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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
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.
In some Mediterranean countries, your tender also has to be identified as part of a registered boat. The inscription - "T/T boat name" is adequate. 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.
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.
EU countries require visitors to carry proof of identity at all times.
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.
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.
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.
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 inter-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.
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".
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:
Temporary Import (TI)
Boats registered outside the EU 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.
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
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.
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.