As events in international waters off Thailand’s coast demonstrated in 2019, seasteaders will need to “flag” their vessels in order to avoid interference by terrestrial sovereigns. This is not merely a question of decoration. Flagging a maritime vessel places it on the official register of the flag country and under its laws. Without a flag, a seastead will have the same status in international waters as a piece of floating debris–or worse, a vessel suspected of illegal activity, subject to inspection and seizure at any patrolling sovereign’s whim.
Unfortunately, existing flag regimes, developed for commercial transport and resource extraction purposes, do not fit seasteads very well. The Seasteading Institute has thus long been engaged in the search for a flag suitable for floating homes and businesses, a quest that has taken it far across the globe and deep into obscurities of the law of the sea.
In this latest effort, TSI research reveals how seasteads fit within the requirements of the major international maritime conventions that most flagging countries have ratified. Meeting the described specifications will help seasteads find a home on flag registers without forcing them to meet standards designed for large voyaging ships engaged in transport, fishing, or other resource extraction processes.
by Tom W. Bell
International maritime conventions regulate the conditions under which sovereigns issue flags to maritime vessels. This document analyzes whether and to what degree the six most widely adopted such conventions apply to seasteads. It finds that seasteads can remain outside the scope of most international maritime conventions if they stay fixed in place, remain below 24 meters long at the waterline, and do not enter foreign ports. Seasteads win further exemptions if they stay in or close to sheltered waters and remain smaller than 12 meters long, 400 gross tonnage, and 15-person capacity. Though voyaging or larger seasteads fall within the scope of additional conventions, they might qualify for exemptions from many of their requirements.