International cruising

All you need to know about cruising abroad. We've put together this section to help you with your preparations.

As more and more of us make plans to cruise as far from home as the Mediterranean, Eastern Europe and Scandinavia, we’ve put together this section to help you with your preparations. We’re often asked questions such as, “Where do get a Customs form for the Channel Islands?”, “Do I need a Certificate of Competence in France and Spain?”, “Do they have marinas with fuel berths in Eastern Europe?”, or “I’m calling from Italy ­ where can I find a weather forecast in English?” The aim of the International Cruising Guide is to provide quick answers to common questions ­ and provide extra information too. We hope you won’t need the emergency phone numbers, or the British Embassy in each country, but they should add to your peace of mind en voyage.

France, Holland, Spain and Scandinavia are well-trodden cruising areas, but less-frequented places like the Baltic States are fascinating, and gearing themselves up with yachting facilities. Croatia and Slovenia already have a good infrastructure of marinas to service the fabulous Dalmatian coast and islands, and are well worth a visit on the way from Italy to Greece ­ or by car with a sportsboat on the trailer. We say “less frequented” because few British motor boats visit, but if you’re aiming for Estonia you’ll meet plenty of Swedish yachtsmen, and the former Yugoslavia is the coastal playground of the Germans and Austrians. Listed below is some general information on cruising in Europe. Alternatively, use the back button on your browser to find information on individual countries. All customs and immigration details in the country pages applies to British registered boats, with crew from the EU, only.

UK Customs

If you’re going straight to a non-EU country, e.g. the Channel Islands, you’ll need to take form C1331 with you, obtainable from many marinas and yacht clubs or your local Customs office (address in Yellow Pages). Before leaving, fill in part 1 and send to Customs, or post in a Customs box at a marina. On your return, fly the Q flag, and fill in part 2. If you have goods to declare, contact Customs. If not, you can post the form back. Wherever you have been, on re-entering British waters it’s possible you’ll be stopped by Customs and asked if you have goods to declare.

EU Customs rules

A boat from an EU country arriving in any EU country direct from another EU country need not report to customs, unless it has non-EU nationals aboard, or restricted goods like firearms to declare. An EU boat arriving in an EU country from a non-EU country must fly flag Q at the 12-mile limit and call Customs on VHF to ask for instructions. If none are received, report to Customs directly on arrival. An EU boat arriving in a non-EU country should follow that county’s rules ­ see following chapters.

Duty Free

You may buy duty-free goods in non-EU countries e.g. the Channel Islands and import them into the UK. The personal allowances are the same as for airline passengers. Within the EU, you can buy as much duty-paid wine, beer, spirits and tobacco as you wish and import them into another EC country, as long as they are for your personal consumption. However, some Scandinavian countries have very strict limits on alcohol importation even from other EU countries.


Even in EU countries, expect to be boarded and asked to show your papers. In Portugal for example, although it’s an EC member, officials cling to their old ways, probably due to an unnatural love of paperwork. The keys to an easy time are patience, politeness, and more patience. Some countries require you to check out with Customs and Immigration on leaving.


Even if there’s no legal requirement in a country for foreign yachts to show particular papers, you may still be asked to show them. This is usually because officials are so used to seeing certificates from their own nationals that they can’t believe we Brits don’t need them too. If we’ve ever heard of anyone being asked for any papers, we’ve put this down in the country chapters as necessary ­ it’s better to be safe than sorry. You must carry the originals of all documents, as some authorities will not accept photocopies. Take several photocopies of all documents in case officials require them, or you lose the originals.

Ship’s Registration Document

Even if there’s no legal requirement in a country for foreign yachts to show particular papers, you may still be asked to show them. This is usually because officials are so used to seeing certificates from their own nationals that they can’t believe we Brits don’t need them too. If we’ve ever heard of anyone being asked for any papers, we’ve put this down in the country chapters as necessary ­ it’s better to be safe than sorry. You must carry the originals of all documents, as some authorities will not accept photocopies. Take several photocopies of all documents in case officials require them, or you lose the originals.

Proof of Insurance

Some countries require you to show the boat’s insurance certificate, sometimes with third-party liability: see country chapters. Before leaving, check that your insurance covers you for all the countries you intend to visit, and get yourself an original document, not just a photocopy or fax.

Proof of VAT paid

When visiting EU countries, if your boat was built after January 1985 you must be able to prove that VAT has been paid. If you can’t, then you may be required to pay VAT at that country’s rate ­ not a pleasant thought. Valid proof is a VAT receipt backed up by a builder’s certificate. If the boat is second-hand, you should also show the bill of sale. Customs may also ask for VAT receipts for expensive items added later, eg radar, chart-plotter etc. If your boat was built before 1985 it’s exempt from VAT, but you’ll need to have evidence to prove it, for example a builder’s certificate. If you don’t have the necessary evidence of VAT paid or exemption, HM Customs and Excise may be able to provide you with a VAT Status Letter. Find the address of your local Customs office in Yellow Pages. If you have questions about VAT on boats contact HM Customs and Excise, Dover Yacht Unit, Parcel Post Depot, Charlton Green, Dover CT16 1EH. Tel: +44 (0)1304 224421. The RYA may also be able to help.

