Scope

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 in other Flag States, those who are established elsewhere and vessels that are operated commercially. 

If you are boating abroad and you find something is different or come across something new, please let us know by emailing cruising@rya.org.uk

Boat under its own propulsion

Ship's Papers

When you are sailing a UK registered boat from the UK to another country, you will require papers both for the boat and for the crew on board. 

There is a core set of paperwork set out in the table below - 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 official, if required.  Your ship's papers should be original documents.

As the UK ceased to be treated as an EU Member State at 2300 UTC on 31 December 2020, you should expect greater scrutiny, changes to procedures and new requirements to report on arrival and departure, when moving between the UK and the EU, EAA and/or the Schengen area by recreational boat.  

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 and may be required in the language of the country you are visiting) Passport or other recognised travel document and visa if applicable
Evidence of eligibility for relief from VAT and import duty (to facilitate your return to the UK)
GHIC (or EHIC) and insurance cover for medical care abroad and repatriation to the UK
Voyage Log  

 

The documentation for towing a UK registered boat to another country is covered later in this page.

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 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.  This is known to be the case in France (RYA members can read more).

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 documentation (for example a letter authorising use of the vessel) to ensure the use of the vessel is not seen as illegal chartering.

Registering a boat in the UK

In the UK boats are registered with the UK Ship Register, which is part of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. The Register has four parts; which part is applicable depends on the boat's usage. For private recreational use, the choice will usually be between part 1 and part 3. 

Part 1

The primary register for British ships is Part 1 of the Central Register of British Ships. Part 1 of the Register provides evidence of nationality, evidence of ownership, confers a unique name and registration number (Official Number) and offers the capacity to register marine mortgages. British citizens are eligible to register a vessel on Part 1 of the Register regardless of where they live or how much time they spend in the UK (owners who are not normally resident in the UK are required to appoint a representative person who is).

Part 3

Part 3 of the Register (the Small Ships Register (SSR)) is only intended to provide evidence of nationality in order to enable the vessel’s skipper to demonstrate which flag state has responsibility for the vessel (particularly for the purposes of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982) when voyaging outside UK territorial waters. Part 3 of the Register was formed in 1993 to provide a cheap and simple means of demonstrating British nationality aimed at UK boaters wishing to undertake short foreign voyages from the UK.  Part 3 of the UK Ship Register continues to have the same legal effect as Part 1.

Eligibility and how to register

Information regarding boat registration in the UK for RYA members.

Eligibility criteria published by the UK Ship Register

Register a boat guidance on gov.uk

Maritime Radio Licences

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

All maritime radio equipment (including VHF or VHF DSC radio, radar, EPIRB or PLB, AIS etc.) 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

If radio equipment is installed or used on it, a UK registered vessel must have a Ship Radio Licence issued by OFCOM. The licence, which details the equipment covered, must be carried onboard. A Ship Radio licence provides you with an International Call Sign and (if applicable) a Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) number for the vessel. 

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.  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 Ship Portable Radio Licence is therefore not sufficient when boating outside UK territorial waters.

A handheld DSC VHF can normally only be licensed on a Ship Portable Radio Licence and cannot therefore be licensed for used abroad.  See Licensing Onboard Electronics page for additional information about adding a handheld DSC VHF to a Ship Radio Licence. 

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). 

Information about the validity of the SRC overseas and other UK maritime operator licences.

Insurance

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. Be aware of the territorial limits of your cover. 

Evidence of eligibility for relief from VAT and import duty

If you take your boat abroad, on your return to the UK, you may be asked to evidence that your boat is eligible for relief from VAT and import duty. 

For a short trip abroad, this will usually mean being able to evidence that:

- the boat had UK domestic status when it left the UK (i.e. it was VAT paid)

- the same person is importing the boat as exported it

- the boat is returning to the UK within 3 years of its export from the UK*

- the boat has undergone no more than running repairs that did not increase its value whilst outside the UK*

See the VAT Guide for Boats for information regarding the status of boats which were outside the UK at 2300 UTC on 31 December 2020. For further information on how to report your arrival in the UK see Entry and Exit Formalities

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.  An old log may also be useful if it is necessary to demonstrate a boat's historical location for example when demonstrating eligibility for returned goods relief.

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 when in 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 for Operators of Pleasure Craft (ICC) is increasingly the certificate that is requested whilst cruising abroad. For further information see Evidence of Competence Abroad

Passport (or other recognised travel document)

Every crew member on board requires a recognised travel document such as a valid passport. Check whether a visa is required or if there are any restrictions on how long you can stay in a particular country or group of countries at https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.

For British Citizens visa-free travel to the Schengen Area as tourist is permitted for up to 90 days in any 180-day period. This is explained in more detail on the Entry and Exit Formalities page. 

As well as checking the passport expiry date you need to check its validity for travel to the country you are visiting. It may not be valid for travel even though it has not expired, in particular if it is valid for more than 10 years. Check the validity of your passport for travel to the EU, EEA or Switzerland.  

GHIC / EHIC and insurance cover for medical care abroad and repatriation to the UK

For the latest information on the validity of the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) see healthcare for UK nationals visiting the EU

The GHIC / EHIC has limited applicability and does not replace travel insurance. Appropriate medical and repatriation insurance is recommended. Guidance on travel insurance can be found at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/foreign-travel-insurance

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.   

It is recommended that you check https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice 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. 

Boat taken abroad on a trailer

Note: This section deals with the paperwork required for the boat and trailer before the boat is launched.  After launch, the paperwork detailed above (for a boat under its own propulsion) is applicable.

As the UK ceased to be treated as an EU Member State at 2300 UTC on 31 December 2020, you should expect greater scrutiny at the border.

Paperwork for the people, vehicle, trailer and boat

  • Vehicle driving licence - valid for the combination of vehicle and trailer
  • Vehicle registration document
  • Trailer registration – 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. Check which countries require registration and how to register a trailer. Where trailer registration is required, you will need to carry the trailer registration certificate and the trailer’s own registration plate (separate from the vehicle towing it) needs to be displayed.
  • Boat registration document and Bill of Sale or other evidence of ownership
  • Vehicle breakdown and recovery insurance (recommended)
  • Documentation for customs declarations which may include evidence of eligibility for relief from VAT and import duty (to facilitate your return to the UK). See Entry and Exit Formalities for further information.
  • Passport or other recognised travel document and visa if applicable – check the passport validity requirements (see above)
  • GHIC (or EHIC) and insurance cover for medical care abroad and repatriation to the UK e.g. travel insurance (the cover needs to include the activities you intend to participate in whilst aboard).

Other preparation

As well as preparing the documentation for your journey you need to familiarise yourself with the different rules and regulations that may apply in the countries you are travelling to or through. This might include equipment that you need to carry or different speed limits. Further information to help you to prepare to drive abroad can be found in the gov.uk drive abroad: step by step tool and at https://ec.europa.eu/transport/road_safety/going_abroad/index_en.htm.

Useful links

Drive abroad: step by step - https://www.gov.uk/drive-abroad

Driving in the EU - https://www.gov.uk/guidance/driving-in-the-eu

Visiting Europe from 1 January 2021 - https://www.gov.uk/visit-europe-1-january-2021

Country specific travel advice - https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice

AA guidance on driving rules by country https://www.theaa.com/european-breakdown-cover/driving-in-europe/country-by-country

European Commission Going Abroad road safety information - https://ec.europa.eu/transport/road_safety/going_abroad/index_en.htm

Related pages

Boating Abroad