Australia, Queensland: OCC Get Approval for International Yacht Arrivals on a Case-by-Case Basis

The OCC have been working non-stop to try and find an opening for all the yachts currently in limbo in the Pacific islands. Finally they have received confirmation from the Australian Government that should yachts meet the requirements for entry following an application process, they will be permitted to come and quarantine in Queensland, Australia. The Port of Bundaberg is the approved port of arrival.

Published 3 years ago

Press Release by the OCC.


Australia still has closed borders, however after representation by the Ocean Cruising Club, the Australian Government has provided the following response.

In summary:

  • While there is no guaranteed entry, the Australian Government has liaised with Queensland authorities to create a framework that will allow case by case applications for an exemption to Australia’s closed borders.
  • Applications must be made in advance via a website. 
  • Exemption for compassionate and humanitarian reasons (OCC has outlined the need for cyclone refuge for yachts in limbo the South Pacific).
  • Advice on the website states applications for exemption should be made at least 4 weeks prior to travel and travel must be within the next 3 months. 
  • Each crew member will also need a visa. Some visa types can be applied for online as part of exemption application.
  • The Port of Bundaberg is the approved port of arrival.
  • The state of Queensland controls quarantine arrangements (these are under constant review and change), currently 14 days quarantine taking into account passage time. Any extra time must be carried out on board.
  • The OCC will facilitate a pilot program with a few yachts and report back on application processes once these are completed (see OCC Conclusion below).

The OCC notes that movement between some States in Australia is still controlled and it is unlikely the Australian border will open for inbound flights in coming months. Those hoping to leave their yacht in Australia to return home (on the very limited outbound flights) may not be able to return to Australia until the border fully re-opens and normal flight schedules resume (and yacht owners should consider consequent import duty issues with the yacht).

To avoid any doubt, the letter below is the Australian Government’s response to the OCC writing on behalf of the cruising yacht fleet throughout the Pacific, not just OCC members but all yachts that have found themselves in limbo in anchorages throughout the Pacific Ocean during these tumultuous times.

Ocean Cruising Club asked the Australian Government to make provision for the arrival of foreign flagged cruising yachts and crews, subject to quarantine. We advised that many yachts are the owners’ homes and sailing to their country of origin or leaving their yacht and flying to their home country is not practical. Yachts in Panama, Galapagos, French Polynesia, Fiji and other Pacific nations are or have been in local isolation. Yachts are not “cruising the Pacific”, they are in limbo. However, as the seasons progress yachts will need to leave the cyclone belt of the South Pacific.

The Ocean Cruising Club asked the Australian Government to resolve suitable access for the yachts and entry by the crews, but did not seek any special immigration status, yacht crews will have to obtain suitable visas prior to arrival.


Dear Commodore Currin,

Thank you for your correspondence of 1 May 2020 to the Minister for Home Affairs, the Hon Peter Dutton MP, concerning yachts that have found themselves in limbo in anchorages throughout the Pacific Ocean at this time. The Minister appreciates the time you have taken to bring this matter to his attention and has asked that I reply on his behalf.

Since January 2020, when the global pandemic began to pose a serious risk to the health and safety of Australians at home and abroad, border controls have been progressively tightened and screening of incoming passengers and vessels enhanced.

As you are aware, on 19 March 2020, the Prime Minister, the Hon Scott Morrison MP, announced a travel ban would be placed on all travellers entering Australia, effective 2100hrs on 20 March 2020. Travel restriction exemptions are in place for:

  • Australian citizens;
  • permanent residents; and
  • Immediate family members of Australian citizens and permanent residents including spouses, minor dependents, legal guardians and de facto partners.

The Commissioner of the Australian Border Force (ABF) has the discretion to consider additional exemptions on an individual case by case basis. The request for an exemption must be lodged on the Department of Home Affairs website accompanied by a travellers’ identification details, case information and supporting statement. Exemptions must be granted prior to travelling to Australia.

It is important that travellers seeking an exemption provide evidence of a compelling case in accordance with one of the following categories:

  • foreign nationals travelling at the invitation of the Australian Government for the purpose of assisting in the COVID-19 response, or whose entry would be in the national interest;
  • critical medical services, including air ambulance and delivery of supplies that regularly arrive into Australia from international ports;
  • persons with critical skills, such as medical specialists, engineers, marine pilots and crews, by exception;
  • person or any person in class of persons who, in the opinion of the Chief Medical Officer, does not pose a risk of significant harm to the public health and will provide an essential service while in Australia; and
  • humanitarian or compassionate reasons.(OCC emphasis)

These categories have been identified to support individual circumstances while ensuring Australia maintains strengthened border measures in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Where a situation fits into one of these exemption categories and sufficient evidence is provided, the Commissioner will give consideration to the application.

Crew travelling on superyachts and pleasure craft are not exempt from the closure of Australia’s border, and current immigration instructions state they will be refused entry permission unless they apply for and meet one of the exemption categories.

The decision as to whether a vessel is permitted entry into an Australian port, and subsequent quarantine arrangements, rests with the relevant State or Territory Government. Consequently, this request was also referred to the Queensland Government for their advice. Queensland’s Chief Health Officer has provided approval for the Club’s entry into the port of Bundaberg if an exemption is approved.

It is important to note that should an exemption be approved, a 14 day government imposed quarantine period applies to all travellers entering Australia. Under Queensland Public Health Directions, non-cruise maritime crew are required to self-quarantine for 14 days, which can be calculated from the date of the last international port of call or from when the last crew joined the vessel within Australia. If a yacht arrives in Australia prior to the completion of 14 days, they will then be required to complete the remainder of the quarantine period on board. Any crew member may then take shore leave provided the full quarantine period is complete and they do not exhibit any symptoms of COVID19.

For the latest information, advice and how to apply online, please visit the Department of Home Affairs’ website at:  

Thank you for raising this matter with the Minister.

Yours sincerely

Erin Dale – Assistant Commissioner
Port Operations Command
Operations Group
Australian Border Force


The OCC is offering to work with an initial few yachts as a pilot program to understand application processes and clarify appropriate procedures.  Any yacht wishing to make immediate application for an exemption should contact the OCC to assist and/or monitor your success!

Yachts wishing to sail to Australia to seek cyclone refuge later this year should await the advice resulting from the pilot prior to making application.

The OCC notes that even once an exemption and visa for all crews are obtained the normal border procedures upon entry into Australia are somewhat complex and cruisers should ensure they understand the costs, pre arrival notification, arrival formalities and biosecurity/quarantine (plant, animal products, biofouling etc.) requirements.

Enquiries to:


Guy Chester and Fiona Jones, Ocean Cruising Club

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