Proof of competence

Legally British skippers don’t need to show proof of competence in foreign coastal waters because under international law we only have to conform to our own maritime laws, but many foreign officials don’t seem to know this. On many inland waterways in Europe, a certificate of competence is a bone fide legal requirement. The best certificate to carry is the International Certificate of Competence (ICC), even though it’s much easier to pass than Coastal Skipper or Yachtmaster. Officials like it because it has your photo on it, and your date and place of birth. If you have other RYA certificates, take those along as well. The ICC is easy to obtain, either by taking a simple test at an RYA-approved sea-school, or by sending your RYA Day Skipper practical, or higher, certificate to the RYA and they’ll automatically grant you an ICC. The Low Countries have some special rules.

Ship’s Radio Licence and VHF operator’s licence

As in the UK, if you have a VHF radio you must carry the Ship’s Radio Licence aboard, as well as an operator’s certificate for a least one member of crew. Ship’s radio licences are available from Ship Radio Licensing Unit, Wray Castle, Ship Radio Licensing, PO Box 5, Ambleside, LA22 OBF. Tel: 015394 34662. For details of how to get your operator’s licence contact the RYA.


Each crew member must bring their passport, unless visiting Ireland or the Channel Islands. In the latter case it’s advisable to bring passports anyway in case you decide, or are forced, to call in to France.

Crew lists

Some countries, especially in the Med, insist on a crew list. Just list the names of crew, with nationality, date of birth, address, passport numbers and position on boat (eg, skipper; navigator; engineer, deckhand, crew ­ the point of this is show that they are not paying passengers ). If you are doing crew changes, write the date each crew joined the boat, and cross off those who have left. Some countries demand three copies of the list.

Weather forecasts

Before setting off it’s worth finding out how to obtain weather forecasts in the countries you’ll be visiting. Our country chapters will get you started. Finding weather forecasts in English or the local language if you understand it, is usually possible, either on the ordinary radio or VHF. The RYA’s booklet G5 will help you find the forecast in most places in Europe. It’s available at £3.60 from the RYA and nautical bookshops.

Anyone regularly cruising abroad would be well advised to buy a Navtex receiver. Having cruised around Greece recently, we found Navtex invaluable, with its regular forecasts printed in English on either paper or screen. It’s worth the money just for the weather info, but also gives chart update info too. Navtex coverage is excellent throughout the eastern Med and the Baltic, and apparently improving in the rest of Europe.

Medical matters

Before you leave, fill in form E111, obtainable from post offices. All the EU countries have a reciprocal medical insurance scheme whereby emergency treatment is free, or reduced in cost, when you present form E111. You may also like to take out private medical insurance.


Don’t forget your credit or debit card and PIN. Cashpoint machines are found all over Western Europe these days, and are rapidly being installed in the east. With your card and number you can draw local currency, usually at a better exchange rate than if you’d bought currency or travellers cheques in the UK. Check with your bank that your debit card will work in foreign cashpoints. Take two or more cards if you have them, in case one is accidentally “eaten” or not accepted. Eurocheques, obtainable from your bank, are worth considering for some countries.

Phoning home

Nearly all phoneboxes in Europe now have international dialling, making it simple and fairly cheap to phone home. A mobile phone with roaming facility is extremely useful; apparently they work very well in the Baltic States. Ask for info on international coverage from service providers.

Fuel, water, shore power

Having once spent a whole day in Poland taking taxi rides between Prospector III and a far-away garage, armed with outsize fuel cans, we know how frustrating it can be when “fuel available” means “half-a-mile-up-the-road”. In our country chapters, if we say fuel is “readily available” it means a large number of harbours have diesel pumps on proper fuel berths. Shore power is, perhaps surprisingly, easy to find in most places but plugs seem to be different in almost every country. Take as many different adapters as you can lay your hands on. Plugs can also be bought in local chandlers on arrival. Take extension leads in case power points are far away from your berth. Likewise, take a long hose for water, with different adapter fittings if you can find them.

Engines, spares, repairs

Take as many spares and tools as you think fit. Before leaving, contact the manufacturer of your engine(s) and ask their advice on what to do in the event of a breakdown in each country you intend to visit. They should be able to send you a list of overseas repair agents, and some even have emergency hotlines. Consult your cruising guide book for details of repair facilities at individual ports.

Berthing charges

We’ve indicated whether a night’s berthing for a 30-45-footer is cheaper, similar or more expensive than at a UK South Coast marina in summer. These are obviously a rough indication only, as prices vary from one marina to another, and exchange rates will change.


Unfortunately, as most pet owners will know, once an animal has landed on foreign soil, it won’t be allowed back into the UK without spending six months in quarantine. For a free booklet Rabies Prevention and Control, issued by the Ministry of Agriculture, freephone 0645 556000.

