France - Facts

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  • With both an Atlantic and a Mediterranean coastline, France has more variety to offer the cruising sailor than any other European country, from the tidal creeks and shallow estuaries of Brittany to the chic ports of the Côte d’Azur and the stark beauty of the island of Corsica.
  • France is one of the leading sailing nations in the world and its top sailors are as well known to the general French public as its best soccer players. With the most developed yacht building industry in Europe, yachting facilities generally are of a high standard. Marinas have been built along the entire Mediterranean coast and in many places, particularly in the older ports, special docking arrangements have been made for yachts. Many ports and marinas are full to capacity and during the summer season, it can be difficult to find space.
  • Chandlery and repair facilities are widely available and small repairs can be undertaken in most ports. For more complicated or specialized jobs it is best to go to one of the major centers, where there are established boatyards and specialist companies offering a complete range of repair facilities.
  • For the visiting sailor, each side of France has its special attractions. The Atlantic coast calls for more attentive navigation but brings its rewards in the many natural harbors and inlets. Although spectacular, this coast can be dangerous as there are many of flying hazards, strong tidal streams, and frequent gales. This is more than made up for by such attractive ports as Morlaix, St Malo or Lézardrieux. The western coast divides into three distinct areas, the most popular and picturesque being the Brittany coast, which has many navigable rivers and the Morbihan inland sea. The central area to the Gironde has several flying islands as well as the great rivers, the Loire and the Gironde, which lead into the inland waterways. The low-lying area stretching to the Spanish border is the least appealing as a cruising destination.
  • The Atlantic and Mediterranean are connected by a canal route of 314 miles (503 km) with 139 locks, from Bordeaux on the River Garonne, to Castets where the Canal Latéral à la Garonne runs to Toulouse, from where the Canal du Midi leads to Sète in the Mediterranean. Other canals and river systems go into the heart of Brittany, through the centre of Paris, the eastern part of France and the Rhône river to the Mediterranean. The Northern France waterway can be entered at Dunkerque, Calais, Gravelines or St Valéry-sur-Somme, while the Brittany Canal runs from the English Channel to the Bay of Biscay through 63 locks from St Malo via Dinas, Rennes, Redan and the River Vilaine. For more details on the Inland Waterways of Europe see this Noonsite Report.
  • On the northern coast, facilities are best at St Malo, Ouistreham (near Caen) Le Havre, and Cherbourg, while on the Atlantic coast Brest, La Trinité, La Rochelle, Lorient, and Bordeaux offer the best range.
  • In some ways, Mediterranean France is more suited to those who prefer to find their pleasures ashore. Sailing into such glittering places as St Tropez, Cannes or Antibes is an experience that cannot be repeated and it is worth the long detour just to spend some time among the most beautiful collection of yachts in the world. Excellent facilities are at Antibes, in the St Tropez-Cogolin area, Toulon and Marseilles, although the latter deals mainly with commercial shipping. Many harbors east of Toulon charge from noon to noon, not on the basis of a 24 hour period from arrival. Also, charter boats abound in this area but crew experience is very variable, ranging from reasonable to very inexperienced, usually handling extra large boats!
  • For a good taste of Mediterranean France, the island of Corsica offers a wide selection of ports ideally to be visited outside of the peak summer season as it is a favorite holiday destination for French sailors. Facilities are best at the main port of Ajaccio on the west coast and Bastia on the east coast.
  • France prides itself on having the best cuisine in the world and the quality of food is excellent everywhere. Supplies are easily available and on the outskirts of every town, there are huge hypermarkets, which have an immense selection of foodstuffs and other goods.
  • Water and fuel are available in all ports and most marinas have their own fuelling dock. LPG is widely available as it is used by many French households, but for longer stays in France, it may be advisable to change over to the French system of bottles.

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  1. March 19, 2024 at 5:40 PM
    TomNewman says:

    We entered France from Italy at Nice. Nice Harbor and there is a Douane (customs) office across the street. We rang the bell and someone came to help us. They did not want to inspect our US flagged boat or even see our registration. They did ask if we were stamped into the Schengen zone (we were) and if we were aware of the 90/180 day limit for US passports (we are). So far a non-event with no paperwork or inspection.

  2. July 22, 2022 at 8:27 AM
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    sue-richards says:

    The Cruising Association report that the French Channel port of Boulogne is claiming to no longer be a port of entry as they have no offi-cials locally to process arrivals and departures and warn that some arrivals have been recom-mended to travel by train to Calais for processing. See their useful guidance on entering and leaving France at https://www.theca.org.uk/news/entering-leaving-france-for-cruisers.

  3. July 22, 2022 at 8:26 AM
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    sue-richards says:

    Northern French regions are continuing to make entry from outside Schengen easier (in particular for UK yachts post-Brexit). Following on from Brittany, Normandy (specifically La Manche and Le Calvados Cus-toms) have now made it possible for pleasure boats coming from a port outside Schengen area to arrive at and leave directly an unofficial border crossing point, with just a simple online form to be filled in and sent prior to arrival and departure. See the Formalities section for more details (go to hamburger menu).

