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Documents, VAT and Waste Control

Sailing Regulations are Different Overseas.

UK boats leisure boats under 24m do not have to be registered. In UK, you don't need a licence to use them. Some regulations do apply if you're "going to sea", or using inland waterways.

However, to visit other countries, vessels must be registered. When sailing from port to port, that country's regulations apply to you and your boat. Sometimes visiting skippers, or even crew, need to be certified - as competent, that is. Boats may have to carry additional safety equipment. Read on to keep bureaucrats at bay.

Consistent? Predictable? In a word, no. A few countries insist their own equipment or qualification requirements should be met by visitors. Others don't. Officials outside UK sometimes inspect safety equipment.They will expect servicing to be up to date. If not, a fine is normal.

Rules change; countries vary in the way they apply EU directives; regions within a country differ in their practices; and officials within a region may have a different take on the rules. Very occasionally, expect the unexpected. This site does its best to keep up to date, but will have omissions. If your experiences are different, let us know - by adding a comment to the page (possible if you log in to the site).

Everyone should obey International safety regulations (SOLAS V). These say you must: plan your voyage; carry a radar reflector; carry a table of life-saving signals; help other craft if necessary; and use distress signals properly. Regulations for preventing collisions add: you must fit navigation lights, carry shapes and sound signaling devices relevant to your boat; stay a safe distance from other boats, and boats showing the blue and white 'Alpha' diving flag. The UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) also specifies safety equipment which must be carried by sea going UK vessels over 13.7m long (lifejackets; liferafts; flares; fire extinguishers). Further regulations apply if you're using UK inland waterways

Check list for "Going Foreign"

Page Contents

Boat's Documents
Personal Documents
Entering another Country by Sea
Waste Discharge
VAT, T2L, and Boat Import
Special Customs Territories Linked to the EU 
Other Certificates
Customs Controlled Items

Boat Papers

  • Boat papers listed are those useful for wide-ranging cruising, listed according to how often they’re asked for - "must have" to "useful if in trouble".
  • Make up two sets; originals, and copies. Officials can insist on originals.
  • In many places, your word is enough. UK and Ireland are particularly relaxed.

Registration papers

Registration papers will regularly be inspected in most countries. UK leisure vessels under 24m LOA cruising in UK waters do not have to register. However, to visit other countries, UK boats must be registered

  • Part 1 registration is evidence that the boat was owned by the listed legal entities or people at the time the certificate was issued. It is not proof, since transactions may have occurred since certificate issue, Those owners must have UK representatives. Ring +44(0)29 2044 8866 to apply.
  • Part 3 (SSR) registration is possible for UK residents and proves nothing except the vessel has been listed as British.


Boats over 2.4m LOA, or with engines above a certain power, must be registered if used in some European countries. This is very rarely checked except within bathing areas. Mark your tender "T/T boat name".It's then part of your boat's inventory. The tender, its motor, and their serial numbers should be included in your insurance documents.

Third Party Insurance

A certificate (often in the local language) confirming third party insurance is required in many marinas and ports, and also to cruise in Spain, Italy, Croatia and Greece. All insurers will supply a suitable local language certificate on request. The original yacht insurance policy (as well as a copy) should be carried. It's very rarely inspected. Include serial numbers for your tender and its motor. Many policies have geographical or passage length exclusions - read the small print!

Ship's Radio Licence.

If you have any transmitters aboard, a member of the crew is legally required to carry a ship’s radio licence covering all the transmitting equipments. These can be obtained from Ofcom. They are very rarely asked for.

VHF on Waterways

When traveling on Europe's inland waterways your VHF has to meet ATIS standards.

Crew Lists.

Occasionally a crew list is required and may have to be endorsed for crew changes. This identifies your vessel with detail from the registration certificate, outlines your cruising range. Personnel on board and their roles (owner, captain, crew) are listed, giving passport detail (number, nationality, name, date of birth) for each.

  • Lists can always be made out on first arrival, often by completing a locally supplied form.
  • Entry to Schengen zone from outside calls for a list, but except for Netherlands, Belgium and Greece this is usually ignored. France and Italy didn't bother in 2015
  • It's an urban myth that a boat's rubber stamp impresses local officials

Personal Papers


EU countries require visitors to carry proof of identity at all times.

  • Make sure your passport will be valid for your trip, and covers the period of any visas you may be issued.
  • Outside Europe, passports usually have to be valid for 6 months from the date of entry.
  • A copy of the ID page, separately kept, is very useful in the event your passport is mislaid.


