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 with 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 email@example.com.
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 worn at all times 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.
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.
If you are arriving from abroad on board a boat under its own propulsion, unless you are certain that you do not need to, e.g. you do not need permission to enter a country or the country has stated otherwise, 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.
A vessel that leaves a UK port bound for another UK port and in the process leaves UK territorial waters does not need to fly the Q flag provided the vessel does not stop at a foreign port on the way.
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 and or immigration territory) should fly the Q flag until it has been given clearance from the authorities. Even once clearance has been given, some countries may require you to report at each port of call or ask to inspect the vessel’s papers periodically.
As the UK is no longer an EU Member State, UK vessels and / or UK citizens may be required to enter and leave the EU and / or the Schengen area using specified ports of entry. Further information is provided further down this page under Arriving in / departing from the Schengen Area.
Government guidance (formally known as Notice 8) which explains the requirements for private individuals who sail their pleasure craft to and from the UK can be found on gov.uk. It includes customs procedures for arriving and departing the UK and details on temporary admission (importation) for pleasure craft registered outside the UK.
Note: the guidance (dated 29 December 2021) was re-published in an updated format on 16 May 2022.
Since 01 January it has been a legal requirement to report your departure from and arrival in the UK by pleasure craft. Anyone who owns, or is responsible for, a pleasure craft that sails to or from locations outside the UK and the Isle of Man is required to provide information about the vessel, the voyage, individuals on-board, any goods documentation.
The submit a Pleasure Craft Report (sPCR) service was launched on 25 July 2022. This digital pleasure craft report is a one-stop service, recording all necessary information for both Border Force and HMRC.
Posting a paper form remains an option if submitting your report online is impractical. A pleasure craft report (sPCR) fallback template is also provided. This is an excel version that will allow data to be submitted by email to the National Yachtline and the relevant regional Border Force command - it may not be suitable for completion on mobile devices (e.g. smart phone or tablet). These forms can be downloaded at Sailing pleasure craft to and from the UK - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk).
Before departing to a location outside the UK and the Isle of Man (which includes going to the Channel Islands), you must notify your intentions by completing and submitting a pleasure craft report (using the digital service or an alternative as detailed above).
If you are using the Pleasure Craft Report Service (sPCR) you should submit your voyage plan at least two hours before you depart, but no more than 24 hours before you depart.
You can sail outside UK territorial waters to reach another destination in the UK, without reporting your departure.
You must complete the UK entry procedures and obtain clearance to enter the UK, as detailed in on gov.uk.
On entry into UK territorial waters you are required to fly the Q flag. This should remain in place until you have finished reporting your arrival in the UK.
You must complete and submit a pleasure craft report (using the digital service or an alternative as detailed above). Contact the National Yachtline (telephone: 0300 123 2012 open: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week), unless you have already received clearance to enter the UK. You will need to comply with any further instructions that you are given.
When you arrive in GB from abroad with your boat, the default position is that import VAT and duty are payable on the current value of the boat unless you are entitled to relief. This applies to all movements of goods, including personal possessions and means of transport.
See gov.uk for details of what goods you must declare on arrival from outside the UK which includes animals or birds (see the Travelling with Pets section further down this page) and the vessel itself, if it is liable to UK import VAT and duty.
Relief from import VAT and duty may be available for boats returning to the UK after a period abroad or if you are transferring your residence to the UK. The conditions for returned goods relief and transfer of residence relief are outlined for members in the RYA VAT Guide for Boats.
Visitors bringing a boat to the UK which they intend to re-export will usually be able to enter without paying import VAT and duty if they meet the conditions for temporary admission. We recommend you consult our page on bringing your boat to the UK under Temporary Admission.
Every crew member on board requires a recognised travel document such as a valid passport.
Customs and immigration practices vary and may 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 clearing 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 (e.g. the USA). 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.
The RYA is not able to and does not provide advice on immigration matters including longer stays, visas and residency. Please refer to the information for the relevant country at https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
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.