  4. September 26, 2021 at 1:01 PM
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    sue-richards says:

    On Thursday 23 September, 2011, the Orca Iberica group confirmed there was an interaction in French waters. This means that at least one of the interacting groups is in that area, so please be cautious if you are sailing in the French Atlantic coasts, as well as in the Portuguese, and northern Spain, as the rest of the groups may still be in the area, or are in migration at the moment.
    See https://www.orcaiberica.org/ for more info.

  5. May 13, 2021 at 2:50 PM
    hedonist says:

    If when My wife and l fly into Corsica to join our boat which has been stored there and we are required to self isolate for a set number of days will the authorities allow us to do this on the boat after it has been launched and berthed in Bastia marina ?
    Any advice or experience of this issue would be appreciated.

    1. May 14, 2021 at 7:10 PM
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      Sue Richards says:

      I recommend you speak with Bastia Marina – I am sure you are not the first owners flying back to their boats.

  6. May 8, 2021 at 9:14 AM
    kerrykunz says:

    Kerry Kunz

    May 07/21

    I have a Canadian flagged sailboat which is presently under a temporary import. The boat was delivered in La Rochelle France in September of last year. I have sailed from La Rochelle to Spain to Portugal, Spain Med and then France Med where I am now (Nice). I have been contacted by the Navy and told that non Schengen flagged vessel cannot stop in French (Med) waters and must transit through French Med waters expeditiously. I have the printed “ARRETE PREFECTORAL” #238/2020 dated 30 November 2020. You are not permitted to anchor and can only enter a port for a specific reason such as needed repairs etc. The ports/marinas however are no enforcing this rule or they maybe unaware of it. No date has been given when these rules will be relaxed.

    “Orcastrait” Bavaria C45

    1. May 14, 2021 at 6:34 PM
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      Sue Richards says:

      Thanks Kerry – The ARRETE PREFECTORAL” #238/2020 dated 30 November 2020 was recently replaced on May 12 2021 by this new one : ARRETE PREFECTORAL” #090/2021 dated 12 May 2021. The important paragraphs concerning navigation and entry into French waters for foreign pleasure craft are as you say:

      – Any vessel flying a foreign flag is authorized to exercise its right of innocent passage in order to cross, continuously and rapidly, the French territorial sea or to join the high seas.

      – The vessel is also allowed to join:

      – its home port when located on the French Mediterranean coast.

      – a shipyard subject to having a repair contract with it.

      While waiting to enter the port or shipyard, the vessel can stop or anchor, along the French Mediterranean coast, after having informed the maritime authority (semaphore) or obtained the authorization to anchor in accordance with the regulations of the prefectural decree nr 155/2016 of June 24, 2016.

      Our thanks to the OCC Port Officer in Marseille for confirming this and sending a translation.

  7. December 22, 2020 at 11:43 AM
    profile photo
    sue-richards says:

    DEAR ALL
    In November 2020 a storm hit the region of Cannes, thousands of trees came down with the flood, most were stranded on the beaches but a lot are still drifting in the sea.
    On 28.11.20 we were sailing from PALMA to PORT NAPOLEON. We could avoid trees and all kind of debris during the day, slaloming, but during the night…
    We struck a floating tree (and got a big dent in our bow).
    Be careful this winter in the Med – Keep a Sharp Lookout!!
    Dirk Mertens
    S/V EULALA – LAGOON 52

  8. July 1, 2020 at 3:12 PM
    pollypeachum says:

    The prefectural degree seems to have been published and seems to say it’s ok to sail into France

    https://www.premar-mediterranee.gouv.fr/communiques-presse/navigation-de-plaisance-et-loisirs-nautiques-en-mediterranee

  9. April 28, 2020 at 8:36 PM
    mrijken says:

    When traveling from the Canaries to the Netherlands in april 2020, I have the experience that France allowes yachts in transit to seek shelter for bad weather at anchor, but forbids the passengers to go ashore. Contact the coastguard with your intentions.

  10. February 21, 2020 at 9:26 AM
    yellowfin says:

    Hello
    I am a new Zealander about to pick up my new catamaran from La Rochelle.
    I will be equipping it with dive compressor . electric bikes.paddle boards etc
    Then departing to Portugal and med.
    Can I claim vat on my purchases and how ?
    I have reviewed tax site info but still confused as to if I have to be a non resident company gst registered or individual. Also are these purchases different from what is classified as tourist purchases as defined on sites I have researched.
    Any help most appreciated.
    cheers Ian

    1. February 25, 2020 at 11:29 PM
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      sue-richards says:

      Hi Ian,
      This site seems to explain pretty clearly what you can and can’t do – https://www.lisbonguru.com/how-to-claim-vat-refund-lisbon-portugal/
      Hope that helps,
      Sue

  11. June 21, 2018 at 4:30 PM
    Data Entry2 says:

    We visited Corsica in May and attempted to clear in at Porto-Vecchio. We were told there that the only ports of entry in Corsica are Ajaccio and Bastia.
    Rick
    Ocean Dream

  12. June 21, 2018 at 4:15 PM
    Data Entry2 says:

    New restrictions 2018 around Corsica?
    Some large special purpose yellow buoys have appeared around 300m or more across bays and previous anchorages north of Bastia. I get the impression from a call made and looking at a French gov website that this is a general approach around Corsica, and starting June 2018. Has anyone else found this happening around the island?

