Can you cross national borders with a charter boat?

Is it possible to sail in foreign waters with a rented yacht? What you need to know and what to be wary of before crossing the border.

You're sailing the Turkish Aegean Riviera, just a stone's throw from the Greek island of Kos, and you think about hopping over. Is it even possible or is it a risky venture that could result in a hefty fine? What are the specifics of making a crossing between countries, is it even allowed with a boat rental and if so, what needs to be arranged? Find out in our article where we'll also add tips on the destinations where it makes sense to explore more than one country.

Why consider a multi-country sailing holiday?

Gain new sailing experiences

Longer crossings will give you new sailing experiences and enrich your know-how. This is because you usually have to sail overnight, keep an eye on marine traffic, navigate using charts and generally keep a lookout. All this will test your sailing knowledge and you will experience a different type of sailing than aimlessly cruising around bays and beaches in broad daylight.

Experience more places and cultures in one holiday

Are you sailing in Greece, but also attracted by the ancient architecture of the nearby Turkish coast? We're not surprised. You'll discover two completely different cultures in one voyage. Plus, some destinations are literally a stone's throw away from each other. For example, the Greek island of Kos from the Turkish border or Dubrovnik from Montenegro. So, why not give it a try and take a look across the border?

YACHTING.COM TIP: Don't have any experience with sailing at night? No need to worry. Our article on how to sail at night will help you with all the basics.

Map of south-eastern Europe

The most popular destinations for sea border crossings are really close

Boat charter company permit

It is not possible to say in general terms whether or not you are allowed to sail a chartered boat across national borders. You should always enquire about a particular boat with the charter company in advance and ask if they will allow entry into international waters. Our sales team will help you with this during the booking process. We really do not recommend sailing across borders without the consent or approval of the charter company.

YACHTING.COM TIP: Never try to bypass a charter company. If the charterer forbids you from leaving the waters of a particular country, there is usually a good reason. One of them is insurance, for example, many boats sailing in Croatia are insured only for the Adriatic, so any accident outside these waters would cost the boat owner a lot of money.

Customs process: 2 required steps to cross the border at sea

When you sail from one country to another, you must check out of the country you are in before departure and check in immediately upon arrival in another country. So, what is the specific process?

1. Check out the boat and crew: port of exit

You should formally check out at the last place you are in that country (customs port). The check-out process is often very quick, there are normally no boat searches and the crew's passports are usually only glanced at by the security.

However, you will need to find a port of exit. For example, in Croatia, this is Komiza on the island of Vis or Cavtat. The Navionics app can help you find customs ports.

YACHTING.COM TIP: What other apps for sailors should you have on your phone? We've put together a list of the 10 best apps for sailors.

2. Check in the boat and crew: port of entry

Registration is a necessary part of the process for a boat to legally stay in a foreign country. The authorities will probably require you to pay a fee. It depends on the country, and quite often the individual official, how quickly and efficiently they approach the registration process.

"In Greece, it took about 3 hours to process the arrival documents, whereas in Montenegro everything was done in about 15 minutes,"  noted yachtswoman Katka. Another of our clients shared with us the experience that in Cavtat, Croatia, it took about 20 minutes to check in a boat from Greece.

"Not counting the covid checks, it was fine. I presented the clearance from the last port, filled out the customs declaration that I was not importing any goods, showed the crew passports and it was done. It took about 15 to 20 minutes," commented experienced captain Jan.

Before the captain completes all the formalities with the local authorities, the crew ideally remains on the boat, which is displaying the yellow Q (Quebec) flag from the maritime signal flags. This should be part of the boat's equipment, which you must always check when taking the boat over. This flag indicates to other boats and the local authorities that everyone on board is safe and you are requesting permission to land. It is flown as high as possible below the starboard spreader. After successfully checking in, fly the flag of the country whose waters you have entered in place of this flag. 

If you are unsure of the rules for flying flags on a yacht, read our article — What flags to fly and where to put them on your boat

International maritime signal flags

International maritime signal flags

YACHTING.COM TIP: Remember that you should not leave the boat until the check-in process is officially completed. Only the captain can disembark the boat to complete the formalities. They are very strict about this, especially in Cavtat, Croatia.

Required documents for the customs process with a boat

You will need the following documents for the customs process. They may vary slightly by country, but the essence remains the same.

  • Documents from the boat, given to you by the charter company
  • Passports or ID cards for all crew members (depending on whether you are sailing in the EU)
  • Captain's licence
  • Clearance document from the last port you visited and left
  • Crew list
  • Completed customs declaration form, which they will give you at customs

What to watch out for when crossing sea borders

Sailing into foreign waters is a great idea, but there are certain situations and rules you need to take into account beforehand. Let's summarise the possible risks and problems.

1. Validity of the captain's licence

Are you the owner of a small boat licence with offshore extension or do you have a Croatian Voditelj Brodice? Beware of validity and restrictions.  A small boat licence is only valid 1 mile from shore (which you are likely to exceed when crossing) and the Voditelj Brodice is only valid in the Adriatic (although it is sometimes recognized by charter companies in other countries). There will probably be no patrols to stop you at sea, the problem will only arise if anything happens on the boat and the insurance company doesn't want to acknowledge the damage. So when you book your boat, make sure your skipper's licence is valid in all the countries you want to visit.

