of their ships. Through this website you find information
about the Group and individual links to the member's websites which
will provide details on the benefits and advantages of British
How much does it cost to register?
Individual REG members are responsible for setting their own
registration fees, and this can be either found through the
member's individual website or through contacting the local
registry. Contact details are available on each member's page.
Can I fly a local defaced version of the Red Ensign on
This depends on the requirements of the individual Red Ensign
registry with which your vessel is registered, and updated advice
should be sought directly from the registrar.
For information, section 3(b) of the UK Merchant Shipping Act
1995 allows the use of both the Red Ensign flag or a version of it
defaced with the appropriate national colour, on vessels registered
with a Crown Dependency or UK Overseas Territory provided they have
either a Royal Warrant or an Order in Council:
"(3) The following are also proper national colours, that is
(b) in the case of British ships registered in a relevant British
possession, any colours consisting of the red ensign defaced or
modified whose adoption for ships registered in that possession is
authorised by Her Majesty by Order in Council"
What is the size of the British fleet?
The total combined size of the British commercial fleet stands
at 3,959 vessels of 46,561,241gross tonnage (based on statistics
from May 2011) placing the British Fleet 6th in size of the World's
Survey, Certification and Manning Enquiries
Specific questions on the standards to be applied to your vessel
can either be found through the individual member's website or
answered directly by the individual REG registry. Contact details
are available on each member's pages.
What is the REG Conference?
An REG conference is held each year offering the geographically
widespread membership of the REG the opportunity for detailed
face-to-face discussion of a wide variety of matters of shared
interest. The conferences offer the opportunity to share best
practice and to discuss ways to optimise performance of the British
register in the international arena, both in terms of commercial
success and in setting exemplary standards in meeting our
international maritime obligations.
The conference is supported by a REG Technical Forum group which
provides a forum to assist with ensuring consistent application of
technical policy across the British fleet by working closely with
REG colleagues through exchange of knowledge and experiences. The
forum is also responsible for the development of new technical
standards for the maritime industry, including the Large Yacht Code
and Passenger Yacht Code, both of which are now recognised as
industry best practice standards.
What is the constitutional relationship between the UK
and the shipping registries operated by the Crown Dependencies and
UK Overseas Territories?
Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
(UNCLOS) and under international law, all ships registered within
the Crown Dependencies and UK Overseas Territories are British
Ships. In exercise of its powers, the United Kingdom as the Flag
State under international law for these ships has devolved to the
Crown Dependencies and UK Overseas Territories:
(a) the authority and power to deal with all IMO
flag-state matters; and
(b) the implementation of the duties, obligations and
responsibilities of a flag state under international conventions
that have been extended to individual Crown Dependencies and UK
Overseas Territories, relating to the performance and safety of
ships registered within these administrations, including Port State
Control. These functions are devolved within the structure of the
government of the flag-state.
Under the Merchant Shipping (Categorisation of Registries of
Relevant British Possessions) Order 2003, the ship registers of
Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Gibraltar and the
Isle of Man have been given Category 1 status, permitting them to
register international trading fleets unlimited tonnage, type and
length, because the UK's ratification of certain international
conventions has been extended to these jurisdictions. In each case,
the UK is the State Party to these conventions and remains
ultimately responsible as a matter of international law for the
discharge of treaty obligations by relevant REG members.
The same Order makes provision for Category 2 registers for
Anguilla, Falkland Islands, Guernsey, Jersey, Montserrat, St Helena
and the Turks and Caicos Islands to operate a Category 2 register
prevents the registration of passenger ships or of other ships of
more than 150 tons. However, there is an exemption which
allows the registration of domestic passenger ships, pleasure
vessels between 150 and 400 tons and ships of special local
importance, provided that arrangements are in force for such ships
to be surveyed and inspected by reference to the standards set out
in UK safety and pollution regulations.
Both Category 1 and Category 2 shipping registers operate with
significant autonomy. Each register is responsible for the
registration and adherence to international safety and
environmental standards of their individual fleets.
Additionally five of the Category 1 registers have now undergone
individual audits under the IMO Voluntary Member State Audit Scheme
(VIMSAS) (Res. A.974(24)). The Code (annexed to Res. A.973(24))
sets out Member States' main responsibilities as flag, port and