Boating in Europe: Everything you need to know about visiting Schengen Area countries

Boat owner Keith Wheeler explains how to navigate the various regulations that govern boating in Europe, from red diesel to the Pleasure Craft Report Service...

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 members including France, Belgium and the Netherlands, the most popular destinations for boating in Europe.

There are some exceptions, one being Ireland. 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.

You can travel to countries in the Schengen Area for up to 90 days in any 180-day period. British citizens do not need a visa to visit as a tourist within the 90 days in any 180-day period restriction.

Overstaying, even inadvertently, could result in a fine or a ban on entering any of the member states of the Schengen Area. British citizens are now third country nationals and are subject to more thorough checks.

Upcoming changes

The Schengen Entry/Exit System (EES) is a new scheme that will be established in the near future, by the European Union. It was meant to be in place by 2022. The main purpose behind the founding of the EES is to register entry and exit data of non-EU nationals crossing the external borders of EU Member States.

Not unexpectedly, the introduction of this new system has been much delayed but keep an eye out for developments. It is now expected to be introduced in May 2023.

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You also need to be aware of ETIAS, which stands for the European Travel Information and Authorisation System. Scheduled to start in 2024, travellers that currently do not need a visa to visit EU member countries will require an ETIAS.

This collects a comprehensive data set (including biometric data) on the traveller. The ETIAS would screen travellers prior their arrival to Europe and would prevent individuals who pose a security threat from entering the EU.

Currently, there are approximately 60 countries whose citizens are permitted to enter the EU and Schengen member countries without the need to obtain a visa, of which the UK is one.

There will be a fee attached to each application (currently set at 7 Euros) and the application process is planned to take no more than 10 minutes. ETIAS applications will support mobile, desktop and mobile devices.

Red Diesel

As the UK is a contracting party to the 1990 Istanbul Convention GB recreational boaters may now be able to temporarily import fuel, that is bought legally elsewhere, into the EU provided:

  • the fuel is in the normal tanks of the vessel;
  • the boat is registered in the UK or another non-EU state;
  • the registered owner is established or resident in the UK or another non-EU state; and
  • the boat is imported and used by persons resident in the UK or another non-EU state.

However, be aware it is possible that issues may still be experienced when boating in some EU Member States. To minimise the risk, keep receipts for diesel purchased in the UK, to prove that it was bought in the UK, and request that your retailer marks them “duty paid”. Also log the date of refuelling and engine hours to reinforce these records;

Boating in Europe checklist

Before leaving check that you have;

  • A Red Ensign – to be worn at all times.
  • Q flag
  • Courtesy flags for the countries you will be visiting (C2V) and ensure they are in good condition.
  • Ships Papers including proof of VAT status. It is essential to have the original registration document (not a photocopy) for your boat on board. If you are unable to present the original document if it is requested (especially in France), you can expect to receive a fine of hundreds of Euros.
  • Evidence of Competence Abroad
  • Establish the Ports of Entry for those C2V. (see website for up to date lists)
  • Check on the C2V’s Covid status and certification requirements sufficiently in advance of sailing to allow you to comply if necessary.

Government Guidance (formally known as Notice 8) which provides more information than this article, explains all the requirements for private individuals who sail their pleasure craft to and from the UK can be found on the website.

Pleasure Craft Report Service (sPCR)

This digital pleasure craft report is a one-stop service, recording all necessary information for both Border Force and HMRC. If you have any difficulties using the sPCR the helpdesk can be contacted by emailing

Posting a paper form remains an option if submitting your report online is impractical. A pleasure craft report (sPCR) fallback template is also provided.

The excel version will allow data to be submitted by email to the National Yachtline (tel: 0300 123 2012 open: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week), 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 from the website.

You will need all your vessels details to hand such as Hull Identification Number, Call sign etc. You will also need the passport or travel document details for all people on board etc. It would be advisable to study the form and collate all the data required well in advance of your proposed departure date!

The current C1331 PDF form can still be downloaded and posted if required. However, wherever possible, Border Force encourages the use of the new digital service – sPCR. 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 must advise if your departure is delayed or abandoned. If you submitted an:

  • e-c1331 email form (Excel) — resubmit it by email, putting ‘voyage abandoned or delayed’ in the email subject line and body
  • c1331 print and post form — submit part 2 by post to the same address where you sent part 1 and endorse it with the words ‘voyage abandoned’

The Mercator training ship in the heart of Ostend harbour. Photo: Peter Cumberlidge

Arrival process for boating in Europe

On entering the Schengen area from a non-Schengen country (or when leaving the Schengen area for a non-Schengen country – i.e. returning to the UK), you should obtain immigration clearance via the port authorities.

