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Australia: Welcome Changes in Quarantine Guidelines for Yachts

By Suzie Ohagan — last modified Jan 11, 2014 11:55 AM
Australian officials now much more welcoming to foreign flagged vessels plus some arrival tips to smooth the way.

Published: 2014-01-11 00:00:00
Countries: Australia

In recent years, there have been many stories about heavy handed Australian officials giving yachts arriving from overseas a hard time. The reputedly high cost of entering Australia has also been much touted as a reason why numbers of foreign flagged yachts visiting have been less in recent years. Happily, the situation is now very different, and in 2013 we (and every other boat we have been in contact with) received a warm welcome from both Customs and AQIS (Health and Quarantine) officials. In 2013 we had been away from Oz for 10 years and during that time visited a number of countries deemed to pose a ‘high risk’ for termites and other nasties, so we were understandably a bit anxious about what lay in store. We were therefore delighted to find that the 2013 reality was so different to the negative rumours.

To correct some of the myths! The fee for the compulsory AQIS (now called DAFF) inspection is $330 for a vessel less than 25 metres. This fee is very similar to entry fees for Fiji and Vanuatu; it covers a hour and a half inspection (two inspectors will be present). And for those of us who have paid significantly higher visa or entry fees in say Croatia, the Galapagos or the USA,  the Australian fees are not such a big deal.

The reality of the dreaded quarantine inspection is that the officials are friendly, efficient and helpful. We and 7 other yachts arriving in Australia in 2013 all reported the same pleasant experience; officials recognise that the historically heavy-handed approach was literally keeping visitors away, and the goals of keeping Australia pest-free could be achieved by less draconian methods.

We had determined by email prior to arrival that recently revised working guidelines require the AQIS officials to have a visual inspection of 90% of a boat’s timber work. To prepare for this, we had a major (and long over-due) sort-out of our lockers in Vanuatu, and made sure we did not harbour any dead insect bodies etc in any corners or around door frames etc.  If insect corpses are present when you arrive, they will be taken away by the inspectors for identification!  We also purchased several strong plastic shopping bags (the re-enforced ones) and emptied the most difficult-to-access and crowded lockers into these bags; we then stacked the bags in the forepeak ready for placing on deck once we arrived in Brisbane. This all sounds onerous but actually it worked well for us, and getting rid of surplus stuff after the Pacific crossing was a task we had to do sometime anyway.

To summarize, the AQIS inspection on arrival need not be feared provided you have thoroughly cleaned your boat and all lockers prior to arrival, you make sure there are no nasties around, you prepare all lockers so that officials can readily access both sides of timber bulkheads (and other timber surfaces), and you dispose of any food items on the forbidden list before you arrive. All this information is available on the DAFF website.

Some other suggestions:

