Cruising Resources: Boat Documents
It pays to carry all original boat documents.
Although some forms will have to be filled in on the spot (or for many countries now online in advance), considerable time can be saved by having some papers prepared beforehand (for example photocopies of the ship’s papers as well as plenty of crew lists).
Many cruisers now have a small printer/scanner on board to save time and effort finding a copy shop ashore. Place the documents in a solid folder with waterproof pockets or similar, to cope with countless trips ashore and thumbing.
It is an international requirement that all vessels (including trailed sailboats) outside their home waters are properly registered. Many countries have a simpler (and cheaper) option to register a boat other than the more involved commercial register.
In the United States yachts can either be registered with the state where the owner lives or if ownership can be traced to the original owner, the vessel can be documented with the Coast Guard. The latter is generally preferable if possible when cruising abroad.
Note: USCG vessel documentation and renewals can now be done online. Read more at this noonsite news report.
Many countries and some marinas insist on a minimum level of third-party insurance (be sure to carry the original document). Also, there may be an additional requirement such as a translation or a reciprocal arrangement with a local insurance company. See individual country pages for any special requirements e.g. Australia Documents.
Noonsite Insurance Information.
A radio operator’s license, whether for VHF, HF or amateur radio, is required in most countries, although this is rarely checked. Some cruising yachts carry an amateur radio, most of their operators being properly licensed to operate a maritime mobile station. However, in some countries, such stations can only be used legally if the operator is in possession of a reciprocal license issued by the country concerned. In most places, this is a simple formality and costs a small fee. In a few countries there are strict restrictions on the use of any radio equipment while in port, while in others, such as Thailand and New Zealand, the use of portable marine VHF radios on land is forbidden.
Noonsite Communications Information
VAT Paid Certificate
If cruising in Europe with an EU registered boat, then a certificate showing that VAT has been paid will be expected. In the case of an older boat, then endeavor to obtain a Customs declaration that ‘VAT is deemed to have been paid’, before leaving your home. Without it, a Customs official can insist that VAT is paid on the current value of the boat at the rate applicable in the country being visited.
UK boat owners cruising abroad post-Brexit should carry evidence of VAT status on board at all times. Plus evidence of where the yacht was at the end of the transition period, such as a confirmatory letter from a marina and maintenance invoices. Keep careful records of where your boat has been subsequently, should you be asked by officials.
Clearance or Exit Document
This is the document which is (or should be) issued to show that a boat has left a previously visited country legally. It is often called a ‘zarpe’. It will be expected at your next port of call. Note that some countries do not issue exit zarpes as a matter of routine (e.g. USA) so some planning will be required if your destination country will not permit entry without one.
As well as the above, some countries may also want to see the ship’s logbook (this can be used as a legal document) and a list of electronic or other valuable items on board.
A ship’s stamp is greatly appreciated in many countries where, for some strange reason, a rubber stamp has a certain authority. The stamp should show the name of the boat, registration number, and flag state.
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