Within Europe, on a UK registered vessel, whether you need to fly the Q flag and contact customs and/or immigration will usually depend on whether both your departure and arrival ports are within the EU and / or within the Schengen Area although there are some exceptions.
The Schengen Area is a group of European countries which have signed a treaty creating an area without internal border controls. The participating countries are all the EU member states except Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland and Romania and the non-member states - Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.
Schengen Area is 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.
The Schengen states also 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.
Third country nationals (which includes British citizens) can travel to countries in the Schengen area for up to 90 days in any 180-day period. 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 do not need a visa to visit as a tourist within the 90 days in any 180-day period restriction. Find out when a visa is required. To stay for longer 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. Find out more at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/check-if-you-need-a-visa-or-permit-for-europe.
Some British citizens may be permitted to remain in the Schengen area for longer for example if they are married to an EU citizen. The RYA is not able to and does not provide advice on immigration matters including longer stays, visas and residency. Please refer to the information for the relevant country at https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
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 enter 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 shouldn’t be, or when you aren’t. This may necessitate adjusting your ports of arrival and departure to ones where you can obtain the necessary clearance.
The Schengen Borders Code governs the external border of the Schengen Area and provides a single set of rules for external border checks in relation to people.
Article 11 of Regulation (EU) 2016/399 as amended (the Regulation) requires that the travel documents of third-country nationals are systematically stamped on entry and exit.
Article 5 of the Regulation states that external borders may only be crossed at border crossing points and during fixed opening hours and article 39 requires that a list of their border crossing points is provided by Member States to the European Commission. A consolidated list of border crossing points can be found at https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/policies/schengen-borders-and-visa/schengen-area_en under related documents.
Where the means of transport is a pleasure boat a derogation is provided in Annex VI to the Regulation. The derogation states, “a pleasure boat coming from a third country may, exceptionally, enter a port which is not a border crossing point”. However, the onus in on the people onboard to seek authorisation to enter the port from the port authorities. The port authorities should then notify the nearest port designated as a border crossing point of the vessel’s arrival.
In the past British citizens were entitled to free movement under Union law and were therefore only subject to minimum checks at the border. British citizens are now third country nationals and are subject to more thorough checks.
On entering the Schengen area from a non-Schengen country (or when leaving the Schengen area for a non-Schengen country), you should obtain immigration clearance via the port authorities. If your passport is stamped (which we understand may be electronically) on entry into the Schengen area you will need to ensure it is also stamped on departure otherwise in the eyes of the immigration authorities you may never have left.
Any pointers we are able to offer for individual Schengen states can be found in the country pages, but it is essential that you familiarise yourself in advance with what is required for your specific destination as this may vary from port to port. It is your responsibility to ensure that you enter the country you are visiting legally.
The Entry/Exit System (EES), an automated IT system for the registration of travellers to the Schengen Area, is expected to be brought in in mid-2022. This, together with the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) which should be rolled out by the end of 2022, is intended to enhance security at the external Schengen border. The EES and ETIAS may result in further changes to the formalities for pleasure boats crossing the external Schengen border e.g. there may be a requirement to obtain a travel authorisation in advance.
The 27 EU Member States form a single customs territory. The UK is not part of this customs territory therefore when you take a boat to the EU you import it. Import VAT and duty may be payable unless you are eligible for relief.
If you are not established in the EU (if that is not where your habitual residence is), provided that your boat is not registered in the EU, and it is intended for re-export and for personal use only, it should be able to enter the EU for up to 18 months under temporary admission.
Although the Union Customs Code (UCC) suggests an oral customs declaration is required, in its FAQs on the rules for private boats the European Commission indicates that just crossing the frontier of the customs territory of the EU is generally all that is needed for a boat entering the EU under its own propulsion to be placed under temporary admission. It is recommended that you contact customs in your port of entry for clarification. The same applies in reverse on export.