  • Time your arrival so that you arrive within normal weekday working hours. If you don’t, you will be charged overtime. On no account be tempted to anchor somewhere along the Australian coastline en route; you will almost certainly be spotted and fined!
  • The AQIS fee of is for a one and one half hour inspection (always 2 officials involved). In fact, because of the chatting etc our officials were on board considerably longer than one hour but we were not charged extra; the same applied to  other yachts we have contact with who also arrived in 2013 (some in Bundaberg, some in Brisbane).
  • We have not heard of anyone this year who had to have a ‘sniffer dog’ inspection; maybe everyone had clean yachts with no signs of nasties! But the current rules are that should a further inspection be required, instead of having (expensive) sniffer dogs, you can organise a Termatrac inspection from any termite firm that is properly licensed. Nowadays, an ultrasound inspection is carried out; as a precaution we obtained a quote for this prior to arrival and were quoted a fee of $ 385 for our 49ft GRP boat which has extensive timber inside; bulkheads, floors and multiple lockers. The down-side of a Termatrac inspection is that an AQIS officer has to be present whilst it is being done and you have to pay the hourly fee for his/her attendance. But I must stress that I have not heard of any private yacht being required to have this additional inspection (nor be fumigated) in 2013.
  • If you are thinking of selling your boat in Australia, the Customs web site has all the info you need. You can request that payment of taxes etc is deferred until your boat is sold; however, in this circumstance the boat cannot leave its' Port of Entry without prior approval from Customs. Despite what some brokers may tell you, it is illegal for a yacht to be advertised for sale unless Customs has been notified. Build a relationship with a recommended broker prior to arrival if possible.
  • Choose your Port of Entry with care if you are leaving your boat for a length of time or selling. Most insurance companies will not insure yachts north of Gladstone (a not super-attractive mining town). So your logical Ports of Entry in Queensland are therefore Bundaberg or Brisbane. A few yachts sail straight to ‘the top’ (i.e. Cairns or Torres Strait) but check out your insurance carefully if that is your plan.
  • Bundaberg has good facilities for boat repairs, a very friendly local community and 2 marinas. There is plenty of hard standing at the Bundaberg Port marina, and if you want to leave your boat unattended in the wet season (Jan/Feb/March) this is the best option as there are regular and serious floods issues in Bundaberg. Although the 2013 flood damage has been repaired, insurance claims are still not all settled. The annual Port to Port rally (Port Villa in Vanuatu to Bundaberg) offers discounts and a great welcome pack for participating yachts. Bundaberg is a small sugar town and difficult/expensive to reach by road/train/air; this should be considered if you are putting your yacht up for sale once you reach Oz and also if you want to travel to and fro your boat frequently.
  • Brisbane, as the capital of Queensland, has excellent communications and the marinas at Manly, Scarborough and elsewhere on the Gold Coat have immediate access to restaurants, trains, buses, and the international airport.  The Port of Entry location is at Rivergate Marina, some way up the Brisbane river and within walking distance of buses to the city. Most yachts only stay there a short period before going to either (a) the Council-run moorings at the Botanical Gardens in the city centre, or (b) Manly or (via the inland waterways)  (c) the Gold Coast area.  The Botanical gardens moorings cannot be pre-booked but you can anchor in the area and wait for one to become free. The advantage of the Botanical Gardens area is that you are in the centre of a vibrant and interesting city. Manly is the hub area for yachties in Brisbane and indeed Queensland; you will find 4 marinas, and a very good chandlery. There is no-where convenient to anchor near Manly but sheltered waterways are a short sail away (see below). Manly would probably be the best spot for those looking to sell because of the sheer mass of boats and people located there; additionally, easy communications mean interstate purchasers are constantly flying in to check out the stock.
  • Gold Coast City Marina has excellent and extensive facilities for fixing yachts, re-rigging, spraying, osmosis treatment etc. Almost anything can be done within the huge commercial precinct as several commercial boat manufacturers are based there and all trades are represented. The marina has special deals quite regularly including a weekend DIY Splash and Dash for those who want to do a quick DIY anti-fouling job. To get to the Gold Coast you can meander through the sheltered waterways south of Brisbane; these  provide ample opportunities for anchoring peacefully but your must watch the tides as you may often have a bare 3 metres of water in a couple of places..
  • Coffs Harbour is a pleasant small town half way between the New South Wales border and Sydney. Although it is a Port of Entry, AQIS (aka DAFF) does not have a ‘resident’ official. You will not pay extra for travel time, but may have to hang around for service. Repair facilities are limited in Coffs Harbour, ditto chandlery. Very few boats check in from overseas at Coffs.
  • Sydney has a wonderful harbour, numerous marinas and moorings which can sometimes for rented for a lower cost than a marina berth. Even if you do not sail there, it would be a shame not to visit Sydney which is one of the most attractive cities in the world. So park your boat somewhere safe and go ‘walkabout’!
  • Anyone wanting more info about any of the above is welcome to make contact (vandathree@yahoo.com.au) ; our home is on one of the islands in Moreton Bay and we regularly visit Manly and love meeting fellow blue water sailors!

Suzie Roots
ex S/Y True Blue 1

(Editor's notes: See www.daff.gov.au/biosecurity for information for yachts)

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