Most countries around European waters will grant a visitor permission to enter for a period of time with a passport stamp on arrival. Russia, some N African states, Israel and Syria are exceptions. If crossing the Atlantic and entering USA by yacht, obtain USA visas before departure. For longer term visas (student, business, work, or residence) it's best to apply at an embassy of your destination country some weeks before the trip.

International Certificate of Competence (ICC)

Many countries expect visiting vessel captains to be licensed, and a few ask for a certificate of competence on entry, or before chartering, or after an incident. After an incident, authorities may not permit you to leave port without proof of your competence. Without a certificate, this may mean a delay and expense of taking a local practical test, perhaps a couple of hundred euro.

  • An 'International Certificate of Competence' (ICC) issued by the Royal Yachting Association is accepted as proof throughout Europe.
  • National certificates are also accepted, but it's useful to carry an interpretation of key phrases into the local language.


UK citizens traveling the EU should carry their European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC) to show entitlement to treatment. Check the expiry date of your EHIC. Medical treatment in the Bailywick of Guernsey (a Channel Island, not part of the EU health scheme 2017) must be paid for.


To travel on inland waterways a 'Code Européen des Voies de Navigation Intérieure' (CEVNI) endorsement will be needed; this can only be added to an ICC. In some waters, it is necessary to carry a copy of the CEVNI code itself, even though it may be in a language that you cannot read. It's very rare for these to be examined.

Captain's Authorisation

If the captain is not named in the registration papers, authorization may be needed. This may be a charter agreement, an owner’s letter appointing the skipper, or a delivery contract. Croatia and Turkey will require authorisations to be notarised.

Radio Operator's Certificate

One person aboard must have an operator’s certificate for each type of transmitter. These are very rarely asked for. Older UK operator certificates (pre 1999) no longer serve if you have digital selective calling (DSC), and should be updated.

Entering another Country by Sea

For customs purposes, the EU Customs Zone (it's a bit bigger than the EU) is one country. For immigration purposes, the Schengen zone is one country, with no internal border control.

When entering the territorial waters (12nm off shore in most cases) of one country from another (excepting intra-Schengen travel), the yellow Q flag should be hoisted. Then follow the destination countries' procedures. Typically, this is to go to a statutory "port of entry" - ie, a place with customs and immigration officials or their proxies. Contact harbour authorities. For some countries, you must enter at the first possible port of entry (Croatia). Others are very flexible (UK, phone National Yacht line: 0845 723 1110.

Some countries require fees to cruise, and issue a "transit log" to track entry and exit from their waters. More primitive bureaucracies track your movements port by port.

Waste Discharge

Sewage, "Black Water"

Mediterranean and Baltic Countries forbid sewage discharge (black water) within varying ranges of the shore (3nm to 12nm depending on the country), and if caught, sailors will be heavily fined. A means of storing sewage (usually a holding tank) is therefore essential, though not a legal requirement. Pump out facilities are rare, so discharge often has to be under way, distant from the shore.

Shower or washing up water (grey water)

Shower or washing up water (grey water) discharge are also defined as "pollution" in some countries (Turkey), and if detected or reported, can be fined. Most small leisure boats do not have the space to store "grey water", so are forced to break the law. The advice given by charter companies operating in such places is "Discharge grey water discreetly" and "do not to shower on deck with soap".

Value Added Tax (VAT, TVA, IVA) and Boat Import

VAT Paid Boats

Leisure yachts sailed within the EU by EU residents must have free circulation within the EU. This implies they meet the EU Recreational Craft Directive (RCD) and have VAT accounted for. VAT is a transaction tax paid on import into the EU, or on sale of a boat by a VAT registered business. It does not apply when boats are sold between private individuals when the boat is berthed inside the EU.

Proof of VAT Payment (within EU) - "T2L"

HMRC advise that leisure boats within the EU should carry proof that VAT has been paid. Most European registries record VAT status and therefore don't ask for proof of VAT payment for EU registered boats. Up to Dec 2015, there were two exceptions:

  • Non-EU registered boats used by people resident within the EU. These boats must be "imported" (ie, VAT paid and RCD compliant) and they will often be asked for proof that VAT has been paid. The VAT receipt issued on boat import is usually adequate.
  • Portugal and Croatia have both asked UK registered boats to prove that they have free circulation within the EU. From their point of view, the fourth copy of a shipping import document (SAD), completed with the letters "T2L" in a status box is needed."T2L" is EU customs speak for the procedure that proves "free circulation within the EU", and it's valid if endorsed by a customs office.
  • HMRC are most helpful. A quote from their site: "Where proof of status is required retrospectively, a declaration can be made on Copy 4 of the SAD (C88). This is referred to as a ‘T2L’ declaration. These documents are available by contacting the HMRC VAT helpline on 0845 010 9000". You will need to provide suitable evidence that the boat is VAT paid, and they will endorse a suitably completed document.
  • RYA members can obtain assistance from [email protected] or 023 8060 4232.

