Sealand, Demystified: Your Guide to the Tiny “Nation” in the Middle of the Ocean

When it comes to the smallest nations on Earth, it’s hard to rival Sealand. The entire country is home to only 27 people and most of them don’t even reside there full-time. This tiny island country certainly has one of the strangest and most interesting histories of any nation. Here's your demystified guide to Sealand — the tiny nation in the middle of the ocean.

Offshore Fortresses

The Maunsell Sea Forts
Credit: Skyfly Video Ltd/ Shutterstock 

During World War II, Great Britain came dangerously close to being invaded by the German military and air raids and submarine attacks were very common. To combat the growing threat, the British government decided to erect large gun towers and fortresses in the waters off the coast of England to protect supply ships and prevent airstrikes. Many of these towers were constructed in international waters, which is technically illegal.

The towers did their job, but once the war was over, there was no more need for them. Since they were erected illegally, the towers were supposed to be torn down, but many were left standing. One of the platforms left standing is a fortress called Fort Roughs Tower. It is a large platform made of concrete and steel situated about seven miles off the coast of England. The tower has rooms for crew, storage for munitions, and a helipad for easy access.

Pirate Radio

Aerial view of Sealand structure in open waters, with small red ship nearby
Credit: GlobalGaz/ Shutterstock

In the 1960s, the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) played only classical music and refused to give people the rock and roll that they so desperately wanted. As the laws of economics state, if there’s a demand, supply will follow. Amateur DJs took to the radio waves in order to broadcast illegal transmissions filled with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. This form of transmission became known as “Pirate Radio.”

To dodge the government rules, these radio pirates had to get creative. Many of them hopped on boats and transmitted their pirate signal from the water. One DJ named Roy Bates set up his first pirate radio station at a decommissioned military fort. After an unsuccessful legal battle with the U.K. government, he went searching for a new headquarters. He found Fort Roughs Tower.

A New Nation Born

Official Sealand flag with national colors red, white, and black flapping in the wind
Credit: Millenius/ Shutterstock

Roy Bates and his family sailed out to Fort Roughs Tower in 1966 to reboot his radio station. As a creative spirit, Bates’ dream quickly evolved into something much more than just a radio station. Since the tower was technically located in international waters and uninhabited, Bates could occupy it and declare it as a sovereign state. In 1967, that’s exactly what he did. Bates designed a flag and bestowed his wife with the title “Princess Joan.” Sealand officially became a country.

Attempted Government Takeover

Shortly after the Bates family established their country, the British government took notice and not in a good way. They thought that having a sovereign island nation right off the coast could be a potential threat. They immediately dispatched demolition crews to destroy the remaining fortresses and gun platforms. The Bates family watched as the other towers fell. They received threats from the crews as they passed.

One demolition ship got too close to the platform for the family’s liking, so they decided to defend themselves. A warning shot was fired across the bow of the boat. The crew quickly retreated, but in a few days, Roy Bates was summoned to the U.K. for a court hearing. Since he was still a British citizen, he was called into court for violating the U.K. Firearms Act. In the end, the court agreed that Mr. Bates did not violate any U.K. laws since he did not act on U.K. territory. This was the first official recognition of Sealand as a sovereign nation.

Sealand Today

Aerial view of Sealand in its entirety being circled by small white ship
Credit: GlobalGaz/ Shutterstock

The current ruler of Sealand is Roy and Joan’s son Michael Bates. The country has its own currency, stamps, passports, post office, and national anthem. Much of its “economy” comes from selling Sealand merchandise. You can buy anything from T-shirts and souvenirs to more interesting items such as Sealand I.D. cards and titles of nobility. For a fee, you can be knighted or become an official Duke or Duchess of Sealand.

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