Sub-menu Navigation
Back to Top
Sub menu

    Brexit - what happens next?

    Page updated 21/05/2020

    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 (sometimes referred to as 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.

    Transition Period

    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 Members of Parliament who have an interest in and are sympathetic to our sector.

    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

    Will I still be able to rely on my ICC and other RYA certificates when boating in the EU27?

    Evidence of Competence for recreational boating is generally a matter for domestic/national legislation. A vessel must comply with the legislation of its country of registration (Flag State) wherever in the world it may be. When you visit another country, in most circumstances (as detailed in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) you can be required additionally to comply with the maritime legislation of the visited country (the Coastal State). Where evidence of competence is required by the legislation of the Flag State, pleasure boaters must comply with those regulations. Additionally, when in the waters of another country you must also comply with any requirements of the Coastal State. Therefore whether acceptance of certificates issued in the UK will change with the end of the Transition Period, when the UK ceases to be treated as an EU Member State, will be determined by the legislation of the country in which the boat is registered and the country in which the boat is being used. 

     - Non-professional use of RYA certificates

    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.

    If the EU was to develop a skipper licensing directive or regulation for private pleasure craft 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, in countries that have adopted Resolution 40, might change as a direct consequence of the transition period ending.

    We do have some concerns relating to the acceptance of certificates issued by the UK in Spain after the end of the transition period. We understand that the national legislation may not allow for UK certificates once the UK is no longer treated as if it were still an EU Member State. We are in the process of looking into this. Until our investigations have been completed, we will not be able to provide advice on the future acceptance of RYA certificates in Spain.

     - Using RYA certificates professionally

    RYA professional qualifications (e.g. commercially endorsed certificates of competence) are accepted by the UK Government for use on UK-flagged commercial yachts but such qualifications are not, and never have been, STCW-compliant certificates.

    As such, RYA professional qualifications are not subject to the mutual-recognition mechanism envisaged in the STCW convention and do not fall within the scope of the EU Directive on the mutual recognition of seafarers’ certificates issued by member states which in particular states that “Every Member State shall accept [STCW] certificates of proficiency and documentary evidence issued by another Member State, or under its authority, in hard copy or in digital format, for the purpose of allowing seafarers to serve on ships flying its flag”.

    RYA professional qualifications are accepted by several non-UK national administrations for use on vessels flying their flags but this is a matter for each of those administrations individually and there is no obligation on them to do so. The UK leaving the EU will not of itself necessarily change this position, nor will it have any impact on the acceptability of RYA professional qualifications to the UK Government for use on UK-flagged commercial yachts.

    However, in order to overcome problems where some overseas administrations do not or in future will not recognise RYA qualifications, holders of commercially endorsed YMO Qualifications can apply to the MCA to upgrade to a Master (200 GT)/OOW (500 GT) Certificate of Competency on a voluntary basis.

    Will I be able to continue to keep my boat in an EU27 country after the transition period ends?

    Under the current EU legislation, Union goods which are lying in the remaining 27 EU countries (the EU27) at the end of the transition period won’t suddenly become non-Union goods just because the UK’s relationship with the EU has changed.

    Whether or not a yacht has Union status is not determined by its country of registration. A boat flagged in a third country can have Union status and be released for free circulation in the EU if VAT and import duty have been accounted for in the EU.

    If your boat has Union status and is lying in the EU27 at the end of the transition period it will remain in free circulation until it leaves the EU.

    As is the case now Union goods which are taken out of the EU27 after the end of the transition period will need to qualify for relief from VAT and import duty when they return to the EU27.

    If my boat is outside the UK and the EU27 when the transition period ends will I have to pay VAT and import duty if I take it into the EU27?

    See EU returned goods relief and temporary admission  for information on this. 

    If my boat is lying in the EU27 when the transition period ends, will I be able to claim relief from VAT and import duty if I bring it back to the UK ?

    Regarding returning to the UK with a boat which was lying outside the UK at the end of the transition period, further advice and clarification is required from the UK Government before we will be able to give any assurances that VAT won’t become payable or provide guidance on the timescales you will need to return within, assuming they legislate to allow relief from VAT and import duty for such vessels.

    Do I need to change my country of registration in order to keep my boat in an EU 27 country after the end of the transition period?

    Registration of a privately owned recreational boat is generally a matter for domestic/national legislation. Free movement for the vessel is linked to the vessel having Union status. As long as it is lying in the EU27 on the day that the UK leaves the EU, based on the Union Customs Code its status should not change just because UK’s relationship with the EU has changed. For that reason, if an EU member state is happy that you keep your UK registered vessel on its territorial or internal waters now there is no reason that we can see why that should not be the case after the end of the transition period.

    At the moment the RYA does not believe there will be any advantage to registering your boat in another EU country. If you decide to register your boat in another country you will then have to comply with that country’s legislation. That could entail having that country’s evidence of competence (which might involve a test in the country’s language), compulsory carriage of equipment, etc.

    I’m a UK Citizen and am not resident in an EU27 country, after the end of the transition period will I still be able to spend the whole summer on my boat in the EU27?

    Owners that are not resident in an EU27 country may be able spend significantly less time in the Schengen area than the boat can spend in the EU as the duration of stay for a third country national visiting the Schengen area is usually limited to 90 days in any 180 days period.

    The extent of the Schengen area can be seen at https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/what-we-do/policies/borders-and-visas/visa-policy/schengen_visa_en.

    The RYA has been lobbying hard to ensure that the inadequacy of the Schengen visa time frames for UK residents who keep their boats in the EU and who wish to cruise in excess of 90 days on Community waters is understood.

    We are asking members who would be impacted by the restriction of only being able to spend 90 days in any 180 days in the Schengen area to write to their MP and urge the UK Government to seek reciprocity, as UK allows visitors to stay for up to six months.

    Guidance on contacting your MP.

    Further information

    If you wish to contact the RYA regarding Brexit please email brexit@rya.org.uk

    Government information on the transition period can be found at www.gov.uk/transition

    Government information on travelling to Europe from 1 January 2021 can be found at www.gov.uk/visit-europe-1-january-2021

    Find books for your course at the RYA Shop

    eBooks in the cloud
    Our handy guide shows the books & DVDs that go with your course!
    Please select...