Can You Sail From One Country to Another? [7 Must-Know Procedures]

Sailing from one country to another can be a confusing process for anyone doing so for the first time or in unfamiliar routes.

Heck, anytime you travel is confusing enough but adding in sailing and multiple countries can make it a downright headache.

Thankfully, with research and planning, it does not need to be this way.

Can You Sail From One Country to Another?

Can you sail from one country to another? Absolutely. Sailing does not need to be more difficult than flying or driving as long as you know what is required. The main things to pay attention to are: ports of entry, passport and visa requirements, boat ownership and cruising permits, and custom and quarantine regulations. 

With that being said, there are many things that you should consider and understand before departing on this adventure.

Most people who have done so will tell you that it is absolutely worth it and rather freeing to know that you have accomplished so great of a challenge. Below, I will outline the most common things to keep your eyes open for and help you best prepare for your seafaring travel. 

Complete Procedure for Sailing from One Country to Another

Doing your due diligence will be the absolute most important step if you plan to sail from one country to another. If you just did this step, you would be fine because it would cover everything else that is listed below (that is of course, when it is properly done).

That being said, I have boiled it down to the most common needs from start to finish and will give a brief synopsis and example for each. Then, you can decide if you are up for the journey of a lifetime. 

Know the Ports of Entry 

Knowing the ports of entry in the country you plan to sail to should be a top priority. When you are looking to travel to a different country, knowing where you are allowed to enter is going to be the most important early step you can make. After all, it is a little difficult to discover this once you have already begun your journey.

When looking for the ports of entry, you can get ideas from travel sites and forums, but it is best to double-check with the countries themselves so as to not be misled or find old and inaccurate information. 

Advanced Notice

While searching for and obtaining the entry information, you will want to double-check if you need to send advanced notice of arrival. It is not common that a country would require this, but quite a few places need (or want) advanced notification.

If it is expected that you do so, then skipping this step could cause you to have to turn around after being rejected from entry.

1. Radio and Arrival

Bringing a VHF radio should also be top of your list considering that this is standard for communicating with others while sailing.

When you are arriving at your destination, you can let the authorities know via this radio, and this will allow them to tell you where to go and if there are regulations about arriving that you may have missed in your research.

This is also considered to be a piece of safety equipment for sailing, anyways, so you will want to be sure to bring it along with you. 

2. Passport Regulations

Regardless of where you are planning to travel, it is probably safe to assume that you should bring your Passport along with you. Even if where you are going does not specifically require it, when you return home, your country of origin probably will.

For people in the United States, you may be able to travel to some islands without it, but when you get back to the homeland you are almost guaranteed to need it for re-entry. 

3. Visa Requirements

Whether or not there are visa requirements will vary depending on the country. When I was traveling to Tanzania, for example, I had to get my visa early on and it was good for a month (though I could have asked for longer).

When I traveled to Spain, I had similar requirements as I had to state the intention of my travel prior to being authorized a visa. 

When traveling to the Caribbean Islands, most times you will not need a visa before arrival, you can just acquire it upon getting there.

Since this is considered to be a form of legal documentation, it is critical that you know what is expected of and required for you in the country you are traveling to.

4. Proof of Ownership

Many countries are going to ask you for proof of ownership of your boat. This is a safety precaution for both parties and peace of mind as well. The way I see this one is similar to Passports – you may or may not need it, but you should have it just in case.

This is important to be able to show if you are ever stopped by authorities (in your country or another one that you are traveling to or around). 

5. Cruising Permits

Some countries do require cruising permits for pleasure vehicles. I know that this is true in the United States depending on what type of boat you have and what country you are originally from.

There are many, odd regulations about this, and each country varies wildly in what they expect of those who are traveling via sailboat.

It is best to contact the authorities ahead of time if you are going to be cruising and are unsure of the permit requirements.

The last thing you want is to be legally in a country but face a large fine, jail time, or your boat being impounded over this rule (and yes – those things do happen). By obtaining a permit ahead of time, you should not run into these issues.

6. Customs Regulations

Customs regulations for traveling via sailboat are similar to those in airports – some things like alcohol may cause a duty to be charged for them. While this is inconvenient in some ways, there are two main things that you can consider doing about it.

First, you can look ahead to see what the customs regulations are. Then, simply do not carry any of the regulated items into the country. This will save you from experiencing any headache at all. 

Second, if you want to bring the alcohol or another item/souvenir that can incur a duty, just make sure to be honest and pay for it.

If you are not honest, and they find out after the fact, you could be held up by Customs for a long time for trying to smuggle while they search your boat.

This is not worth your time, or theirs, and could cost you your items and a considerable fine or legal penalty.  

7. Quarantine Regulations

Quarantine regulations are a big component of sailing from one country to another that you should know about before departing. Many (practically all) countries have a list of items that are not permitted for entry.

These are considered to be their quarantine regulations. Of course, weapons of any kind (particularly firearms) are not permitted to enter most countries. 

If you have never traveled, you may be surprised to learn that certain types of agriculture are usually included in the quarantine regulations.

This is due to unnatural and unsafe substances that could be brought to countries where that type of agriculture is not natural and could wreak havoc on the local ecosystem.

Notoriously, New Zealand and Australia are going to have long lists of quarantine regulations. 

Can You Sail From One Country to Another?

Do You Need a Passport in International Waters?

Once you are more than 12 nautical miles off the shore of a country, you are no longer considered to be in that country. If you are that far (or further) from any nearby entity, you are in international waters. 

International waters are not owned by any country, but the United Nations still has a decent say over regulations in them. You do not need a passport for international waters, but for many countries, when re-entering, you are required to show it.

Therefore, it is a good idea to keep a passport with you at all times. Of course, if you were bringing your passport for the country you are traveling to, anyways, then this would not be a duplicated or wasted effort.

If you are ever in doubt of the documentation that is required of you for traveling and entering or exiting a country, it is best to do plenty of research ahead of time and always be prepared.

When you are already going to be putting so much time and effort into packing for and planning your trip, it is best to be prepared for legal and paperwork related requirements as well. 

Traveling to many countries will require a Passport, so there is no reason that you should leave this at home. If you can simply bring this small piece of documentation with you, then you will prevent the headache, hassle, and stress of needing it but not having it.

After all, as the saying goes, it is better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. 

Can You Sail From One Country to Another? [7 Must-Know Procedures]