Temporary Import (TI)

Boats registered outside the EU and non-VAT paid are allowed temporary importation (TI) into the EU for personal use only by non-EU residents. Non-EU residents who hold EU passports will need to carry proof they spend more than 185 days a year resident in another country outside the EU.

  • Temporary Import is up to 18 months and can be extended to 24 months on application.
  • Entry. There is no formal documentation to trace time spent within the EU. To stay longer than 18 months, a non-EU vessel is advised leave the EU customs union, show they have been they have been moored outside the zone for a day or more with (for instance) a marina receipt, then re-enter. A new 18 month period starts.
  • Norway and the Channel Islands are outside the EU customs union, and may be used for this purpose. Turkey is within the customs union for most matters, so may not qualify.
  • EU residents may only use non-VAT paid boats in very limited circumstances -  to allow time for transit, or delivery pending import and payment of VAT. Full details about non-EU boat import and restrictions for use in UK can be found on the HMRC web site, Notice 8 go to section 5. If you're logged in, see also Jørn's comment below this page - a more clear explanation.
  • EU residents who have lived outside the EU customs zone for over 12 months, and are taking up residence in the EU, may import their belongings (including boats) without paying duty (para 3.15 of Notice 8).
  • Greece! Between July 2014 and October 2015, Greece fined non-VAT paid vessels which stayed longer than 6 months in Greek waters. This infringement of EU directives was challenged by The Cruising Association , and Greece now properly applies EU TI regulations.

Inadvertent Export!

If a boat changes ownership when it is outside the EU, or if it remains outside the EU for more than 3 years, it is regarded as exported (thus losing its permission to be used within the EU by EU residents). However, there are many concessions allowing people taking up residence within the EU to import their goods without payment of duty or VAT. Consult HMRC web site, Notice 8 for details

Territories Linked to the EU, with different Customs rules

Channel Islands (CI)

The Channel Islands are effectively two independent countries, Jersey is one, and The Bailiwick of Guernsey (which includes Alderney) the other. Both are outside the EU, and outside the Schengen zone. When leaving UK for the CI, a form C1331 should be lodged with UK customs,  Q flag should be flown when entering the CI from the EU (with some useful exceptions for Jersey) and also when returning to the EU from the CI (though the French do not seem to be too bothered by this requirement).  CI registered boats may not be used in the EU by EU residents unless VAT has been paid, and many countries will check CI registered boats for VAT payment if they're used by EU passport holders.


Gibraltar is within the EU, but it is not part of the EU customs union, so a Q flag should be flown on entry to the EU from Gibraltar. The Aaland Islands, Finland, are also outside the customs union.

Isle of Man

The Isle of Man is not within the EU or EEC, but its goods have free circulation within the EU so there are no entry or exit formalities when traveling from EU countries.

Certificates/Compulsory Equipment

Equipment Certificates

Registered craft in many countries are subject to checks that life-rafts are serviced. France and Portugal occasionally check liferaft dates, and will fine infringements. Very rarely, you may be asked to produce a certain locally required piece of equipment.

Out of Date Flares

It is illegal to carry out of date flares in several countries. Known examples are France, Italy, Croatia. Inspections are rare, but fines may be levied if they're found aboard.

Customs Controlled Items


must always be declared to customs and have to be stored securely. Verey pistols are firearms, forbidden in some countries



Use of SCUBA gear needs permission in some places, and may have to be declared on entry. In some countries (ie, Greece) you may not carry fishing spears if you have SCUBA equipment aboard


Restricted drugs

if found, will usually result in your vessel being impounded. Some countries define codeine as a restricted drug. If you do have to carry specialised medication and equipment eg. needles and drugs for diabetes, it's sensible to carry a statement or medical certificate from your doctor making clear their medical necessity


Red Diesel

Red diesel (the colouring indicates duty free) is sold to leisure craft in UK from many outlets, but duty is charged.

  • If you are caught carrying red diesel in temporary fuel cans in Holland or Belgium, you will be fined.
  • Belgium and Holland have an argument with UK Government over the whole matter of carrying red diesel, and some boats in early 2012 were fined for carrying it in fuel tanks. Since then, Belgium Customs have clarified that they no longer propose to fine British craft. Holland appears to take a similar view. For belt and braces, carry a recent fuel receipt endorsed "duty paid 100%" for evidence.
  • The UK position on this is being challenged in EU courts.
Flag Etiquette

Well, it's worth having a bit of light entertainment after that lot!




Reviewed May 2018



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