It is unusual (Greece is a notable exception) for paperwork to be issued, therefore it is recommended that you retain documentation that you could use as evidence of when you entered the EU, so you can demonstrate that your boat has not overstayed, if asked. Some EU Member States may require that the boat is placed under customs supervision if the owner leaves it in the EU unattended.
As confirmed in the European Commission’s FAQs on the rules for private boats, at the end of the period of temporary admission you can take the boat out of the EU and on return a new period of temporary admission can begin. The UCC does not specify how long the boat must leave the EU customs territory for and it doesn’t indicate whether it is sufficient to simply sail beyond territorial waters (which are part of the EU customs territory) or if you must visit another country. Such decisions are therefore made at the national or local level.
If you are established in the EU (if that is where your habitual residence is), the goods you own (the boat) must be in free circulation, to be allowed to move freely throughout the EU customs area. In customs terms it has the status of Union goods (Union status).
If your boat had Union status and was lying in the EU when the Brexit Transition Period ended (2300 UTC on 31 December 2020), it should retain that Union status until such time as it leaves the customs territory of the Union (which includes territorial waters).
You do not need to be established in the EU for your boat to have Union status but if you are established in the EU then (with very few exceptions) if you are using a boat it must have Union status.
A boat which has Union status may move, without being subject to a customs procedure, from one point to another within the customs territory of the Union, and temporarily out of that territory by sea without alteration of its customs status provided that its Union status is proven.
If you are entering the EU with a boat which had Union status when it left the EU, you may be eligible for returned goods relief (RGR). This is explained further in the RYA VAT Guide for Boats. If you are entering the EU with a boat which is eligible for RGR, in general the boat is deemed released for free circulation by the act of crossing the frontier of the EU customs territory (i.e. by entering territorial waters).
The Union Customs Code Implementing Regulation (EU) 2015/2447 (Article 199) details means of proving the customs status of Union goods proof of Union status, which might include the invoice or a T2L. Whilst the UK was a member of the EU, it was possible to obtain a retrospective T2L from HMRC. According to the European Commission documentation such as a T2L or a customs opinion letter, issued by the UK before the end of the Brexit transition period, is no longer valid in the EU. The European Commission advised that "for a boat lying in the EU at the end of the transition period, the person concerned needs to submit a new request to obtain a proof of Union status to one of the Customs authorities in the EU".
If you are visiting the UK see our page on visiting the UK for information on arriving in the UK towing a boat.
If you are a UK resident or own a UK registered boat, providing the boat is subject to a relief from import vat and duty at the time of import and providing the owner is accompanying it, the owner can make a declaration by conduct. For RoRo ports, this is the act of driving the vehicle towing the boat off the ferry.
If you are a UK resident or own a UK registered boat and the boat is not eligible for relief from import VAT and duty the owner will need to make a customs declaration.
RYA Members will find further information on the reliefs that might be applicable and how to make a customs declaration in the RYA VAT Guide for Boats.
Don't forget that GB stickers are no longer valid and have been replaced by UK stickers. For a more detailed explanation see https://www.gov.uk/displaying-number-plates/flags-symbols-and-identifiers
If your boat is entering the EU as returned goods, the act of crossing the border is deemed to be a customs declaration and the boat is deemed to be declared for release for free circulation. You should be prepared to demonstrate to customs that the boat is eligible for returned goods relief (RGR). This is explained further in the RYA VAT Guide for Boats.
Many boat owners will be relying on temporary admission to import their boat into the EU without paying import tax and duty.
If you are towing a boat at the customs border point you should make it clear to the customs official of the country you are entering that you are temporarily importing the boat i.e. you have something to declare. You may be asked for an inventory of the goods you are temporarily importing (which might include, as applicable, the make, model, engine number, registration details) together with a written undertaking to re-export or the document mentioned above.
If you enter the EU with the boat under temporary admission you are undertaking to re-export the boat when you leave instead of paying import duty and tax. You may therefore need to show a return ticket to back up that intention and you should notify customs if you need to leave the EU without the boat. The boat must leave the EU in the same condition as it arrived in although repairs and maintenance to maintain the boat or to ensure compliance with technical requirements for its use are allowed.