LPG, Camping Gaz

If you can, take enough LPG to last the whole journey. If you’re planning a long-term trip, one tip is to carry a Calor Gas/Camping Gaz adapter, available from Calor, to convert to Camping Gaz (if you use a 4.5kg Calor butane cylinder) which is available almost everywhere. Both propane and butane can be found in larger cylinders in most European countries, but cylinder sizes, connectors and regulators are rarely compatible with UK appliances. Calor’s booklet LPG (Bottled Gas) for Marine Use is essential reading, full of advice on using LPG abroad. For a free copy phone 0800 626626. It tells you what piping etc to take with you to enable you to use foreign cylinders, and offers safety advice on refilling. Neither of these practices is condoned but according to the booklet they are acknowledged as a reality of long-term cruising . Refilling is possible in many countries, but you may have to wait a couple of days, or travel to a large town or city. Cruising guides often advise on local availability of gas.

Safety equipment

Some countries require you by law to carry specific safety equipment. If your inventory conforms to that recommended in the RYA’s booklet C8, you should have no problems.


We know people who have trailled abroad for years without any problems, but just occasionally the police will stop you and ask for proof that you own the boat, and scrutinise the trailer to see if conforms to the country’s size regulations. Generally speaking, if your car-trailer combination is legal in the UK, it’s fine in most other countries. Andrew Norton of the RYA can send you a booklet with all the UK trailing regulations. Information on trailing regs in other countries is hard to come by, and subject to change. The RYA’s booklet has info on a few countries, but for others they recommend you consult the motoring organisation of each country you intend to visit to find out their latest laws. These addresses can be obtained from the AA. Check with your insurers that your boat is fully covered for road transportation abroad.

Charts, books and getting information

For each area you need small-scale charts for passage-planning, large-scale charts of coasts and islands, an almanac, a pilot book, and a cruising guide. Tide tables in Macmillans Nautical Almanac are all you need for most of Europe, as the Med and the Baltic are non-tidal. These can be supplemented by local tables, bought on arrival, in complicated places like the Gulf of Morbihan in Brittany. Telephone Warsash Nautical Bookshop or Kelvin Hughes for info on other publications available.

Under each country heading we suggest charts and books. Supplement this info by a visit to a major chart agent and nautical bookshop to find the latest publications. Admiralty Pilots exist for all the countries we feature, and these have not been listed individually in our pages.

Definitely worth buying are the RYA/Cruising Association booklets Planning a Foreign Cruise, Vol 1 ­ The Atlantic Coast of Europe and Baltic Sea, and Vol 2 ­ The Mediterranean and the Black Sea, both £4.60. These are full of up-to-date advice on cruising abroad. Imray’s Mediterranean Almanac is another must if you’re cruising the Med, for its detailed info on marinas and harbours, as well as times and frequencies of weather broadcasts and special formalities and regulations. The World Cruising Handbook by Jimmy Cornell, published by Adlard Coles Nautical is another valuable reference.

Stanfords in London stock phrase books, language cassettes, city maps and guide books for all the “usual” countries, plus Estonia, Latvia, Slovenia and all the others we thought were “off the beaten track” until we discovered the wealth of information available on them.

The invaluable Yachtsman’s 10-Language Dictionary published by Adlard Coles Nautical lists a huge range of words for all eventualities including engine breakdown, emergencies, berthing, formalities etc.

The process of planning your cruise should involve getting as much information as you can on boating in each country. Good sources include the RYA’s Motor Cruising Division, the Cruising Association, and foreign tourist offices in London, many of which produce information on boating in their country, which they are happy to send out.

Albania – Dangerous waters

At the time of writing, The Foreign Office advised strongly against visiting Albania. Recent reports of Albanian pirates attacking a British-chartered yacht several miles off the coast, while the boat was on passage to Corfu, should be taken as a warning to give Albanian waters a wide berth.

Useful addresses

Royal Yachting Association, RYA House, Romsey Road, Eastleigh, Hampshire, SO50 9YA, UK. Tel: +44 (0)1703 627400.

Cruising Association, CA House, 1 Northney Street, Limehouse Basin, London, E14 8BT, UK. Tel: +44 (0)171 537 2828.

Imray – publishers of Imray Mediterranean Alamanac and many cruising guides. Mail order service. Imray, Laurie, Norie & Wilson, Wych House, St Ives, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, PE17 4BT. Tel: +44 (0)1480 462114.

Macmillans – publishers of Macmillans Nautical Almanac. 25 Ecclestone Place, London, SW1W 9NF, UK. Tel: +44 (0)171 881 8000.

Kelvin Hughes – sell charts, pilots and cruising guides. Mail order service. Tel: +44 (0)1703 223772. Shops at Royal Crescent Road, Southampton, Hampshire, SO14 3NP, UK. Tel: +44 (0)1703 634911, and 145 Minories, London EC3N 1NH, UK. Tel: +44 (0)171 709 9076.

Warsash Nautical Bookshop – charts, pilots and cruising guides. Mail order service. Tel: +44 (0)1489 577721. Shop at 6 Dibles Road, Warsash, Southampton, Hampshire, SO3 9HZ, UK.

Stanfords – 12-14 Long Acre, Covent Garden, London WC2F 9LP. Shop/mail order service. Tel: +44 (0)171 836 1321. Phrase books, dictionaries, guidebooks, maps.


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