What paperwork is needed to go long distance sailing? Here we will list all the paperwork we have for ourselves (Swedish citizens) with a Swedish boat for a long distance sailing to the Caribbean and back again. Most paperwork are quite general and should apply for other nationalities as well, with smaller differences. If you are Swedish citizen with Swedish boat we have this page in Swedish as well, with more “Sweden perspective” on the paperwork, link to it HERE.
And again, we are no experts, but this is what we have found during our research that we need for us and our boat in the waters we sailed. We thought it helpful to read about different experiences when we planned for our sailing trip, so we’re just trying to make a small contribution to that here. 🙂
If you are interested which route we took and what countries we visited it can be found under Our Route.
Here is a list of all documents we describe on this page, more info about each of them can be found below:
- Certificate of Competence
- Original registration papers
- Crew list
- Short Range Certificate
- Ship’s Radio Licence
- HF radio certificate
- Certificate for inland waterways
- Proof of VAT status
- Arrival to new country with sailboat
- Outside Europe
- Departure from country with sailboat
Här är de dokument vi hade med oss på vår långfärdssegling till Karibien:
- Every crew member should have a valid passport that shouldn’t expire in the next 6 months.
- As expected, the most important documentation to have onboard. Always checked when entering new country and in many marinas in Europe.
Certificate of Competence
- We both have Coastal Yachtmaster Diploma (sv. Kustskepparintyg) as it is needed in Sweden to drive boats over 12 meters and our other boat is longer than that. But as far as we’ve understood it shouldn’t be necessary (but good to have some kind of certificate) if it is not needed in the country where the boat is registered.
- We never had to show this piece of papers while we were away sailing.
Original registration papers
- We have registered our sailboat in Sweden via Swedish Cruising Association.
- This document is the “passport of the boat”, and an important document. The document is checked whenever entering a new country and in marinas in Europe.
- Some kind of third party liability insurance is needed for most marinas in Europe. We had a third party liability insurance via Y Yacht Insurance with a limit of €3’000’000, but it was not easy for us to find an insurance, read more about it HERE.
- Third party liability insurance covers damage done by your boat on other boats, people, marinas, environmental damage and so on.
- We had to show our insurance papers every time we entered a marina throughout Europe, and is also needed to enter canals. Even though it might be hard to find an insurance, our opinion is that is quite stupid to sail without at least a liability insurance. And remember, you don’t have to find an insurance in your own country. Look at other companies in other countries and see what they offer.
- When you sign insurance make sure to include the dinghy in the liability insurance. We didn’t think about that, but heard that from other sailors that it might be a good idea.
- We did our own crew lists before departure, as we read somewhere that it might be a good idea. Very unnecessary! Every country we entered had their own standard for crew list you had to fill out when entering. Might be good to have the names, date of birth, passport number, passport expiry date written down somewhere before visting Immigration.
Short Range Certificate
- Personal certificate to use VHF/AIS. How this is applied for may differ in different countries. In Sweden you go on a course and after taking a test you get the certificate.
Ship’s Radio Licence
- The license for the sailboat to use VHF/AIS. How this is applied for may differ in different countries. In Sweden you apply at PTS for the paperwork.
- Not needed if boat is not equipped with HF-radio.
Other documentation often mentioned for cruising sailboats is:
Certificate for inland waterways
- We don’t have this as we don’t plan to go through the European inland waterways (expect Kiel canal, but that is, as far as we’ve understood it, not a part of the inland waterways). It is also a bit unclear if this certificate is now checked on offshore yachts in the Netherlands. I guess we will find out.
- UPDATE after departure: We choose to go through the Fixed Mast Route through Netherlands, and before going into the canals we googled if we would need a certificate for inland waterways, but didn’t find a source that said we needed one. We found that we should have a certificate of competence, but that (as far as we understood it) was not inland waterways specific and needed for larger and faster vessels. We also read on a Swedish page that a Coastal Yachtmaster Diploma (sv. Kustskepparexamen) would be good enough to go through the Fixed Mast Route. During our trip on the canals no one checked any of our certificates, so still unsure if it is actually needed. We also passed through the Caledonia Canal in Scotland, no competence certificate checked when we entered. They did however check passport, registration papers and insurance.
Proof of VAT (Value Added Tax)
- Apply for sailing with in EU for EU boats. Our boat is built 1965 and this should not apply for us.
- There wasn’t anyone asking for this document during our sail, but we have read about sailboats missing this document that has had to pay VAT when checked. What we’ve read is that they use the insured value and you are forced to pay around 20% in taxes.
- Boats built before January 1st 1985 needs this paper, but we think it is somewhat unclear. It is also said that for older boats, they are not obliged to pay this tax if it can be proved that they where in EU December 31th 1992 and has been privately owned since built. This can be quite difficult to prove for an old boat.
