Recreational boaters have enjoyed the freedom to come and go from the UK largely as they please for over 25 years. Minimal reporting has been required. But times are changing and although the sea border creates a natural barrier, the migrant crisis in Europe is starting to expose its weaknesses.

As security in the main ports is tightened, in response to the threat from terrorism and illegal migration, smaller ports, harbours and marinas and the soft border recreational craft experience are being highlighted as a weakness.

It is inevitable that a greater degree of reporting about voyages and people on board will be required in the future. However, early indications from the Home Office suggest that this will be of a voluntary nature – at least to begin with. The RYA is working closely with the Home Office, including the UK Border Force, to ensure that whatever reporting system is introduced is practical to use and flexible, to allow for the ‘last minute’ decisions that weather, maintenance and crew availability can cause to well made plans.

The Border Force has the powers to stop, board, divert and detain vessels and arrest anyone they suspect has broken immigration law. Examples include assisting unlawful immigration, assisting an asylum seeker to arrive in the UK or assisting entry to the UK in breach of a deportation or exclusion order. 

Exercising caution

The likelihood of finding migrants in unsuitable or overcrowded boats around the coast of the UK remains low. If you do encounter migrants while underway you are advised to exercise caution, stand clear and inform the relevant search and rescue service.

A small yacht is unlikely to be able to provide meaningful assistance to a boat carrying a significant number of migrants and it is quite possible that both the yacht and her crew would be put at risk were an attempt made to provide assistance. Moreover, even a small number of strangers on board a yacht might be capable of overwhelming the skipper and crew should they be minded to do so.

In such circumstances, in our view SOLAS Chapter V (Regulation 33 - Distress Situations: Obligations and procedures) does not require the skipper of a small yacht to intervene. The reasons for not providing assistance should be noted in the log book.

Whether trailing a boat by road or travelling by water, recreational boaters should be alert to the possibility of stow-aways when returning to the UK from abroad. Offering a lift to the UK to someone you don’t know could also put you on the wrong side of the law, if that person is seeking to evade border controls, so we would urge you to be extremely wary of picking up unknown passengers or crew (particularly at the dockside) in foreign ports.

Reporting suspicious activity

Suspicious activity, whether seen on the water or on land, can be reported to the authorities by calling your local police station on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 quoting ‘KRAKEN’.