The freedom experienced by boaters who set out to cruise the oceans of the world, exploring off the beaten track, is very appealing. With it of course come inherent risks, which ought to be given due consideration before you set sail.
Any well travelled person will tell you that, on land or at sea, every country has its own laws and customs waiting to catch you out and in many countries – even within the western world – a lack of knowledge can see you on the wrong side of the law. In less developed countries the penalties may be surprisingly severe for something you consider to be a simple mistake. “Innocent until proven guilty” does not apply throughout the world especially where the potential for political and financial gains make media exposure desirable.
For each country a yacht and its crew are proposing to visit, the rules and regulations will vary. Customs procedures and immigration regulations will need to be followed and these are likely to be more complicated than if you arrive in the country by plane or ferry.
It is important to be aware that regulations may “kick-in” before you even enter Territorial Waters. Some countries require you to notify your intentions to the authorities by VHF before you proceed to a designated port of entry. You may need to have arranged a visa in advance and you may have to buy a permit for the boat. An inventory of the items onboard may be needed, as may a crew list. It may be necessary to present the passports and ships papers in every port you visit, just at the ports of entry and departure or only if requested.
Even in countries where yacht tourism is commonplace, the rules for yachts can be difficult to establish. For the less frequented countries, someone who has been there before can be an invaluable source of information and may be able to offer contacts within the country to help with customs and immigration procedures, either informally with translating or as a formal agent, which can be required.
There are numerous cruising forums and websites which offer information and can be used to make contact with other cruisers, to allow you to build a picture of what may be expected before your arrival. Some of these are detailed under "Related Links". If you find other ones to be particularly useful, please email us so we can spread the word.
As well as investigating the boating regulations, take a look at the information published by UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) for the latest advice on traveling to the countries concerned. This will give advice on political and cultural issues in the country, terrorism threat levels, piracy and details of the UK support available.
The increasing number of refugees and migrants making their way to and across Europe, often in unsuitable or overcrowded boats, has led some recreational boaters to seek clarification as to what they should do if they come across such a vessel.
A skipper’s legal obligations are set out in the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention Chapter V, Regulation 33. This states that:
The master of a ship at sea which is in a position to be able to provide assistance on receiving information from any source that persons are in distress at sea, is bound to proceed with all speed to their assistance, if possible informing them or the search and rescue service that the ship is doing so. This obligation to provide assistance applies regardless of the nationality or status of such persons or the circumstances in which they are found. If the ship receiving the distress alert is unable or, in the special circumstances of the case, considers it unreasonable or unnecessary to proceed to their assistance, the master must enter in the log-book the reason for failing to proceed to the assistance of the persons in distress, taking into account the recommendation of the [International Maritime] Organization, to inform the appropriate search and rescue service accordingly.
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 does not require the skipper of a small yacht to intervene.
If a yacht does take migrants on board, it may encounter difficulties with the authorities in the port of arrival when seeking to disembark those migrants.
The suggested course of action should a yacht encounter migrants while underway is therefore to exercise caution, stand clear and inform the relevant search and rescue service. The reasons for not providing assistance should be noted in the log book.
In addition, passage plans should take into account whether the intended route passes through or close to known migrant routes and incorporate contingency plans accordingly.
Personal security and safety must be given due consideration. Theft from boats can occasionally lead to violent armed attacks if the owners are on board with the intruders. Consideration should be given to personal security especially when off the tourist track. Even in areas that are usually frequented by boaters and considered to be safe, precautions should be taken to protect yourself and your property. The travel advice published by UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) should be consulted for guidance.
Yachtsmen should endeavour to avoid navigating through waters in which pirates are known to operate. If you do choose to navigate in such waters you should seek the latest information on piracy activity for the area you are sailing in from specialist organisations before setting out.
Defensive measures and the use of armed guards on commercial shipping have had a deterrent effect, but pirate networks retain both the intent and capability to conduct piracy. Self-protection measures including employing armed guards are less realistic for smaller vessels which are slow and low (including sailing yachts). Such vessels remain vulnerable to opportunistic attacks and hijackings and should be mindful that the crews are valuable targets of maritime crime.
The conclusions of the joint risk assessment for threats to sailing yachts in the High Risk Area off Somalia, undertaken by UKMTO, MSCHOA, NATO Shipping Centre and MARLO, are clear and incontrovertible - all sailing yachts under their own passage should remain out of the High Risk Area or face the risk of being attacked and pirated for ransom.
