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    Entry and Exit Formalities

    New UK–EU Relationship in 2021:

    Changes in effect as of 2300 hours UTC on 31 December 2020.

    You will have an obligation to report to UK Border Force when moving into and out of the UK by recreational boat.

    You should expect greater scrutiny and requirements to report on arrival and departure, when moving between the UK and the EU and/or the Schengen area by recreational boat. 

    If you are boating abroad and you find something is different or come across something new, please let us know by emailing 

    The information provided by the RYA is written as a guide for a UK flagged Pleasure Vessel operated by somebody who is established (resident) in the UK. It may not be applicable to boats registered with other flag states, those who are established elsewhere and vessels that are operated commercially. As the future UK / EU relationship negotiations were still incomplete in mid December 2020 this information may be incomplete, and will be updated and amended as we learn more.

    Be prepared for increased scrutiny and changes to procedures when visiting EU and EEA countries. Please report your experiences to the RYA (email to 

    Ensign and Courtesy Flag


    A UK flagged vessel must wear her ensign as required by the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, which includes when entering or leaving a foreign port and on demand. It is recommended that the ensign is worn at all times in daylight, especially when near to or in sight of land or another vessel. The Coastal State may also have legislation which mandates an ensign being worn at other times. 

    Courtesy Flag

    Although a custom rather than a legal requirement, most countries expect a courtesy flag (a small version of the coastal state’s maritime ensign) to be flown by foreign flagged vessels at the senior signalling position, acknowledging that they will respect the Coastal State’s jurisdiction laws and sovereignty.

    The courtesy flag should be hoisted on entering another country’s territorial waters. On a single masted yacht the correct position is as the upper most flag at the starboard crosstrees. If a motor cruiser does not have a dedicated signal halyard, a suitable prominent position should be used as a substitute.

    You may cause offence in some countries if your courtesy flag is tatty, too small or not there at all.

    In some instances – such as the UK – the maritime ensign is different from the national flag.

    Ports of entry

    Some countries specify ports of entry (ports where one may lawfully enter a country), which should be used by a vessel arriving from abroad. It is often a requirement that you proceed by the most direct route to a port of entry on entering territorial waters. A vessel arriving in a country (from outside its customs and or immigration territory) should fly the Q flag until it has been given clearance from the authorities. Even once clearance has been given, some countries may require you to report at each port of call or ask to inspect the vessel’s papers periodically.

    From 2021, EU countries may require UK vessels and / or UK citizens to enter and leave the EU and / or the Schengen area using specified ports of entry. Where information is obtained this will be made available to RYA members on the country pages.  

    Sailing your pleasure craft to and from the UK

    Notice 8 explains the requirements for private individuals who sail their pleasure craft to and from the UK. It includes customs procedures for arriving and departing the UK and details on temporary admission (importation) for pleasure craft registered outside the UK.

    The notice can be downloaded from the website.

    Departing the UK

    Before leaving the UK (which includes going to the Channel Islands), you must advise the Border Force of your intentions by posting form C1331 (the address it must be posted to can be found on the form).

    Arriving from outside the UK

    On entry into territorial waters you are required to fly the Q flag. This should remain in place until you have finished reporting your arrival in the UK.

    You must contact the National Yachtline (telephone: 0300 123 2012 open: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week). Notice 8 details the information you will be expected to provide. 

    You will need to comply with any further instructions that you are given.

    You must also complete and post form C1331. The address to which the form must be sent can be found on the form and in Notice 8. 

    See Notice 8 for details of what goods you must declare on arrival from outside the UK which includes and animals or birds and the vessel itself, if it is liable to UK VAT. Further information can be found under Brexit - what happens next? 

    Customs and Immigration

    Unless you are certain that you do not need permission to enter a country you should fly the Q flag on first entering territorial waters. The crew should normally remain on board the vessel until the skipper has completed the necessary customs and immigration formalities, when the Q flag may be taken down.

    Within Europe, on a UK registered vessel, whether you need to fly the Q flag and contact customs and/or immigration will depend whether both your departure and arrival ports are within the EU and / or within the Schengen Area. 

    Every crew member on board requires a recognised travel document such as a valid passport.

    Practices vary and could for example include prior notification of your arrival and/or purchasing a cruising permit. The arrival (and departure) process may require you to visit the offices of several different authorities; it may be necessary to use (and pay) an agent. Your stay may be limited in duration either by restrictions on the temporary admission of the vessel or on the length of time the people on board are permitted to stay in the country, so you may be required to clear out of a country as well as in.

    A visa may be required; visa free travel is sometimes linked to having a return ticket (to leave the country) so you may need a visa to go to a country by boat that you have previously visited by air without one. It is advisable to check well before you intend to visit the country as visas can take time to procure. Some countries permit short visits visa free, but require a visa or a residency permit for longer stays.  

    Customs - EU Member States

    The 27 EU Member States form a single customs area.

    If you are not established in the EU, provided that your boat is not registered in the EU, and it is intended for re-export and for personal use only, you should be able to enter the EU for up to 18 months under temporary admission. 

    If you are established in the EU (if that is where your habitual residence is), the goods you own (the boat) must be in free circulation, to be allowed to move freely throughout the EU customs area. In customs terms it has the status of Union goods (Union status). 

    If your boat had Union status and was lying in the EU when the Brexit Transition Period ended (2300 UTC on 31 December 2020), it should retain that Union status until such time as it leaves the customs territory of the Union (which includes territorial waters). 

    A boat which has Union status may move, without being subject to a customs procedure, from one point to another within the customs territory of the Union, and temporarily out of that territory by sea without alteration of its customs status provided that its Union status is proven. 

    If you are entering the EU with a boat which had Union status when it left the EU, you may be eligible for returned goods relief (RGR). This is explained further under Brexit - what happens next?  

    Immigration - Schengen Area

    The Schengen Area is a group of European countries which have signed a treaty to abolished border controls between each other. The EU member states except Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland and Romania have implemented the Schengen rules as have the non-member states - Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland. 

    On entering the Schengen area from a non-Schengen country (or when leaving the Schengen area for a non-Schengen country), you should obtain clearance from the immigration authorities. If in doubt check on arrival (or prior to departure) and be prepared to be subject to a passport (or recognised travel document) check. If your passport is stamped (which may be electronically) on entry into the Schengen area you will need to ensure it is also stamped on departure otherwise in the eyes of the immigration authorities you may never have left. 

    See paperwork for more information. 

    Related page

    Travelling with pets


    EU customs and tax allowances:

    Temporary Importation for non-EU vessels:

    MSN 1799 Rabies - carriage of animals on ships:

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