How to ensure plain sailing from Lymington by Lester Aldridge

Planning to Sail Away this Summer?

Is your vessel UK flagged, being used as a pleasure vessel and are you a UK resident? If so, then read this article in order to prepare for departing the UK’s waters. And take advantage of a free consultation with Lester Aldridge Marine Department!


Sailing away family on board yacht

Before leaving UK waters

  1. Registration

Is your boat registered? It is not compulsory for a UK citizen to register their boat if it is going to remain in UK waters. However, if you wish to take your boat abroad then the boat must be registered. Your boat does not have to be registered in the UK, but can be registered with whichever registry you desire. UK residents often use the MCA’s Small Ship Registry (“SSR”) to register their boats. An application to register your boat on this register can be made online for a relatively small fee.

  1. Form C1331

Before departure from UK waters you must complete Part 1 of Form C1331. The form can be completed either in paper format or in an electronic format. Form C1331 requests for information relating to your boat, your intended voyage, the persons who will be on the boat with you and any information relating to any goods that you have on board that you need to declare to customs.

Once completed, the form should be sent to the Border Force and HMRC. It is now recommended that Form C1331 is completed in electronic format and emailed to the relevant authorities. The form can be found on the Government website, or by searching Form C1331 in Google or other internet search website.

  1. VAT

A boat entering into the EU which is owned by a person residing outside of the EU (which would now include the UK), is registered in a country outside of the EU (which would now include the UK), is intended for personal use and will be leaving the EU again within 18 months of entry will not incur liability for European VAT.

To ensure that you have no difficulties when returning to the UK at the end of your trip you should carry evidence that UK VAT has been paid on the boat (further details below).

  1. Final Checks

Not only do you need to conduct final technical checks to your boat to ensure that you have a safe and smooth passage, you should also check the legal and documentary requirements of any port or country that you wish to visit to ensure that you are in compliance with them.

This should include checking:

  • Visa requirements for the country you are entering – for example, UK citizens are only allowed admission into the EU for 90 days in 180 consecutive days following Brexit.
  • Identity document requirements to enter the country.
  • Whether proof of COVID-19 vaccination is required.
  1. Insurance

Remember to check the territorial limits for your boat’s insurance policy and that your intended destination falls within these specified limits. It may be necessary to contact your insurers to obtain extended cover for your proposed trip. You should also check whether the country or countries that you intend to call in have any particular insurance requirements.

  1. Future considerations

From May 2023, you will be required to register using the European Travel Information and Authorisation System in order to enter into EU waters, if the country concerned falls within the Schengen Zone.

Remember to Pack


The following flags will be needed on your trip:

  • Red/Blue Ensign – it is a requirement that this is displayed when entering and leaving foreign ports. It is recommended by the Royal Yachting Association that the ensign is flown at all times.
  • Q Flag – it is a requirement that the Q flag is flown when entering a country’s waters, the UK included. The Q flag must be flown until your boat and all passengers have completed the relevant custom and immigration checks.
  • Courtesy flag – it is good etiquette to display a courtesy flag (the flag of the country whose waters you are entering). This should be of the required size and should be in good condition to avoid offence being caused.

You should ensure that you have certain documentation with you in case it is requested by the relevant authorities in the countries visited. The following documentation is required (and you must hold the originals):

  • Proof of registration.
  • Ship radio licence.

When returning to UK waters

  1. Fly the Q Flag

You are now required to fly this when returning to UK waters whether or not you are an international visitor or a returning UK citizen. The Q flag must be flown until the boat and all passengers have passed immigration, customs and border control.

  1. Call the National Yachtline

In order to sail through your arrival you will need to call the National Yachtline on 0300 123 2012 to inform them of your arrival. The National Yachtline is open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.

You are required to tell the National Yachtline if any of the following is applicable:

  • VAT has not been paid on the vessel in the UK;
  • you have on board goods which are to be treated as duty-free stores;
  • you have prohibited or restricted goods;
  • there is a notifiable illness on board;
  • there are people on board who need immigration clearance;
  • you have carried out repairs or modifications since the vessel last left the UK that are not running repairs; and/or
  • you have goods for personal use that you need to declare and pay UK tax or duty on.
  1. Complete Form C1331

In a similar fashion to when you left UK waters, you are required to complete Part 2 of Form C1331. The same procedure must be followed as on your departure. The form should be sent either by post or email to the Border Force, HMRC and the National Yachtline.

  1. VAT

Upon your return to UK waters it will be assumed that VAT is payable on the boat, unless you can provide evidence that VAT has been paid in the UK or that one of the VAT exemptions or reliefs apply to the boat. In order to confirm whether VAT exemptions or reliefs are applicable, we recommend that you obtain appropriate expert advice.

With the above steps taken, you should be able to enjoy plain sailing abroad and avoid the common traps and pitfalls that may befall the unwary.

The experts at LA Marine will be happy to answer any questions you may have on the above or any other issues.

Lucy Goff solicitor with Lester Aldridge

LA Marine – experts in yachting law 

LA Marine is the specialist marine law team at Lester Aldridge solicitors and are the South Coast’s leading marine lawyers. With a history dating back over 20 years, we are excellently placed to assist and advise on all yacht-related transactions or disputes, big and small.

Please feel free to contact our friendly team on 02380 827415 or to discuss how we may assist you further.

Article by Helen Whitaker, Trainee Solicitor and Lucy Goff, Associate, LA Marine

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About Lester Aldridge Solicitors

Lester Aldridge Solicitors are based in London, Southampton and Bournemouth - where the office covering the New Forest is situated conveniently close to the main Bournemouth train station. Their specialist teams in the various fields of law will be happy to advise and assist you, starting with a completely free initial consultation during which you can decide whether you feel able to trust them with your confidential information. Consultations are also available via virtual meetings : advice is available through phone, email, Skype and Zoom.

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Life Matters is a regular monthly feature on Lymington.com, which covers a wide range of legal subjects and is always written by one of the Lester Aldridge team.

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