The IMB Piracy Reporting Centre (IMB PRC) provides a dedicated 24-hour hotline which boaters are encouraged to contact if they have seen / heard / know of or have any information relating to maritime crime and / or security, including terrorism, piracy, armed robbery, stowaway incidents and other illegal activities. With your help, the IMB PRC can try to minimise the risks and help save lives and property.
The Maritime Security Hotline can be contacted 24 hours a day:
All information received is treated in strict confidence and is passed on to the relevant authorities for further action.
The IMB PRC follows the definition of Piracy as laid down in Article 101 of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and Armed Robbery as laid down in Resolution A.1025 (26) adopted on 2 December 2009 at the 26th Assembly Session of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).
The RYA urges the boating community to remain vigilant and to avoid navigating through waters in which pirates are known to operate.
International maritime regulations and conventions are sadly not uniformly applied throughout the world nor are they always adhered to. Law of the Sea and the Coastal State explains your status under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Technically a vessel has a right of passage through the territorial waters of another country as long as that passage is continuous and expeditious, but this can only be claimed if the country in question has agreed to UNCLOS.
Be aware of international boundaries and of claimed territories which may extend further offshore. Caution should be exercised in the vicinity of militarised zones and in politically sensitive areas you may need to research the current situation with any disputed territories, especially islands.
Under the Antarctic Act 1994, any British vessel visiting Antarctica or any person on a British expedition to Antarctica will require a permit from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).
Thought should also be given to the preparation of both the yacht and the crew for more adventurous cruising.
Consideration may need to be given to the availability of spares and the skills to fit them, when and where will it be possible to replenish the boats food and water supplies and of course to equipment, to best enable the survival of the crew should the yacht experience difficulties mid ocean, such as EPIRB, a life raft and long range communications capabilities.
The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) document MSC.1/Circ.1413 provides basic safety guidance for oceanic voyages by craft which are not regulated by their national maritime authority, to reduce risks that could lead to loss of life or severe physical injuries to both crew and would-be rescuers, to reduce the need for extended and expensive SAR operations. The guidance includes information on the type of craft, provisioning and safety equipment, communications, voyage planning and crew training.
Be aware of restricted drugs; medication you have been prescribed or can buy over the counter in the UK may not be legally allowed in other countries - codeine is an example. You may encounter surprising restrictions on activities you consider to be part of life e.g. fishing and scuba diving.
Entitlement to free NHS healthcare is principally based on Ordinarily Residence in the UK. If your cruising plans mean that you will no longer be Ordinarily Resident in the UK, you should investigate how this might impact your access to healthcare under the NHS including repeat prescriptions.
Boats from all over the world are cruising the oceans, exploring and enjoying the adventure. Before you join them take some time to do your homework as good preparation, careful planning and prior knowledge of the dangers will help you to achieve a successful and enjoyable voyage.
There are a number of items, classed as dangerous goods, which passengers may not carry on board an aircraft and compressed gas is one of these. The regulations pertaining to these items are complex and as is frequently the case in life, there are exceptions to the rules.
The RYA requested clarification of the facts regarding the carriage of 33g carbon dioxide cylinders used to inflate boating life-jackets from Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). The CAA confirmed that one of the exceptions to the regulations which forbids the carriage of dangerous goods in passengers' baggage is for no more than two small carbon dioxide cylinders fitted into a self-inflating life-jacket for inflation purposes, plus no more than two spare cartridges , but this exception ONLY applies with the approval of the airline.
If you are intending to take a life-jacket with you when flying the CAA recommend that passengers contact their airline when booking their flights and obtain written confirmation of the airline s policy on the carriage of life-jackets and their inflation cartridges.
NATO piracy report map: http://www.shipping.nato.int/nsc.aspx
UKHO anti-piracy planning chart: https://www.admiralty.co.uk/maritime-safety-information/security-related-information-to-mariners
ICC commercial crime services: https://icc-ccs.org/
World Sailing: http://www.sailing.org/piracy
Measures to counter piracy (gov.uk): https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-uk-flagged-shipping-on-measures-to-counter-piracy-armed-robbery-and-other-acts-of-violence-against-merchant-shipping
World Cruising & Sailing Wiki: http://www.cruiserswiki.org/wiki/World_Cruising_and_Sailing_Wiki
Seven Seas Cruising Association: https://ssca.org/#/home/
Ocean Cruising Club: http://www.oceancruisingclub.org/
Lonely Planet: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/places
Information for pleasure craft travelling to Australia: https://www.abf.gov.au/entering-and-leaving-australia/entering-and-leaving-by-sea/yachts-and-pleasure-craft