Article 11 of Regulation (EU) 2016/399 as amended (the Regulation) requires your passport is stamped (which may be done 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.

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 or Designated Entry Port (PPF), of the vessel’s arrival.

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.


The inner harbour at the attractive seaside town of Binic in Brittany. Photo: Peter Cumberlidge

Boating in France

On arrival in France directly from the UK (or another third country) you will need to clear immigration.

Although the Schengen Border Code provides a derogation which allows a pleasure boat coming from a third country to exceptionally, enter a port which is not a recognised sea border crossing point, you will still need to clear immigration on arrival which may involve everyone onboard travelling overland to the immigration office (Police aux Frontières – PAF) at the nearest sea border crossing point.

It is therefore recommended that you plan to enter France from the UK, the Channel Islands or another third country at a recognised Schengen sea border crossing point (Designated Entry Port – PPF).

In practice, how you complete the necessary formalities on arrival in France isn’t standardised. Sometimes a form called a Préavis Police aux Frontières must be submitted in advance of arrival at other completed on arrival.

Reports from other boaters suggest that having a copy of the préavis with you when visiting the PAF is worthwhile. Submitting the préavis may result in you being given an appointment to clear immigration or you may need to find the PAF yourself on arrival.

It is worth investigating this in advance in case there are limited opening hours or the PAF are located somewhere it is difficult to get to. Most large French marinas have a downloadable ‘préavis immigration’ form on their website.


The lifting bridge leading to Dunkirk’s inner marina. Photo: Peter Cumberlidge

Designated Entry Ports – Channel Coast:

  • Dunkirk*
  • Calais
  • Boulogne
  • Dieppe*
  • Le Havre
  • Honfleur*
  • Caen/Ouistreham*
  • Cherbourg
  • Carteret
  • Granville
  • St Malo
  • St Brieuc/Légué
  • Roscoff

* Ports with a ‘Preavis Immigration’ form

Although Boulogne is officially a Designated Entry Port (PPF), there are no PAF officials locally to process arrivals and departures, with some arrivals being advised to travel by train to Calais for processing.

If your chosen port does not have such a ‘Preavis Immigration’ form, then you will need to select another arrival port which either has such a form or is an actual Port of Entry.


The same process should be followed for departure. Remember, it is even more important that passports are stamped on departure.


You’ll need permission to enter Dover Harbour – England’s busiest port. Photo: Peter Cumberlidge

Arriving back in the UK

You must tell HMRC if your pleasure craft is arriving into the UK from anywhere outside of UK.

For journeys that you must report, you must fly the yellow Q flag as soon as you enter UK waters (the 12-mile limit). Make sure the flag can easily be seen and do not take it down until you’ve finished reporting to customs authorities. If you do not comply you will be liable to a penalty.

If you use a C1331 print and post form, you will need to contact the National Yachtline (telephone: 0300 123 2012 open: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) to notify your arrival.

You must complete and submit a digital pleasure craft report (using the digital service or the alternative as detailed above). Unless you have already received clearance to enter the UK. You will need to comply with any further instructions that you are given.

  • BEANR – Antwerp
  • BEBBG – Blankenberge (via Zeebrugge)
  • BEGNE – Ghent
  • BENIE – Nieuwpoort (via Ostend)
  • BEOST – Ostend
  • BEZEE – Zeebrugge

(1) Amsterdam Ijmond (2) Den Helder (3) Dordrecht (4) Eemshaven (5) Gent-Terneuzen (6) Harlingen (7) Hoek van Holland/Europoort (8) Moerdijk (9) Rotterdam-Havens (10) Scheveningen (11) Vlissingen (12) Ijmuiden


This advice has been prepared by MBY and they have tried to ensure that the contents are accurate. However, skippers should seek their own advice prior to departure to be sure they have the latest information available and are compliant with the appropriate legislation, rules and regulations in the UK and countries to be visited. MBY, its employees and contributors shall not be liable for any loss, damage or inconvenience of any kind arising in connection with the use of this advice, save to the extent required by applicable law.


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