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Brexit - what happens next?

Recreational boating after Brexit

The UK left the EU at 11pm on 31 January 2020. What happens now?

A withdrawal agreement was ratified between the UK and the EU, which means that from 23:00 UTC on 31 January 2020 there is a transition period (or as the UK Government prefers to refer to this period an “implementation period”). The transition period is designed to provide time for the new relationship between the UK and the EU to be agreed while ensuring that we will only need to adapt to new rules once a future deal is agreed.

What does being in a transition period mean?

During the transition period 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. So, although the UK has left the EU, in day to day life, nothing really changes for the duration of the transition period.

Does it matter where a boat was located at 11pm on 31 January 2020?

During the transition period goods with Union status remain in free circulation and can therefore remain in the UK or the remaining 27 EU countries (EU27) with no time limit. If you own a boat and it was located in the UK or the EU27 at 23:00 UTC on 31 January 2020 its Union status will not have changed as a result of the UK leaving the EU.

Are there now restrictions on how long I can spend in the EU27?

Freedom of movement gives every EU citizen the right to move to any EU country to live, work, study, look for a job or retire. This 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.

How long is the transition period?

The withdrawal agreement sets the end of the transition period as 31 December 2020 however, there is scope within the withdrawal agreement for a single extension to the transition period. An extension of up to 1 or 2 years is possible, but this must be agreed before 1 July 2020.

What happens at the end of the transition period?

What happens at the end of the transition period is dependent on what is negotiated during the transition period.

A political declaration, which sets out the framework for the future relationship between the EU27 and the UK, was agreed in parallel with the withdrawal agreement. The political declaration indicates what the UK and the EU27 would like the future relationship to look like. During the transition period, the details of how that will be achieved will be negotiated.

It will only be possible to provide advice on what will change for recreational boaters once these negotiations on the future relationship progress and information on the detailed plans for the future relationship are released.

What is the RYA doing on behalf of recreational boaters?

The RYA continues to highlight the priorities of the recreational boating and small commercial vessel sectors in our discussions with government and various Members of Parliament.

We will publish updates on our work whenever there is useful information we are able to share.

We will keep recreational boaters informed on the implications of the future relationship between the UK and the EU27 as the information becomes available.

What does the RYA think the likely outcome will be?

Given the tight timetable for the negotiations, it is unrealistic to foresee the future relationship between the UK and the EU27 including any special arrangements specific to recreational boats and their crews.

What status boats lying in the UK at the end of the transitional period will have, will almost certainly be determined by the arrangements for goods in general. If the free movement of goods between the UK and the EU27 ends at the end of the transitional period, the location of the boat at the time the transition period ends may be significant in determining the boat’s future status.

In the political declaration the UK has indicated that it wants to move away from the principle of free movement of people between the EU27 and the UK. The UK’s standard entry arrangements are currently more flexible than the standard ‘90 days in any 180 day period’ restriction imposed for the Schengen Area as a whole. Visitors to the UK are currently usually allowed to stay for up to 6 months at a time. There is therefore scope for the UK to negotiate new mobility arrangements on the basis of reciprocity. However, we suspect that the Schengen states are unlikely to have the appetite to make special arrangements for the UK, given that it is the UK that is choosing to move away from the principle of free movement.

Frequently asked questions:

Can I still rely on my ICC when boating in the EU27?

The International Certificate of Competence (ICC) (or to give it its full title International Certificate for Operators of Pleasure Craft) is not an EU document. It is issued under the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Inland Transport Committee Working Party on Inland Water Transport Resolution 40. It is this resolution which details how and to whom the ICC may be issued, the syllabus requirements, the layout of the certificate and it also lists the countries which have notified the UNECE Secretariat that they have accepted the resolution. The UK Government has accepted Resolution 40 and has authorised the RYA to issue the ICC on its behalf.

Evidence of Competence for recreational boating is generally a matter for domestic/national legislation. If the EU were to develop a skipper licensing for private pleasure craft directive or regulation at some point in the future, acceptance of the ICC in EU countries might change. But at this stage we have no reason to suspect that acceptance of the ICC might change as a direct consequence of the transition period ending.

Further information:

If you wish to contact the RYA regarding Brexit please email

Government information on the transition period can be found at

Government information on travelling to Europe from 1 January 2021 can be found at

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