Brexit for Cruising Sailors

This is an updated version of the Brexit article that we published in April 2021.

There have been a few changes since then, for example the introduction of online submission of UK departure and entry forms, but perhaps more significant is the announcements that UK entry and exit rules are now being enforced.

There have been questions during the year about the rights of UK citizens in the Republic of Ireland following Brexit so I have added a brief description of the long-established Common Travel Area to clarify.

Proof of your Vessel’s VAT Status

This VAT status of your vessel is something that you need to establish if you haven’t already.

The VAT status of a vessel was determined by its location at 2300 UT on 31 December 2020. If it was in the UK, it is now classed as “UK Goods”, which means that it is considered that the UK VAT has been paid on it. Conversely, if it was in the EU, it is considered that EU VAT has been paid on it.

Why does this matter? Well, a vessel classed as UK Goods can remain in the UK indefinitely with no further tax to Pay, and vice versa for boats classed EU Goods. However, if your boat is UK Goods and remains in EU waters for too long, EU VAT will have to be paid on her, despite UK VAT has already been paid. Even if you don’t intend sailing outside UK waters you may need evidence of VAT status when you sell your boat.

Note that a vessel’s VAT status is not necessarily the same as her flag state. For example, a UK registered vessel can have EU Goods status, and vice versa.

If you haven’t already obtained documentary evidence of where your boat was when Brexit happened you really should ask you marina or the harbour office for a letter to confirm the location of vessel at 2300 UT on New Year’s Eve, 2020. Once you have the document, keep a copy onboard, together with your Registration and Insurance Documents, Marine Radio Licence, Proof of Competence, Passage Log, Health Care documents, Passports and Visas as required.

Leaving and Re-entering UK Waters

There have been a couple of significant changes related to leaving and re-entering waters in the last year.

First, the UK Departure and Re-Entry form is now available to download as an Excel spreadsheet (e-C1331) which can be completed and emailed to the UK Border Force. A guide to completing e-C1331 is expected to be published shortly. This is an interim arrangement until a purpose build system for pleasure craft reports becomes available. In the meantime, you can still download and print a hardcopy version of C1331 and submit by post if you prefer.

The second change of note is the following statement from the UK Border Force ”For pleasure craft the requirements have generally been in place since 1 January 2021 and “will be enforced from 1 January 2022”. So, be warned that the authorities may not be as relaxed about applying the rules as they were in 2021.

Leaving the UK

  • Download and complete Part 1 of Form C1331 or e-C1331 which advises of your intentions. (See links at the end of this article or use the links on the Club website.) Information required includes:
    • Full details of the vessel (best prepared in advance)
    • Any duty-free stores on board
    • List of persons onboard
    • Itinerary
  • Post or email Part 1 of the completed form to the UK Border Agency at the address given on the form.
  • Note that you are required to complete C1331 or e-C1331 if you are going to the Channel Islands which is treated as outside the UK for VAT purposes.
  • You are also required to complete and submit the form if you are going to Northern Ireland.

Returning to the UK

  • When returning to UK waters you must hoist the Yellow Q-Flag when you get within the 12-mile limit. The yellow Q-flag must be displayed in a prominent position. (You should also be flying your ensign to show your vessels Flag State)
  • On arrival, phone National Yachtline on 0300 123 2012 (24hours). National Yachtline may give you further instructions.
  • Don’t take the Q-flag down, or leave the vessel, until you have obtained Clearance from National Yachtline
  • Complete Part 2 of Form C1331 and send by post or email your completed Part 2 of eC1331 to the UK Border Force

Visiting Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Protocol

While Northern Ireland remains part of the UK, the Protocol means that it must follow the EU Union Custom Code to protect the open border with Ireland. EU customs duties must be paid on goods entering Northern Ireland which are at risk of crossing the border with Ireland into the EU. This is why you must complete form C1331 when leaving the UK for Northern Ireland.

It is the responsibility of the UK HMRC to collect EU customs duties in Northern Ireland, where appropriate. However, at the time writing, discussions about the implementation of the Protocol are still ongoing. Until Government guidance is published, the best advice remains to contact your destination harbour for advice before you depart from the UK.

Movements between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland

An interesting consequence of the open border arrangement is that movements between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are classed as intra-community movements, and so are not subject to customs formalities. Whether this applies to UK vessels that have cleared customs when entering Northern Ireland is not yet clear.

