Croatia Clearance: Do so IMMEDIATELY on arrival, or risk being fined!

This article by SY Neraida, who arrived in the early hours of the morning at Vis after a rough passage, demonstrates how important it is to go ashore immediately on arrival in Croatia to complete clearance, whatever time of the day or night.

Published 7 years ago, updated 4 years ago

12/09/2015 – from SY Neraida.

To AIS or not to AIS that is the question!!

OK, so we installed AIS on Neraida a while back and honestly it great, especially at night or in fog, but we have also encountered a darker side of AIS.

For our summer holidays, we had planned to take a couple of weeks to sail from Monfalcone, Italy to Kotor, Montenegro. Of course, this would involve transiting Croatian territorial waters. We would not be checking into Croatia but merely transiting their territorial waters, which shouldn’t be any problem at all. Anyway, on route to Montenegro, we experienced some terrible weather as well as long periods of zero wind, as a result, we decided to stop at Vis and skip Montenegro altogether. Our new plan was to check into Croatia in Vis then spend another 10 days slowly sailing up through the Croatian Islands.

We arrived at Vis at around midnight, but because of poor visibility a confused swell and a fierce onshore breeze we decided to wait till first light to enter the Harbour. We entered the harbor at around 0630 and had the anchor set by 0650 (the customs dock was not available). We were both exhausted after a couple of nights of very little sleep and believing that the customs office would not be open until 0800 at the earliest we decided to get an hours sleep. Unfortunately, this turned into a little under 2 hours sleep. We then inflated the tender and I motored in with the appropriate paperwork and passports.

On arrival (at around 0915) I found the nearest policeman and asked him where the customs office was, to which he replied that I must go to the Capetanaria first and proceeded to give me directions. I handed over the appropriate documents and money at the Capetanaria, received the appropriate permits and then made my way to the police and customs, by this time it was nearly 1000. On arrival at the police station, I was immediately asked why it had taken me more than 3 hours to present myself to the police. They were not very friendly and even after my explanation they insisted that I must call them immediately on arrival, when I said I didn’t have a phone I could call them on, they instructed me that I must call 112 (the emergency number) from a payphone on land to inform them of my arrival. I could not believe they were asking me to call an emergency number to advise of my arrival into the country. I asked if I could inform them by VHF to which they replied that I could not. I then asked them how they knew I had arrived. It was at this point they explained they had a national tracking center that had been tracking us on AIS since we entered Croatian waters. I was amazed that they had gone to such lengths, they even had the exact time (to the minute) that I had stopped moving in the harbor of Vis.

I asked why they had tracked me and they said they tracked all yachts for security and border control reasons (no mention of safety), apparently, they are trying to become part of the Schengen area so they have to demonstrate strict border controls. I was going to point out that anyone wanting to enter the country illegally or who posed a security risk probably would not be using AIS and would not bother checking in at all, but at this point, I decided it was better to keep quiet.

Needless to say, we were fined!! Now, I know technically I was in the wrong, I should have tried to check in immediately, but I honestly did not think a couple of hours delay (especially so early in the morning) would incur such penalties, we did not go ashore shopping or drinking before checking in, in fact, the very first person I sought out when I landed the tender at the dock was a policeman!

I have saddened that even the sea is not safe from surveillance, one of the last truly free places in the world is a little less free. And worse than that, the very systems that are supposed to be there to keep us all safe are being used to enforce penalties.

As a side note, when the police officer pulled out the “fines book” I did notice that every carbon copy that he flicked past to get to a fresh page seemed to have the same details, and fine amount, so either this was the “late to check in” fines book or they had already fined a lot of other people before us for the same reason!!

I also read later on Noonsite – Croatia formalities that other people have received similar attitudes, similar responses and in some cases much larger fines!!

So the question is now, should we (Cruisers) turn off our AIS transmissions and just set our transponders to receive? I’ll leave that question open, I will say however that I will keep Neraida’s AIS on for now, because I believe it is a real benefit to safety, but be in no doubt, I abhor the use of this technology for tracking and “security” reasons!

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  1. August 2, 2020 at 12:42 PM
    tonyagar says:

    I have just arrived back from Croatia (28/07/2020) having been similarly fined. We had called into Montenegro to take on fuel and were tracked by AIS all the way to Split as this is the only 24 Hour police/customs/harbour authority dock. No matter we should have stopped at one of the 5 intervening ports that we had passed none of which are open at night, it was 2000 kunas and 500 kunas for Admin? for a 52ft yacht. Interestingly, the fine form they give you is the same as for a traffic violation exactly the same as Hampshires finest did in 2002 when they first introduced the stop and search for yachts under the Terrorism Act. If you pay within 3 days they allow a 50% reduction on the 2000k but don’t necessarily tell you about this.

    Tony Agar