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Update on the French flag RIF

News / / Update on the French flag RIF

The French flag RIF is the French international register for commercial vessels and yachts which was introduced in 2006 and open initially to commercial yachts above 24 metres.

Benefits of the RIF include it being an EU flag with a single point of contact for all customs and maritime aspects (the “Guichet Unique”), as well as a number of advantageous tax/custom measures or exemptions together with crew benefits. 

A new French law dated 20 June 2016 has significantly enhanced the attractiveness of the RIF to yacht owners.

Three major changes (eligibility, social contributions and crew nationality) are discussed below.

1.  The eligibility conditions for registration have been expanded both as to the length of the vessel and the nationality of the owner:

-  the vessel must now be over 15 metres in overall length (instead of 24 metres previously) (article L5611-2 of the French transport code); and

-  regarding ownership conditions to fulfil, it is now possible to register a vessel with the RIF if the manager of the vessel is domiciled in France, and is in charge especially of compliance with the International Safety Management (article 219 of the French customs code).

Therefore, the yacht owner no longer has to have its registered office or a permanent establishment in France to register a yacht with the RIF.

2.  The owner/employer has the possibility of affiliating its crew members to all French Social Security branches with a total exemption of employers' social security contributions (article L5553-11 of the French transport code).

Since the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 came into force, the payment of social security contributions by yacht crew members has come under greater scrutiny. It seems likely that for yachts spending long periods of time in France, yacht owners and managers will increasingly consider the French flag RIF as a viable alternative to other flags in order to avoid possible criminal sanctions for undeclared work for instance. 

3.  The RIF contains a crew nationality condition. A vessel shall be manned with a permanent professional crew of whom at least 25% are EU nationals. The new rule is that the scope of this obligation can be extended to all vessels registered with RIF operated by the same owner (article L5612-3 of the French transport code).

This note expresses the views of our Yachts & Superyachts team, and neither provides nor replaces legal advice.

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