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    UK leaving the EU: From 23:00 UTC on 31 January 2020 the UK is no longer a member of the EU. However, the UK and the EU ratified a withdrawal agreement, which means that we enter a transition period during which the Union law is applicable to and in the UK, except where otherwise stated in the withdrawal agreement. In reality this means that the EU will treat the UK as if it were a Member State, with the exception of UK participation in the EU institutions and governance structures. The UK remains in both the EU Customs Union and the Single Market for the duration of the transition period. Goods with Union status remain in free circulation and can therefore remain in the UK or the remaining 27 EU countries with no time limit. Freedom of movement will continue to apply to nationals of the UK during the transition period, so there will be no restriction on how long you can spend in the EU. In other words, although the UK has left the EU, in day to day life, nothing really changes for the duration of the transition period. 

    The paperwork required for a boat can differ slightly depending on its country of registration (nationality or Flag State). The information provided by the RYA is written with a UK flagged Pleasure Vessel in mind.  

    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. Having been a few times, you may even consider going without your passport, but without the correct documentation, if you encounter a "by the book official", you risk the possibility of your boat being impounded or incurring a significant fine.

    Ship's Papers

    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.

    The following documentation should be carried:

     Vessel Skipper and / or Crew

    Registration document

    Evidence of Competence (requirements vary by country)
    Ship Radio Licence Authority to Operate Maritime Radio
    Insurance documents (requirements vary by country) Passport or other recognised travel document
    Evidence of the Union Status of the boat European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) and / or appropriate medical and repatriation insurance
    Evidence of RCD Compliance or Exemption  
    Voyage Log  

    Your Ship's Papers should be original documents.

    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 always 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.

    Trailer Registration

    From 28 March 2019, all trailers over 3,500kg and commercial trailers over 750kg must be registered before being towed through countries that have ratified the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic. Further information on the countries registration is required for and how to register a trailer is available on the website.

    Where trailer registration is required, trailers will need to:

    • display their own registration plate (separate from the vehicle towing them)
    • be able to show the trailer registration certificate to a foreign authority on request

    Maritime Radio Licences

    It is a requirement under the International Radio Regulations that all transmitting stations have a licence.

    All maritime radio equipment must be covered by a Ship Radio Licence and operated by (or under the direct supervision of) a holder of a maritime radio operator certificate.

    Ship Radio Licence

    A UK registered vessel must have a Ship Radio Licence if radio equipment is installed or used on it whilst boating abroad. 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.

    A Ship Radio licence is a legal requirement for all maritime radio equipment (including VHF or VHF DSC radio, radar, EPIRB or PLB, AIS etc.). It provides you with an International Call Sign and (if applicable) a Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) number. This licence is issued by OFCOM.

    In the UK a handheld VHF can be licenced by a Ship Portable Radio Licence to allow the equipment to be used on more than one boat. However, the Ship Portable Radio Licence is intended for use in UK territorial waters. In place of an internationally recognised call sign, the Ship Portable Radio Licence has a T (reference) number, which is not recognised internationally. The details of a Ship Portable Radio Licence are not sent to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the licence states that it, "covers the use of the radio equipment in UK territorial waters". A handheld DSC VHF can only be licensed on a Ship Portable Radio Licence and cannot therefore be licensed for used abroad at present.  

    Authority to Operate Maritime Radio

    The International Radio Regulations require that a maritime radio station is controlled by an operator holding a certificate issued or recognised by the government to which the station is subject. For a UK recreational boater operating a DSC VHF radio this is usually the RYA issued Short Range Certificate (SRC). 

    RYA members can access information about the validity of the SRC overseas and other UK maritime operator licences. 


    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.

    Evidence that the boat has the status of Union goods

    Freedom of movement throughout the European Union (EU) is a basic principal of the EU which applies both to goods made and supplied in the Union and to goods which have been imported and released for free circulation.

    Boats which have the customs status of Union goods 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 their customs status provided that their customs status of Union goods is proven.

    In order for a boat to have the customs status of Union goods VAT must be accounted for and if the boat has been imported any applicable customs duty must also have been paid. The owner is then able to move the boat freely through the EU.

    You may therefore be asked to demonstrate that your boat has the customs status of Union goods when entering or whilst within the EU. The majority of EU countries seldom conduct such checks. Where checks are made, for boats of EU-origin the VAT invoice showing the amount of VAT that was paid and that the vessel was originally purchased in the EU (and was therefore not subject to customs duty) is usually sufficient to evidence the boat has the status of Union goods. For imported boats, evidence of the payment of VAT and customs duty (if any) on import is required.

    A T2L document can be issued retrospectively by HMRC to provide evidence that the boat it relates to is of EU origin and thus establish it has the status of Union goods. A retrospectively issued T2L does not evidence that VAT has been paid on the boat.

    If the RYA is aware that there is a greater risk of owners being asked to demonstrate that the boat has the status of Union goods in a particular country this information is provided on the pages providing information for commonly visited countries.

    Evidence of RCD Compliance or Exemption

    All watercraft (recreational craft and personal watercraft) built since 16 June 1998 and intended for sport and leisure use, may only be placed on market or put into service within the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area (EEA) if they meet the Essential Requirements specified in the Recreational Craft Directive (RCD), unless they are exempted.

    A Builder’s Plate, which includes the CE marking, must be affixed to all RCD compliant craft. RCD compliant boats are also marked with an identification number (which may be a Watercraft Identification Number (WIN), Craft Identification Number CIN, or a Hull Identification number (HIN) depending on when the boat was certified as compliant with the RCD).

    Vessels which meet the criteria to be 'exempt' from the RCD, may be required to evidence this by independent local market surveillance officials when visiting individual countries within the EEA. Documentary evidence should therefore be carried. For example the owner might evidence that the vessel was put into service in EEA waters prior to 16 June 1998, by way of docking bills, lifting, or bill of sale.

    The RCD also applies to a product manufactured in a third country, therefore a boat manufactured elsewhere in the world must comply unless it is only visiting for tourism or is in transit.

    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.

    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 is 24m load line length or longer and 80GT or more, 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.

    Passport (or other recognised travel document)

    Every crew member on board requires a recognised travel document such as a valid passport. If you are cruising outside the EU a visa may also be required. 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 is not required to clear customs. You should also check if they require a visa.  

    European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) and / or appropriate medical and repatriation insurance

    The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) gives access 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 an EHIC is online.

    As detailed in the important information section on the final page of the EHIC Application form, entitlement to an EHIC (in all EEA countries) is based on insurability under EU law, and not on a person’s nationality. The UK operates a residency-based healthcare system which means that insurability in the UK is generally determined by residency and not by the past or present payment of National Insurance contributions or UK taxes.

    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 website. Beware: you can apply / renew the EHIC through other websites, 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. It only entitles you to emergency medical treatment on the same terms as that country’s nationals.  The NHS provides details of what treatment you can expect to receive.

    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.   

    Travel insurance policies should be carefully examined to ensure boating is appropriately included in the cover.

    RYA member travel insurance offer

    Related pages

    VAT information (RYA members only)

    Boat registration information (RYA members only)

    Red diesel


    UK Ship Register:

    MGN 461:

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