Guidance for travelling to and from the UK

 Guidance for travelling to and from the UK

This guidance was obtained from the RYA as from 1 January 2021

For any trips we are expecting increased scrutiny and changes to procedures when visiting EU and EEA countries. We recommend you report any experiences to the RYA (email to [email protected])

This 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.  All the yachts managed by Hamble Point Yacht Charters are UK Flagged vessels.

Update August 2022

There has been a recent update to the procedures which includes an electronic form to complete

Border Force Customs details

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 – 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.

The following documentation should be carried:


Skipper and / or Crew

Registration documentEvidence of Competence (requirements vary by country)
Ship Radio LicenceAuthority to Operate Maritime Radio
Insurance documents (requirements vary by country)Passport or other recognised travel document
 Voyage LogInsurance cover for medical care abroad and repatriation to the UK
Evidence of eligibility for relief from VAT and import duty (to facilitate your return to the UK)

Your Ship’s Papers should be original documents.

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 of 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.

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.

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.

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).


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*

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.

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.

Where UK certificates have been valid in the past because the UK was a Member of the EU, acceptance of UK certificates may change in 2021.

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

The Passport must: (a) have been issued within the previous 10 years; and (b) have at least 6 months unexpired at date of entry (not Ireland).  Your Passport will be stamped to start the Schengen clock Day of arrival and departure counts in 90/180 limit

The Schengen Area

The Schengen states have a single set of common rules that govern external border checks on persons, entry requirements and the duration of short stays in the Schengen Area (comprised of 26 countries – Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland).

Third country nationals (which from 2021 will include British citizens) can travel to countries in the Schengen area for up to 90 days in any 180-day period. British citizens will be able to travel to countries in the Schengen area for up to 90 days in any 180-day period without a visa for purposes such as tourism. This is a rolling 180-day period.  If you enter the dates you are thinking about being in the Schengen Area in the calculator of travel days remaining provided by the European Commission, you will be able to see whether your plans are possible within the 90 days in any 180-day period restriction.

British citizens will not need a visa to visit as a tourist, to visit family or friends, to attend business meetings, cultural or sports events, or for short-term studies or training.

Overstaying, even inadvertently, could result in a fine or a ban on entering any of the member states of the Schengen area. It is important that you seek permission to entry the Schengen area on arrival and clearance on departure from the Schengen area to ensure that you are not considered to be in the area when you should not be or when you are not. This may could necessitate adjusting your ports of arrival and departure to ones where you can obtain the necessary clearance.

To stay for longer, to work or study, for business or for other reasons, you will need to meet the entry requirements set out by the individual country. This could mean applying for a visa and/or work permit.

We do not provide advice on immigration matters including longer stays, visas and residency. Please refer to the information for the relevant country at

European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) and / or appropriate medical and repatriation insurance

Most UK Nationals may find that their EHIC is no longer valid from 1 January 2021. See for the latest information on the validity of the EHIC.

There is discussion that the EHIC may be valid until your expiry date on your card but please check before you leave

Guidance on travel insurance can be found at

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 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.

Entry and Exit Formalities

You now have an obligation to report to UK Border Force when moving into and out of the UK by recreational boat.

You should expect greater scrutiny and requirements to report on arrival and departure, when moving between the UK and the EU and/or the Schengen area by recreational boat. 


Ensign and Courtesy Flag


A UK flagged vessel must wear her ensign as required by the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, which includes when entering or leaving a foreign port and on demand. It is recommended that the ensign is always worn in daylight, especially when near to or in sight of land or another vessel. The Coastal State may also have legislation which mandates an ensign being worn at other times.

Courtesy Flag

Although a custom rather than a legal requirement, most countries expect a courtesy flag (a small version of the coastal state’s maritime ensign) to be flown by foreign flagged vessels at the senior signalling position, acknowledging that they will respect the Coastal State’s jurisdiction laws and sovereignty.

The courtesy flag should be hoisted on entering another country’s territorial waters. On a single masted yacht, the correct position is as the upper most flag at the starboard crosstrees. If a motor cruiser does not have a dedicated signal halyard, a suitable prominent position should be used as a substitute.

You may cause offence in some countries if your courtesy flag is tatty, too small or not there at all.

In some instances – such as the UK – the maritime ensign is different from the national flag.

Ports of entry

Some countries specify ports of entry (ports where one may lawfully enter a country), which should be used by a vessel arriving from abroad. It is often a requirement that you proceed by the most direct route to a port of entry on entering territorial waters. A vessel arriving in a country from outside its customs territory should fly the Q flag until it has been given clearance from the authorities. Even once clearance has been given, some countries may ask to inspect the vessel’s papers periodically, for example at each port of call.

