Everything You Need to Sail to Another Country | My Boat

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One of the most thrilling aspects of owning a boat is the potential to explore the globe; setting sail and traversing the open seas to reach new and exciting countries, the world really is your oyster when you have access to a boat!


Before you go sailing off into the sunset, it’s important to consider what you’ll need to take with you when visiting another country, as well as any rules and regulations that might be different depending on the region.


Things you need to have onboard when sailing overseas


Ship’s Papers

Your ship’s papers consist of the core paperwork relating to your vessel and the skipper or crew, that you need to be able to present to a customs official if required. Ideally, all documents should be the original copies.


  • Registration document: If you wish to take your boat outside of territorial waters you need to have the registration document.
  • Radio Licence: Under International Radio Regulations, all transmitting stations must have a radio licence. The equipment must also be operated or supervised by someone that has a maritime radio operator certificate.
  • Insurance: In general, insurance is now essentially compulsory in European countries and many will ask for proof of cover. Some countries stipulate specific conditions, in Portugal for example third party liability insurance is required for any vessel over 7 metres in length. GJW provide competitive cover for all types of vessels!
  • Proof of VAT status: It’s very rare that you’ll be asked to provide this, however if you have a receipt or invoice for proof of VAT it’s worth having it onboard with you just in case.
  • Voyage log: Again, not completely compulsory, however it’s good practice to keep a log of all your voyages and sometimes foreign officials have been known to ask to see them.


Personal papers

You and every member of your crew need to have the following documentation: Passport,

Visa and European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). It’s advisable to check the expiry dates well in advance of any trips you plan to make in case you need to apply for a renewal. A visa is not always necessary, and some countries provide different options for short and long stay durations.


Flag Etiquette

An ensign is the national flag of your origin country, to indicate your nationality to other vessels. It needs to be flown as close to the stern as possible and is to be worn at all times in daylight. Be aware that the maritime ensign is not always the same as the national flag - the UK for example is different.


As you travel into international waters, a Q flag symbols that you have not officially ‘checked in’ to the country you’re visiting. Customs and immigration control should then come to inspect your boat, however check the individual guidelines for the specific port you’re planning to visit. It is also customary to fly a courtesy flag of the country you are visiting, although not obligatory. Fly it from the starboard spreaders used for signalling and make sure it’s in good condition, as some nations see it as rude to hoist a tatty flag!


International certificate of competence (ICC)

Though not always needed, it’s good practice to carry this just in case. The ICC helps overcome the difficulties that can arise between different regions and discrepancies in legislation. The ICC provides an assurance from one government to another that the certificate holder has demonstrated the necessary level of competence to be driving the vessel.  


Country-specific documentation and publications

Some countries require you to carry a list of everyone that’s on-board your vessel, whilst many also specify that you need to carry a copy of the local almanac and guidelines for the area you are visiting. Another common publication that’s recommended is the international regulations for preventing collisions at sea.


Red diesel receipts

Although legal to purchase in the UK, it is now illegal in many EU countries, for example Belgium. Just in case you’re asked, keep hold of your receipts for your fuel purchases along with your engine hours so that you can prove the legitimacy of your red diesel purchase.


Travel insurance

You should always purchase travel insurance whenever you go abroad, regardless of the mode of transport, to make sure you’re covered should anything go awry. There are plenty of options to suit different budgets and lengths of stay, including year-long cover should you travel frequently for a lower premium.


What laws do you need to follow while in international waters?
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provides a framework for the law when out at sea and defines territorial limits for which country a vessel is under the obligation of. Generally, follow the rules of your home nation but be aware that as you enter different areas and potentially go ashore, customs may be slightly different. From dress codes to mannerisms, general etiquette might vary, so learn as much as you can about the area you’re visiting before you go.


To help make your trip as safe, legal and enjoyable as possible, the best advice we can give before you sail the international waters is to do your research well in advance - find out where the local ports and customs offices are, what the entrance requirements are, learn a little of the local language.


Ultimately, you are responsible for making sure that you have all the necessary documentation for stress-free sailing abroad. If in any doubt, get in touch with your local boating authorities for further advice. And be sure to keep all your documents in a waterproof case!