As marine surveyors we are offered a myriad of “stamped papers” which are served as a proof of yacht registration, or documentation or flag certificates – basically as proof of yacht ownership, or support thereof. Often a quick but careful initial assessment of documents received is required in order to decide whether they are legitimate. Sometimes we deal with poor scans, photostats, or whatever happens to be at hand.


Below are  a few examples of documents we have received in the past:

1) The State of Delaware, popular in some countries as a ship’s registrar, issues a letter sized document. This signed and sealed letter has no title but confirms that the subject “vessel is registered in the State of Delaware”.

A copy of a document we received attracted our attention due to a misspelling of the state name. See image 1. As expected, the letter turned out to be fraudulent .

Once investigated it turned out that the vessel was being used in human trafficking. The vessel was seized. Eventually she was sold and the insurers received some reimbursement.

2) Some clubs issue a “Burgee Certificate” which permits the holder to fly the club burgee. See attached example. Some clubs are open to any applicant “in good standing” and the burgee licence is easy to obtain. Some of these licences are made to look like flag certificates. See image 2. The licence name “Standerschein” -“Burgee Certificate” in the original language has been translated in the small print into “Yacht Certificate”, whatever this may mean. Such documents are easily accepted as flag certificates and enable yachts to sail freely in national waters of some countries. The subject case was investigated and found not to be attached to any irregularity.

3) Here is a recipe how to create a flag certificate:

Step 1: Jot down (preferably on tinted cardboard, pink will do well) details of a vessel. Any language will do. Here it is Turkish. Go to the notary of a suitable Consulate. In this case it is the USA Consulate, as at the end of the process the cardboard will claim to be a USA Flag Certificate. Identify yourself to the consular officer acting as a notary.

Step 2: Sign the cardboard in the presence of the notary. The notary, upon your request, will authenticate your signature by affixing to the cardboard his/her signature and the office seal.

Step 3. Now, back home, print at leisure a letterhead and a name onto the cardboard. In the present case this has been done in Turkish and translates to “American Consulate” and “Flag Certificate”. Now, you have something at hand, with the vessel’s particulars (in this example the former name of the vessel has also been added as a bonus) and titled “Flag Certificate” in Turkish. If one reads the stamped text of the consulate, which often is less than well readable, one realizes that the function of the trusted, foreign mission is limited to testifying that the signature was administered in the presence of a notary. Not less but not more.

Surveyors are trained and networked to see through such so called “certificates” and to advise prospective owners how to avoidf future ownership challenges.

As we all know: An issue easily resolved under the pressure of a warm transaction may turn into a true challenge once funds have been placed.