- If you have an old, quite cheap sailboat it might be worth the risk sailing without this document as the likelihood that this is checked is quite small.
- BUT if having a newer, more expensive boat this tax is significantly more expensive. If a newer boat is missing this document you should probably try to negotiate a price reduction equivalent to what should be paid in taxes.
- Worth noting is that if a boat has been outside EU longer than 3 years OR if the boat has changed owner while being outside EU, tax needs to be paid when the boat is imported to EU. Good to keep in mind if buying a boat outside of EU, with the intention of sailing it back to EU.
- French overseas territories, like Guadelope and Martinique belong to EU, so if buying a sailboat in those territories shouldn’t be a problem, but probably good idea to check with some one with correct knowledge before buying a more expensive boat.
- Our conclusions when reading about all this is that we find it somewhat complicated, probably since we don’t have much knowledge about legal stuff. We have just tried to make some kind of summarization about what we’ve read on different places to highlight that it should be thought about, and maybe consult with someone with more knowledge before deciding to buy a sailboat of the more expensive kind.
What is the procedure when entering a new country with sailboat?
What we written below is from the point of view of a Swedish sailboat, and Sweden is part of EU and Schengen.
- For countries within EU/Schengen you don’t have to do anything special. They often check documentation in marinas (passport, registration papers and insurance). You don’t have to visit Customs & Immigration.
- UK and Channel Islands (Guernesey/Jersey) and Gibraltar is not part of EU or Schengen and then you have to contact Customs & Immigration. On this page you can read about our experience entering UK after Brexit, summer 2021: Enter UK with sailboat after brexit. Even though Channel Islands and Gibraltar is British territories they have their own governments and is not fully a part of UK. When arriving to those territories you have to visit Customs & Immigration no matter where you sail from.
- When arriving to a country outside EU/Schengen you should first hoist the Yellow flag (Q-flag). Either together with the country’s courtesy flag or alone (opinions seem to differ on this matter). If the courtesy flag is alos hoisted it should be the flag that is highest up on the boat. The flags are hoisted by the mast on starboard side.
- To hoist the Q-flag is a signal to the country you’ll visit that you have not yet visited Customs & Immigration, but will do as soon as possible. The flag should be hoisted as soon as you enter territorial waters (12 nautical miles from the coastline) and should not be taken down until you have checked in to the country. In many countries there is not a law that the Q-flag should be hoisted, but there is a strong tradition to do so. If you have the Q-flag hoisted before doing the check-in procedure you should not be able to be accused of trying to enter the country illegally. In some countries you should also call officials on VHF as soon as possible.
- When sailing to a new country you should first sail to a Port of Entry. Those ports have offices for Customs & Immigration.
- You anchor without rush, or dock in the marina. When you are finished you go ashore to visit Customs & Immigration.
- In some countries it is only the captain that is allowed ashore to do the check-in for the entire crew. The rest of the crew wait on the boat.
- Dress in proper clothes when visting these offices, and you will get better treatment. You probably wouldn’t visit a bank office in your home country in bathing shorts and flip-flops, for example.
- When we were going to check-in to Antigua Thomas forgot his shoes on the boat when he took the dinghy to Customs & Immigration. He took a chance and went without shoes, but when he arrived to the office he got thrown out and had to go back to the sailboat, pick up his shoes before allowed into the office to finish the check-in procedure. Better to dress correctly from the start!
- Normally you visit Immigration first. In this office you check-in the crew, get stamps in the passport and so on.
- After Immigration you visit Customs and declare the boat.
- Usually you pay a fee for the process. It can be quite expensive in some countries and in some countries it is just a minor administrative fee.
- When these two are finished the captain goes back to the boat, takes down the Q-flag and everyone is welcome ashore.
- Before leaving the country you visit Customs & Immigration once more to check out crew and boat. You get new stamps in the passport and a clearence paper that you’ll show when entering next country. This document is in some countries called zarpe. It differs how important this document is, but you can be rejected to enter next country if you cannot present where you departed from.
- Another story from our year of sailing – when we did the check-in in Sint Maarten, there was another guy in the office. He had boat a sailboat and was about to leave Sint Maarten. It turned out that the previous owners had checked in the boat to Sint Maarten the year before, left without doing the check-out and then returned (without doing proper check-in, we guess). So when this guy was about to leave the country, his newly bought boat had collected a year of weekly anchor fees, quite the sum (the weekly anchor fee in Sint Maarten is somewhere between $20-$90/week), that he had to pay. We are not sure how this was solved in the end, but a good reminder to not skip the clearence.
- All above are quite general. On the website noonsite.com there is a lot of information about what is specific for each country. How the clearence procedure is handled in each country, which harbour are Port of Entries, latest update on fees and so on.