  13. June 16, 2017 at 4:38 PM
    Data Entry2 says:

    Posted elsewhere on the site by Jim Norris:

    We are in Malta on the way from Greece to the French canals.
    We went to the French embassy here to see about long-term visas for France. Here is the official email answer.

    Concerning your question about Schengen Visas:

    – Further to the French-Canadian Agreements on 06-17 April 1950, all Canadian nationals are allowed to stay in France during 3 months without any Visa, independently of previous stays already done in other countries of the Schengen area.

    Martine RIGAUD-BUSUTTIL
    Service Consulaire/ VISAS
    AMBASSADE de FRANCE
    130 Melita Street
    VALLETTA VLT 1123
    TEL (00356) 2248 0600

    So it appears us Canuks at least can get 180 days (actually more as it says 3 months).

  14. June 15, 2017 at 3:16 PM
    Data Entry2 says:

    As a newcomer to Noonsite I would like to add up to ports & good sailing ground the area around Port Vendres, where the Pyrenees mountains drop into the Mediterranean; Sun, Wind,& wild scenery as well as a Good way of life (food, hiking, anchorages …).

    In addition to one port? Canet en Roussillon (1300 berths, quays for repairs) with outstanding facilities for drydocking & repairs, with lifts from 30 to 200 Tons capacity (monohulls as well as catamarans) & loads of workshops & suppliers for all work related to sailing. The proximity of the city of Perpignan with even more industrial capacity helps keep prices low (not cut-throat as often encountered with Shipchandlers). I warmly recommend the services & will happily help out if wishing for more information.

    SV Désirade VIII – soon (9/11/2017) to cast off to South Atlantic.

  15. May 29, 2017 at 11:25 AM
    Data Entry2 says:

    For anyone who plans to travel through the inland waterways from or to the Mediterranean, you can download the e-pilot we wrote about our route from Amsterdam to the Med in 2015, updated with info from fellow cruisers we launched version 2.0 last month. Go to http://www.e-pilots.net for the latest edition.

  16. October 22, 2016 at 10:35 AM
    Data Entry2 says:

    Posted on behalf of Mark & Lisa Powell

    A warning to non-EU cruisers in the Med.

    We would like to pass on our experience yesterday with French customs. As the website correctly states, non-EU registered boats may remain in EU waters for 18 months before payment of VAT is required. We entered the EU last July, after crossing the Atlantic in May and then spending some time in Portugal and “resetting the clock” in Gibraltar in July. Therefore, the boat could stay in the EU until Jan 2017 without paying VAT. However, before returning the US for the winter, we obtained a “Precinto” (6-month customs bond) in Spain. This basically put the boat in bond while we went back to the U.S. for 6 months. Our understanding was that this Precinto would stop the Temporary Importation (TI) clock for 6 months, effectively extending our time to 24 months in EU waters before VAT payment is required.

    Yesterday, while motoring along the south coast of France (near Bandol/Toulon), we were approached and boarded by French customs. Because out boat has only been in EU waters for since last July (13.5 months), they were very cordial and we had no problems. We also showed them our Precinto from Spain. They were completely unfamiliar with this document. I also showed them the paragraph in the IMRAY cruising guide describing the customs bond and 6-month extension. In no uncertain terms, they told us that France does not provide such extensions and that they would not recognize or honor this Precinto from Spain. They kindly suggested that we sail to Tunisia for a day to “reset the clock” before our 18-month deadline in Jan 2017.

  17. June 25, 2014 at 12:26 PM
    Data Entry2 says:

    Posted on behalf of Alison Spinney, SY ChaliVentures III (USA)
    Ports we visited in 2013, EAST COAST: From South to North
    Note: We have a 12m boat.

    Port Rondinara – JUNE
    Stayed here for 6 nights waiting for a Mistral to pass. Good protection, but not from the East! Very crowded with charter boats and flotillas from Sardinia.

    Solinzara – JUNE
    38€/night. Laundromat and Carrefour just up the street. Lots of restaurants. WIFI!

    Port de Taverna/Campoloro – JUNE
    37€/night. Just an overnight. There was a small convenience store, But they had WIFI!

    Bastia-Port Toga – JUNE
    35€/night. We had wanted to go into the Vieux port of Bastia, but they were doing some construction and it was very tight maneuvering. Also at the end of the outer breakwater, there were hordes of teenagers, and it just didn’t seem very secure. So we bailed and went into Port Toga instead. They had WIFI. Directly across the street was a FABULOUS Géant Casino. 2 blocks away was a self-serve Laundromat. The girls in the office directed me to a dry cleaning service that cost a fortune which was just across the street from the marina next to the Geant Casino. We LIKED Bastia. It’s pretty small, so things were pretty close.