If you tow a boat to the EU for private use and you are told you should have a Carnet, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. In particular we are interested in any information you have which indicates the legislative basis under which customs has indicated a Carnet is required.
Additional information for RYA Members:
Information about Carnets and why we believe they are not necessary for a boat taken abroad for private use.
The RYA Guide on Trailing and Roof Racking the Rules and Regulations provides information on the regulations for towing in the UK.
Guidance on bringing food or other plant or animal products into the UK for personal use can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/personal-food-plant-and-animal-product-imports.
Similar information for the EU, can be found at https://europa.eu/youreurope/citizens/travel/carry/meat-dairy-animal/index_en.htm.
Personal imports into the EU of UK meat, milk and products containing them has been banned since the transition period ended as we are now a non-EU Country. Union law prohibits the introduction into the EU of certain products of animal origin where they form part of travellers' luggage.
The following information is also available on the European Commission website - https://ec.europa.eu/food/animals/animalproducts/personal_imports_en. This refers to Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2019/2122 of 10 October 2019 concerning certain categories of animals and goods exempted from official controls at border control posts, specific controls on passengers’ personal luggage and on small consignments of goods sent to natural persons which are not intended to be placed on the market.
Article 6 of Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2019/2122 which is entitled: Products of animal origin and composite products on board means of transport operating internationally which are not unloaded and are intended for consumption by the crew and passengers states that:
1. Products of animal origin and composite products are exempted from official controls at border control posts provided that:
(a) they are intended for consumption by the crew and passengers on board means of transport operating internationally; and
(b) they are not unloaded on Union territory.
This would suggest that provided food is not actually landed in the EU it will not form part of traveller’s luggage and it will be fine to have food produced in GB on board. It is also likely that checks will only be undertaken at the border, if at all.
If you are arriving in NI from GB or another non-EU port you should be aware that the NI Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) classifies food waste from private boats together with food waste from planes and ships as International Catering Waste (ICW). Food and drink is not considered to be ICW until it is no longer intended for human consumption. There are specific disposal instructions for ICW and bins that help ICW must be disinfected after the ICW has been disposed of. Check with the marina before disposing of food waste from outside NI and the EU ashore.
A pet can only arrive in Great Britain (GB) on a private boat if it is arriving from Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man or the Republic of Ireland. Otherwise your pet must enter the UK using an approved transport company and route.
If you are leaving Great Britain with your pet you should ensure that it is correctly prepared in accordance with the rules of the destination country.
Details of approved routes and how to prepare your pet can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/bring-pet-to-great-britain.
Under the Northern Ireland (NI) Protocol the EU Pet Travel Regulation continues to apply to travel between NI, EU Member States and Third Countries. This should have resulted in changes to how you prepare your pet for travel from GB to Northern Ireland and a requirement for pets to arrive through a designated travellers’ point of entry (TPE). However, the introduction of routine checks on the non-commercial movement of pets from GB to NI are delayed indefinitely. Further information can be found on the DAERA website.
If you are leaving NI with your pet you should ensure that it is correctly prepared in accordance with the rules of the destination country.
Pets arriving in the Republic of Ireland (ROI) need to enter through a designated travellers’ point of entry (TPE). You must also give advanced notice of your intention to arrive on a private means of transport with a pet.
If you are leaving the ROI with your pet you should ensure that it is correctly prepared in accordance with the rules of the destination country.
Pets need to enter the EU through a travellers’ point of entry (TPE)
EU customs and tax allowances: http://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/individuals/travelling/entering-eu_en
Temporary Importation for non-EU vessels: http://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/frequently-asked-questions/some-frequently-asked-questions-about-rules-private-boats_en
MSN 1799 Rabies - carriage of animals on ships: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/msn-1799-rabies-carriage-of-animals-on-ships
Healthcare (visiting EU and EFTA citizens): https://www.gov.uk/guidance/healthcare-for-eu-and-efta-citizens-visiting-the-uk