Australia: The Bureaucratic Red-Tape of Re-Importing a Boat

Gemma Ross and her husband Andi recently returned to Australia on their catamaran SV Paws after being separated from their floating home in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They made a mad dash to get back to her in Indonesia when they were allowed so they could return to Australia. While they were prepared for the quarantine requirements on their return, they were not prepared for the bureaucratic nightmare of “re-importing” their boat into the country.

Published 2 years ago

a couple in matching brown t shirts tanned and healthy with their arms around each other smiling at the camera
Andi and Gemma Ross of SY Paws

We recently returned to Australia on our Australian catamaran from being offshore for two and a half years and experienced the mine field of the re-importation process.

As with most yachts’ persons we have spoken to, we were not aware of this process when we left from Southport back in June 2018. Our catamaran was imported into Australia from New Zealand and Australian registered in 2010 by the previous owner with duties paid in full.

My husband and I bought her in 2014 and spent the next four years getting her offshore ready while saving enough money to leave. The year 2020 proved a challenge for many, our own story being separated from our home, our yacht, by country border closures, a mad dash to get back to her in Indonesia when we were allowed and then a repatriation mission to return to Australia in the middle of cyclone season.

a tropical island with abundant greenery and palm trees ashore and transparent water with a white catamaran at anchor
Paws at anchor, Ondolou Island, Solomons.

During arrival formalities at our port of entry in Australia, we were told by Australian Border Force (ABF) that we had to re-import her.  As we had not ‘exported’, we started to politely ask questions. We were recommended to hire a broker as the ABF officers were “not licensed to enter the legal data on our behalf” and they openly admitted that they did not know how to fill in the forms anyway. I thought, “how hard can this be?” Later that turned into “how wrong could I be?”

On the ABF website ( the classification for exporting is quoted as: “Requirements for departure – Masters of Australian or imported vessels may be required to ‘enter’ the vessel for export if the craft is to be sold or positioned overseas.”

We intended to do neither. 

I have written this article to assist others on navigating this process if they are unlucky enough to be presented with this seemingly complex and irrelevant issue – but I must give a warning: I still don’t know if what I did is 100% correct.

The Bureaucratic Hell that is Re-importing a Yacht into Australia

Gemma Ross
SY Paws


The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of or World Cruising Club.

See other Australia reports from cruisers on Noonsite.

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  1. August 20, 2021 at 9:49 AM
    chimere53 says:

    Congratulations Gemma – on navigating the labyrinth of bureaucracy, and a great article. I could feel your pain, and I’m sure writing the article must have been part of your recovery therapy!!

    As it happens, I returned to Westernport VIC, on 3 Aug 2021, from Opua NZ. I originally sailing to NZ in Jan 2020, and after being locked down, for 5-6 weeks in Wellington, decided to fly home, leaving the boat in a marina. In my innocence, I thought I was free to retrieve my boat when the “trans-Tasman Bubble” opened earlier this year. Little did I know that it only related to “AIR TRAVEL” … who would have thought?!

    I too faced the issue of “Reimporting” my boat – because I ended up being out of the country for more than 12 months – a process I am still grappling with. ABF strongly advised me to “obtain an Import Agent”, which seemed strange, because “all” I had to do was fill out the N10 form.

    Well, I did end up contracting a Customs Agent and after obtaining a Marine Survey & Valuation, plus sending all the other required bits of paper and info … including that I don’t have any alcohol or “Fuel Bunkers” … and paying an interim account of $1,500 … I’m hoping the pain will be over soon.

    So yes, I really did feel your pain as I read your account. I should also add, for the benefit of anyone else thinking of sailing to Victoria from overseas, that to avoid the mandatory 14 days of hotel quarantine on arrival you will need to first obtain a Quarantine Exemption from VicHealth.

    And if you’re coming to Westernport, you need to apply (ideally 10 days in advance if you want to avoid the acute stress I endured) to Dept Ag/Biosecurity/Quarantine to clear at Westernport, because it’s not a First Port of Entry. It’s a First Port of Entry for ABF, but not Aust Q.

    Oh, I should also add that we were met at Westernport by 6 armed ABF officers, one circling helicopter, one sniffer dog and two bio security officers – it was like something out of a Gets Smart episode – just without the canned laughter in the background. The reason for the unusual attention, I assume, was because we sailed in winter (out of season) and directly to Victoria – ie not the usual arrival points of Coffs H. or Southport.

    ABF also had a printout of my AIS track – all the way from Opua – when we sat down in the cockpit to fill out forms and answer questions … no doubt he was more used to seeing straight AIS voyage-paths because there were two really zig zag lines mid Tasman on mine – as we bore away from two large storms a few days apart. He asked “what were you doing here?” pointing to the wiggly lines. “Going through hell mate” was all I could jokingly say in response … not even thinking that he might have considered I was possibly rendezvousing with a “drug ship” mid ocean

    Sorry, that comment ended up being a little longer than expected. But I’m certainly glad to be home – as I’m sure you were too Gemma! If you’d like to see some video of our voyage, feel free to click the link …

  2. August 18, 2021 at 10:26 PM
    elyse says:

    Very interesting article, doesn’t surprise me at all. Australian bureaucracy can be overwhelming and non understandable, and this is a good example of the sort of nonsense that goes on with anything to do with the ABF. The problem is that they have the power to punish you for not doing what they can’t inform you about. It’s like, or worse than, a third world country. I live in Australia, but I would never bring my boat here.