Visiting EU Countries

Ports of Entry

Post Brexit, we may no longer be able sail to an EU county, enter a harbour of our choice, or anchor, and go ashore. Generally, when a foreign vessel arrives in a new country it must do so only at a Port of Entry where customs and immigration formalities are available. Only when clearance has been obtained can the vessel sail freely elsewhere in that country’s waters. Ports of Entry are listed in Reeds Nautical Almanac but, since facilities for yachts to enter are still changing it makes sense to contact the port authority in advance to confirm.

EU countries may now require UK yachts to enter and leave the EU only at a Port of Entry, in which case the procedure is as follows

Entering an EU country

  • Sail by the most direct route to the Port of Entry
  • Before you enter the Country’s 12-mile limit:
    • Make sure your Ensign is flying
    • Hoist the Courtesy Flag for the country you’re entering, from the starboard spreader, higher than any other flag on the same halyard
    • Hoist the Q-flag in a prominent position
  • Visit Customs and Immigration on arrival

How long can I Stay in the EU?

The answer to this question is different for you and your boat.

You can stay in the EU without a visa for up to 90 days in any 180-day period. (You can also stay in Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania for 90 days without using up your 180-day EU allowance.)

Your boat however, assuming it is classed as UK Goods, can remain in the EU for up to 18 months before VAT is payable in the EU. So, a summer cruise each year including EU countries will not trigger any VAT problems, provided of course that you carry the correct documentation.

Republic of Ireland and the Common Travel Area

Ireland is of course a member of the EU. However, there is a long-standing agreement which created a Common Travel Area (CTA) between the UK, the Crown Dependencies of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, and the Republic of Ireland. The CTA gives all its citizens the rights to live, work, obtain welfare and health care, and to vote, anywhere within the area.

The CTA was established one hundred years ago, long before even the Common Market was formed, and was not affected either by the UK and Ireland joining the EU, or more recently by Brexit.

Note however that the CTA does not apply to goods, and that includes your vessel. So, while you are free to enter Ireland and stay as you long as you like, VAT will be payable on your vessel if it remains in Ireland for more than 18 months.

Foodstuffs – Meat and Dairy Products

There are restrictions on taking foodstuffs into the EU but the RYA advise that this applies only to “landed goods”. So, foodstuffs on your boat when you arrive in an EU country are not covered provided you do not take them ashore. This means that if you’re going ashore for a barbecue you will have to buy the food locally.

Red Diesel

Prior to Brexit the UK had committed to the EU stop the use of red diesel by pleasure vessels in the UK. Since Brexit the UK Government has decided that pleasure vessels can continue to use red diesel beyond the original deadline of April 2022.

The exception to this is Northern Ireland where red diesel is no longer available for pleasure vessels under the NI Protocol. However, the Istanbul Convention allows fuel for propulsion, bought outside the EU, to be taken into the EU in the vessel’s main propulsion fuel tanks. You must not have any red diesel in jerry cans, etc., when entering Northern Ireland, or any EU member country. Since some NI harbours only supply red diesel for commercial vessels, you may need to use those empty jerry cans to fetch fuel from the local garage.

Recognition of the ICC and RYA Qualifications in the EU

If your boat is registered in the UK (the Flag State) you must comply with UK legislation, no matter which country you visit. You may also be required to comply with maritime legislation of the country you are visiting (Coastal State rules).

Each country in the EU creates its own maritime legislation, including recognition of qualifications. Therefore, acceptance of the ICC, and RYA non-Professional Qualifications such as Day Skipper and Yachtmaster, should not have changed after Brexit.

The ICC is issued under Resolution No. 40 of a United Nation Commission relating to European countries. Countries that have signed Resolution No. 40 accept the ICC as evidence of competence, but very few of the qualifying European countries have done so. Nevertheless, the ICC is widely accepted. Spain, Greece and Portugal, for example, have not adopted Resolution No. 40 but are still likely to ask visitors for an ICC. France also has not adopted Resolution No. 40 and the RYA recommend you take have an ICC and carry onboard any other sailing qualifications that you have.

Although in the UK the ICC is issued on behalf of the Government by the RYA, it is not in itself an RYA qualification. However, if you have completed an RYA Day Skipper course or hold an RYA Yachtmaster Certificate of Competence, you can apply to the RYA for an ICC. If you don’t have either of these qualifications, you can obtain an ICC by taking a practical assessment. Remember that you can take the practical assessment for the ICC through the NWCC on your own boat. (See the Training Section for details.)

Useful Links

One of the best up-to-date sources information about cruising abroad in general and Brexit is the RYA at

You can download a PDF version of the UK Exit and Entry Form C1331 here, or the new Excel spreadsheet version eC1331 here.

Good Sailing
Mark Godwin