From 2021, EU countries may require UK vessels and / or UK citizens to enter and leave the EU and / or the Schengen area using specified ports of entry. Where information is obtained this will be made available to RYA members on the country pages.

Sailing your pleasure craft to and from the UK

Following the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, owners of recreational pleasure craft (non-commercial) who sail their craft to and from the United Kingdom (including the Channel Islands) must notify the UK border authorities upon their first arrival into a UK port.

Notice 8 issued by the government explains the requirements for private individuals who sail their pleasure craft to and from the UK. It includes customs procedures for arriving and departing the UK and details on temporary admission (importation) for pleasure craft registered outside the UK.

The notice can be downloaded from the website.

Departing the UK

Before leaving the UK (which includes going to the Channel Islands), you must advise customs of your intentions by posting form C1331 (the address it must be posted to can be found on the form).

Arriving from outside the UK

Both non-UK flagged vessels and UK flagged vessels returning from a trip outside of UK territorial waters (12 miles from shore) must now fly the ‘Q’ flag where it can be readily seen as soon as UK waters are entered. The flag must not be taken down until you have finished reporting to the customs authorities. Failure to comply will make you liable to a penalty.

When arriving direct from outside the UK you must phone the National Yachtline (telephone: 0300 123 2012 open: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week). Notice 8 details the information you will be expected to provide.

You will need to inform the Yachtline if any of the following apply:

  • UK VAT has not been paid on the vessel
  • you have on board goods which are to be treated as surplus stores as per Notice 69A.
  • you have any prohibited or restricted goods
  • there is any notifiable illness on board
  • there are any people on board who need immigration clearance
  • any repairs or modifications, other than running repairs, have been carried out since the vessel last left the UK
  • you have any goods for personal use on which you need to declare and pay UK tax or duty and cannot do so via the online service.

You will need to comply with any further instructions that you are given.

You must also complete and post form C1331. The address to which the form must be sent can be found on the form and in Notice 8.

See Government Notice 8 for details of what goods you must declare on arrival from outside the UK which includes and animals or birds and the vessel itself if it is liable to UK VAT. Further information can be found under Brexit – what happens next?

Customs and Immigration

Unless you are certain that you do not need permission to enter a country you should fly the Q flag on first entering territorial waters. The crew should normally remain on board the vessel until the skipper has completed the necessary customs and immigration formalities, when the Q flag may be taken down.

Within Europe, on a UK registered vessel, whether you need to fly the Q flag and contact customs and/or immigration will depend whether both your departure and arrival ports are within the EU and / or within the Schengen Area.

Every crew member on board requires a recognised travel document such as a valid passport.

Practices vary and could for example include prior notification of your arrival and/or purchasing a cruising permit. The arrival (and departure) process may require you to visit the offices of several different authorities; it may be necessary to use (and pay) an agent. Your stay may be limited in duration either by restrictions on the temporary admission of the vessel or on the length of time the people on board are permitted to stay in the country, so you may be required to clear out of a country as well as in.

A visa may be required; visa free travel is sometimes linked to having a return ticket (to leave the country) so you may need a visa to go to a country by boat that you have previously visited by air without one. It is advisable to check well before you intend to visit the country as visas can take time to procure. Some countries permit short visits visa free but require a visa or a residency permit for longer stays.

You should complete a form for entry into a French port which can be found by clicking this link.

Customs – EU Member States

The 27 EU Member States form a single customs area.

If you are not established in the EU, provided that your boat is not registered in the EU, and it is intended for re-export and for personal use only, you should be able to enter the EU for up to 18 months under temporary admission.

Marine Red Diesel

Marine red diesel is still on sale to leisure vessels in the UK, despite the Government’s plans to phase it out following a judgment from the European Court of Justice.

Now that Britain has left the EU, red diesel will continue to be legal for the propulsion of vessels in the UK until April 2022. However, red diesel in crafts’ engine tanks is not permitted in the EU27 and other countries.

The CA’s Regulations and Technical Services group (RATS) has received information from HMRC that they agree the Istanbul Convention of 1990 allows vessels to make visits to the EU27 and elsewhere without import prohibitions or restrictions on propulsion fuel. This includes visiting craft with UK red marine diesel, or red dye traces, in the engine tank(s).

As a matter of policy, it is not standard practice for HM Government to write to other governments stating how they should implement their own laws, but it is expected of them to implement their laws in accordance with the Convention.

In addition, HMRC points out that the Northern Ireland Protocol (NIP) to the UK’s Withdrawal Agreement with the EU requires a number of EU directives to continue to apply in Northern Ireland, subject to regular affirmation from the Northern Ireland Assembly that the NIP should remain in place. If this affects what fuel private pleasure craft (PPC) in Northern Ireland can use, HMRC will provide an update at the appropriate time.

Travelling with Pets

Current pet passports no longer valid