A quick trip across the channel to France, Belgium or Holland might leave you thinking that you don't need anything extra to take your boat abroad.

Although the UK has voted to leave the EU, this decision does not take immediate effect. More information on the process is available.

Having been a few times, you may even consider going without your passport, but what happens when you are met by the by the book official, who wants to see your paperwork in full.

Do you have the correct papers ready to satisfy a foreign customs official or do you risk the possibility of your boat being impounded or you incurring significant fines?

When you are sailing a UK registered boat from the UK to any other country, you will require papers both for the boat and for the crew on board. There is a core set of paperwork - your ship's papers which, together with your passport, any other personal paperwork and any country specific documentation or publications you may be required to carry on board, should enable you to satisfy a foreign customs official, if required.

Ship's Papers

Your Ship's Papers must all be original documents and are comprised of:

Registration Document

Registration of a vessel is not compulsory for a UK Citizen who keeps their boat in the UK, but it is essential if you wish to take your boat outside of UK territorial waters. This applies both to boats which are sailed or driven to a foreign port and to dinghies, ribs, sports boats and PWC etc. which are trailered to other countries. You should be prepared to present the original registration document - photocopies are often not acceptable.

Carrying additional evidence of ownership such as a bill of sale is also recommended, especially if the vessel is registered on the UK Small Ship Register (SSR - Part III of the register). 

Tenders should be marked T/T [name of the mother ship]. If the tender’s use extends beyond ship to shore transport, some jurisdictions may treat the tender as a pleasure craft in its own right and the registration requirement and other rules outlined here may apply to the tender independently of the mother ship.

If the owner of the vessel is not onboard, in some countries the skipper will need a letter authorising use of the vessel to ensure the loan is not seen as illegal chartering.

Ship Radio Licence

Under the International Radio Regulations a UK registered vessel must have a Ship Radio Licence if it is to install or use radio equipment (including a VHF or DSC radio, Radar, Active Radar Target Enhancer, EPIRB, PLB etc). This also applies to vessels predominantly moored in UK waters (including craft which are not registered). The licence, which details the equipment covered, must be carried onboard.


Insurance for boats is more or less compulsory nowadays and many European countries will ask for evidence of insurance cover. Some countries specify minimum levels of cover and others require a translation which your insurer should be able to provide. It is important to check the territorial limits of your cover before undertaking any trip, as you may need to extend the cruising limits.

Proof of the VAT status of the vessel

EU residents may only use a boat within the EU if it is VAT paid or deemed to be VAT paid. HM Revenue and Customs notice 8 "Sailing your pleasure craft to and from the UK" in section 4.2 states:

"EU residents should only use a vessel in the Community if it is VAT paid or ‘deemed’ VAT paid. Documentary evidence supporting this should be carried at all times as you may be asked by customs officials to provide evidence of your vessel’s VAT status, either in the UK or in other Member States."

Therefore, although proof of the VAT status of the vessel is not actually part of a ship's papers, it is needed to prove that the boat is entitled to free movement throughout the EU. A customs officer is entitled to ask you to prove the VAT status of your boat and your boat could be detained if its VAT status is in doubt.

The RYA however has little evidence of UK registered vessels being stopped, simply to ask them to prove their VAT status, whilst cruising within UK territorial waters and those of other EU Member States (this statement is based on the outcome of two surveys conducted by the RYA in 2006 and 2007). This does not however remove the need for the owner of a vessel permanently based in the EU to be able to prove the VAT status of their vessel should they be asked to do so.

Details of the paperwork required to prove the VAT status of a vessel can be found in HMRC Notice 8 (section 4.2). The RYA has also produced a set of frequently asked questions for which the answers have been prepared in conjunction with HMRC, which are available to RYA members. RYA members can also access leaflets on matters relating to VAT produced by the RYA Legal Team.

Recreational Craft Directive

Virtually all recreational craft built since 16 June 1998 and intended for sport and leisure use, may only be placed on the EEA market or put into service within the EEA if they meet the essential requirements set out in the Recreational Craft Directive – 2003/44/EC. These regulations apply to all recreational craft between 2.5 and 24 metres in hull length whatever the means of propulsion. They may be fully built or partly completed; constructed within, or imported from without the EEA. The builder, importer or owner, or the person putting the craft into EEA service, (the responsible person) has a legal obligation to ensure that the craft meets the relevant requirements and to carry out the appropriate CE marking.

