The Principality of Sealand

The supposed country off the British Coast is not independent

Map showing Sealand

David Liuzzo / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

The Principality of Sealand, located on an abandoned World War II anti-aircraft platform seven miles (11 km) off the English coast, claims that it is a legitimate independent country, but that's quite doubtful.


In 1967, retired British Army major Roy Bates occupied the abandoned Rough's Tower, located 60 feet above the North Sea, northeast of London and opposite the mouth of the Orwell River and Felixstowe. He and his wife, Joan, discussed independence with British attorneys and subsequently declared independence for the Principality of Sealand on September 2, 1967 (Joan's birthday).

Bates called himself Prince Roy and named his wife Princess Joan and lived on Sealand with their two children, Michael and Penelope ("Penny"). The Bates' began issuing coins, passports, and stamps for their new country.

In support of the Principality of Sealand's sovereignty, Prince Roy fired warning shots at a buoy repair boat that came close to Sealand. The Prince was charged by the British government with unlawful possession and discharge of a firearm. The Essex court proclaimed that they didn't have jurisdiction over the tower and the British government chose to drop the case due to mockery by the media.

That case represents Sealand's entire claim to de facto international recognition as an independent country. (The United Kingdom demolished the only other nearby tower lest others get the idea to also strive for independence.)

In 2000, the Principality of Sealand came into the news because a company called HavenCo Ltd planned on operating a complex of Internet servers at Sealand, out of the reach of governmental control. HavenCo gave the Bates family $250,000 and stock to lease Rough's Tower with the option of purchasing Sealand in the future.

This transaction was especially satisfying to the Bates as the maintenance and support of Sealand has been quite expensive over the past 40 years.

An Assessment

There are eight accepted criteria used to determine whether an entity is an independent country or not. Let's examine and answer each of the requirements of being an independent country with respect to Sealand and its "sovereignty."

1) Has space or territory that has internationally recognized boundaries.

No. The Principality of Sealand has no land or boundaries at all, it's a tower built by the British as an anti-aircraft platform during World War II. Certainly, the government of the U.K. can assert that it owns this platform.

Sealand also lies within the United Kingdom's proclaimed 12-nautical-mile territorial water limit. Sealand claims that since it asserted its sovereignty before the U.K. extended its territorial waters, the concept of being "grandfathered in" applies. Sealand also claims its own 12.5 nautical miles of territorial water.

2) People live there on an ongoing basis.

Not really. As of 2000, only one person lived at Sealand, to be replaced by temporary residents working for HavenCo. Prince Roy maintained his U.K. citizenship and passport, lest he ends up somewhere where Sealand's passport wasn't recognized. (No countries legitimately recognize the Sealand passport; those who have used such passports for international travel likely encountered an official who didn't care to notice the passport's "country" of origin.)

3) Has economic activity and an organized economy. A State regulates foreign and domestic trade and issues money.

No. HavenCo represents Sealand's only economic activity up to now. While Sealand issued money, there's no use for it beyond collectors. Likewise, Sealand's stamps only have value to a philatelist (stamp collector) as Sealand is not a member of the Universal Postal Union; mail from Sealand can't be sent elsewhere (nor is there much sense in mailing a letter across the tower itself).

4) Has the power of social engineering, such as education.

Perhaps. If it had any citizens.

5) Has a transportation system for moving goods and people.


6) Has a government which provides public services and police power.

Yes, but that police power is certainly not absolute. The United Kingdom can assert its authority over Sealand quite easily with a few police officers.

7) Has sovereignty. No other State should have power over the State's territory.

No. The United Kingdom has power over the Principality of Sealand's territory. The British government was quoted in Wired, "Although Mr. Bates styles the platform as the Principality of Sealand, the U.K. government does not regard Sealand as a state."

8) Has external recognition. A State has been "voted into the club" by other States.

No. No other country recognizes the Principality of Sealand. An official from the United States Department of State was quoted in Wired, "There are no independent principalities in the North Sea. As far as we are concerned, they are just Crown dependencies of Britain."

The British Home Office was quoted by the BBC that the United Kingdom does not recognize Sealand and, "We've no reason to believe that anyone else recognises it either."

So, Is Sealand Really a Country?

The Principality of Sealand fails on six of eight requirements to be considered an independent country and on the other two requirements, they're qualified affirmatives. Therefore, I think we can safely say that the Principality of Sealand is no more a country than my own backyard.

Note: Prince Roy passed away on October 9, 2012, after battling Alzheimer's. His son, Prince Michael, has become the regent of Sealand.

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Your Citation
Rosenberg, Matt. "The Principality of Sealand." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Rosenberg, Matt. (2023, April 5). The Principality of Sealand. Retrieved from Rosenberg, Matt. "The Principality of Sealand." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 10, 2023).