2. Plan enough time

When planning a cruise, the rule of thumb is that you spend about half the time going one way and the other half coming back. Expect that, if you go to a different country, it will take more time than the usual circling around islands off the coast. So, plan your entire itinerary so that you can make it back in time. And you should allow for the eventuality that, for example, the wind drops and you'll have to sail on engine power (often slower).

YACHTING.COM TIP: How about trying to charter for two weeks straight?  Read about the benefits of a two-week boat holiday in our article — 10 reasons to go on a 14-day charter

Couple on board a sailing boat, romantic sea view.

3. Insure your deposit and the skipper 

Never underestimate the value of taking out deposit insurance in case anything breaks on the boat. Trust us, deposit insurance really pays off and can save not only your nerves, but a lot of money. Check out our article on 5 reasons to take out deposit insurance to find out what situations it covers. You can also take out cancellation insurance when you book your boat with one of our dealers. When sailing, it's best to add skipper's insurance as well, because we are only human.

4. Travel insurance

Make sure you and all crew members are covered by travel insurance in all countries you visit. You never know what can happen. Even a twisted ankle or broken leg can cause big problems if you are not covered for injuries and illnesses in the country you are visiting. If you're only sailing between European Union countries, you won't have a problem. But, for example, Montenegro or Turkey are not part of the EU and so different costs and rules apply there.

5. "Atypical" areas

When sailing through international waters, canals or around the coasts of countries where there has been recent war, you may also come across areas with minefields. This all sounds a bit scary, but if you look at charts regularly you can easily avoid them. Albania, for example, has quite a few such areas along its coastline. In Turkey and Greece, on the other hand, the areas that experienced problems during the refugee crisis are best avoided.

6. Ocean waves

Are you a sailor who never suffers from seasickness? That's great but be prepared for the fact that the further out to sea or on the ocean you go, the greater the chance of big waves. Those long, drawn-out ocean waves have rocked the stomachs of many experienced sailors. That's why it's recommended that you take over-the-counter or prescription medications along.

YACHTING.COM TIP: For tips on how to tackle seasickness, check out our article — How to cope with seasickness.

7. Sufficient safety equipment on board

When crossing from one country to another, you will be sailing further from the coast or in the dark. Therefore, we recommend that you check the number (number of crew members plus one extra) and functionality of the life-saving equipment on board, such as life jackets, harnesses and, if small children are on board, safety nets, before sailing. Read more about life jackets in our article — Life jacket: do you need your own?

Girls on board a sailboat wearing life jackets and sunglasses.

What to look for when choosing the right boat?

You could sail around the world in a wooden barrel. But if you want to be comfortable, here are some tips on how to approach choosing the right boat.

  • Don't fill your boat to capacity. Above all, if your financial situation allows it, leave the saloon and even one cabin free. This will give you more space to store your belongings.
  • Be aware of the size of the boat's water tank. For example, the Elan 350 is a great sailboat, but less than 200 litres of water is really not enough for a crossing.
  • Prefer a boat with a power generator. Batteries don't last forever.
  • If you are one of those sailors who try to sail at all costs, rent a boat with a gennaker. If the wind is light, you'll still be racing with its help. Read more in the article 5 reasons to rent a gennaker.
  • Don't like rocking on the waves? Choose a catamaran instead. It's more stable and the crew won't get sick. Plus, it has more room and is more comfortable.
Two catamarans moored side by side with a bunch of people

With two hulls, a catamaran is more spacious, more stable and doesn't rock as much as single-hulled sailboats

The most popular routes on a sailing holiday

Which destinations are the most popular with sailors when it comes to short crossings to foreign waters?

1. From Turkey (Bodrum) to Greece (Kos Island)

This crossing is on the itinerary of many sailors who head to the Turkish Aegean Riviera. Greek Kos is about 12 nautical miles from Bodrum. If you are renting a boat in Turkey, we recommend a trip to Kos.

2. From Croatia (Dubrovnik) to Montenegro (Kotor...)

Montenegro is completely different in landscape than Croatia. Want to go hiking in the mountains, visit the super marina in Kotor Bay or just enjoy the breathtaking scenery? From Dubrovnik, Montenegro is practically around the corner.

YACHTING.COM TIP: Find out why to visit Montenegro in our article — 8 reasons to sail in Montenegro.

St. George Island, Montenegro, with a small church.

St. George Island, Montenegro

3. From Croatia (island of Vis) to Greece (Gouvia on the island of Corfu)

This crossing is one of the longer ones (270–280 nautical miles). Sail from Vis towards Palagruža or along the coast towards Montenegro. You will arrive directly in the Ionian Sea, where you can sail to Corfu or continue to another Greek island.

4. From Croatia to Italy

Many a sailor has looked at a map and wondered what it would be like to sail from Croatia to the Italian "shoe". This route is definitely recommended more for motor boats, which can reach Bari, Italy in no time. Isn't it wonderful to have breakfast in a Croatian bay and a real Italian pizza in the evening?

5. Caribbean cruises 

If you sail in the Caribbean, you can also sail between the large islands. The Martinique – St. Lucia – St. Vincent route, for example, is one of the most common. Only the formalities here take longer than in Europe, according to the experience of sailors.

Boats in our range:

Do any of the destinations appeal to you? We can find you a boat in each. Call us.

FAQ Rules for crossing national borders with a charter boat