Older vessels may meet the criteria to be 'exempt' from the RCD if you can prove the vessel was put into service in EEA waters prior to 16 June 1998.  Proof, by way of docking bills, lifting, or bill of sale, may be required by independent local market surveillance officials when visiting individual countries within the EEA. 

Voyage Log

Although there is no legal requirement for a UK flagged pleasure craft to keep a log of its voyages, it is good practice to do so, especially when on longer trips.  It is not unknown for foreign officials to request to see the log.

Personal Papers


Every crew member on board requires a passport. If you are cruising outside the EU you may also need a visa. It is advisable to check well before you intend to leave the UK as these can take time to procure. Think about the possible duration of your stay as some countries permit short visits visa free, but require a visa for longer stays. 

Within the EU if you have a non-EU citizen onboard the vessel, you may need to clear them through immigration, even if the vessel itself is not required to clear customs. You should also check if they require a visa.

Evidence of Competence

A UK pleasure vessel (a vessel that is used for the sport/pleasure of the owner as is not operating commercially or carrying more than 12 passengers) which is either less than 24m load line length or less than 80GT is exempt from the Merchant Shipping Manning Regulations. This means that unless a UK pleasure vessel exceeds both 24m and 80GT the UK Government does not require the skipper to have a certificate of competence or licence.

This is not necessarily the case for the territorial or internal waters of another country. The requirements vary from country to country so you should establish what is required in advance. It is advisable to carry any certificates you hold (just in case) even if they are not a formal requirement. The International Certificate of Competence (ICC) is increasingly the certificate that is requested whilst cruising abroad.

Proof of Authority to Operate Maritime Radio

The International Radio Regulations stipulate that a maritime radio may only be used by the holder of a Maritime Radio Operator's Certificate of Competence or by someone who is under the direct supervision of such a holder. The minimum certificate of competence required is the Short Range Certificate for VHF/DSC (or the old Restricted VHF Operator for the old style pre GMDSS VHF only sets). UK regulations permit you to monitor the radio for safety purposes or to use it to request assistance in an emergency without a Certificate of Competence and Authority to Operate.

Medical Treatment Abroad

The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is your "passport" to free or reduced-cost emergency medical treatment when visiting countries in the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland. The quickest and easiest way to apply for and EHIC is on-line.

The EHIC is valid for up to 5 years. You do not receive notification that your EHIC is due to expire, so check the date on the card when planning an overseas trip. You can renew up to 6 months in advance of the expiry date on the card.

Further information on the EHIC is available from the NHS Choices website. Beware: you can apply / renew the EHIC through other web-sites, but some charge.

It is recommended that you check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice for the countries you are visiting where information is provided about the health risks for different countries. Even within Europe additional risks such as tick-borne diseases are present and it is important to be aware of such risks and their associated prevention advice.

The EHIC is not a substitute for medical and / or travel insurance, as it does not cover you for medical repatriation, on-going medical treatment or treatment of a non-urgent nature. 

When selecting medical or travel insurance for a trip which is to include boating, care is needed as many policies either limit or exclude boating from the range of activities covered by the insurance. Some policies exclude boating if this is the main purpose of the trip, which might make such a policy unsuitable for example for a yacht charter holiday. If the policy includes limits on the extent to which it covers boating, you should check that the limits are clearly defined – for example, the term “coastal” is frequently used in insurance paperwork but has no common legal definition; clarification of such a limitation, if required, should be sought from the insurer.   

Visitors to the Bailiwick of Guernsey in the Channel Islands should note that the UK Department of Heath no longer has a reciprocal health agreement with the Bailiwick of Guernsey. UK travellers are required to pay for all medical treatment they may need whilst visiting these Channel Islands (the same also applies to visitors from these Channel Islands to the UK).

Consideration should be given to having insurance cover in case treatment is required whilst visiting the Bailiwick of Guernsey. Existing policies should be checked carefully to ensure that the policy covers the areas you are intending to visit.

Please refer to the States of Guernsey website for further advice.

As of 1 April 2011 there is once again a reciprocal health agreement between Jersey and the UK. Details of this agreement are available on the States of Jersey website.

A new reciprocal Health Care Agreement between the Isle of Man and the UK was signed on 1 October 2010. This will ensure that UK residents visiting the Isle of Man will continue to receive free healthcare, should the need arise, and vice versa, for Isle of Man residents visiting the UK.

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Article Published: May 19, 2009 13:20

Article Updated: June 24, 2016 8:40


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