Jun 202012


Going afloat for pleasure is something I’m supposed to know about. I had a modest 27’ sloop [thanks to the incompetence of an accountant that came out in my favour, for once]  took various sailing courses and bought the boatyard inDevonwhere I’d moored her. As my shipwright used to say, “You didn’t need to by a boatyard to go sailing.” It seemed like a good idea at the time. Not really …

It is the case that when I get sight of the ‘oggin’ I get this urge to go out on it in some sort of tub or other. The only remedy for this is to read Practical Boat Owner for all the disaster stories and the ads, which remind me how eye wateringly expensive it is to fit out and maintain even a modest vessel. But I know I’m still infected.

The thing about boating in UK waters is that there is so little ‘docamenti’ as to be more or less non-existent. Anybody can go to sea in anything. The skipper – there has to be a skipper, a legal entity in international maritime law – does not have to have any qualifications whatsoever. A sea-going vessel [which simply means anything that floats and has some form of motive power and is kept at a place with access to open sea] and is not used for commercial purposes does not have to have any kind of boatey MoT, to conform to any categorisation or to be registered to any authority. Boats kept on inland waterways are different in this respect.

So you get these mad stories in the papers of some fool who is going to sail round the world in a wheel barrow. A bloke who brought his rat infested heap of rotting wood and rusty rigging to be launched off my slipway and have a sea-cock serviced came back to find we’d run it aground on the mud by the jetty because the old seacock came away in my engineer’s hand and the boat started sinking under our feet.

In order to save the RNLI a shout, I refused to relaunch this boat on the grounds that it was not seaworthy and booked the guy road transport to where he wanted to get it ashore in his home port.

So, as with the voluntary courses available through the Royal Yachting Association in cahoots with the Maritime Dept of the Department of Trade, the British yottie is deemed to be responsible for his own competence and the seaworthiness of his vessel, without any regulatory body being involved. Because of this, British yotties tend to take things very seriously and treat going afloat with respect. Unfortunately the ‘plastic fantastic’ ‘turn on the engines and floor it’ brigade don’t tend to adopt this ethos.

British waters are difficult and dangerous – far more so than the Med. The rise of tide at my boatyard at Springs was 6 metres! The run of the tide only two or three minutes after slack water was such that I was not able to keep station with my boat without holding on with one hand, whilst cutting a rope off that had fouled my prop.

The Med is a lake and it used to be the case that the RYA did not count one minute of sea-time on the Med as qualifying for the minimum to be recorded in one’s log against various levels of qualification. Now they allow 50% in non-tidal waters.

The point of all this nautical stuff is that the differing attitude betweenUKandSpainto those who go to sea in small ships for fun is wildly different and, logically speaking, the exact reverse of what one might think should be. And they have their sticky paws all over you for taxes, as well.

A Spaniard with all the quals in the Spanish book, if he doesn’t have a healthy fear of what tides can be like, gets it wrong going round Portland Bill and gets into The Race and then he is history. He and his crew are sleeping with the fishes or, if they are lucky, aboard an RNLI lifeboat with nothing left but what they were wearing when the boat went down.


So, to sailing in Spain…

In theory, everything with a motor or sails that goes on the water has to be registered. Again, in theory, if you have residence qualifications in Spain, you must, by law, register your boat in Spain. In order to do so, apart from the registration fees, which depend on the size of the boat, the owner is required to pay a 14% tax on the value of the boat** – which explains why a lot of owners get round the law by registering their craft in a company name. This is perfectly legal, in the same way that tax avoidance is legal but tax evasion is not.”  www.andalucia.com

So, immediately we are into docamenti, taxation, registration and the ‘in theory’ aka tax avoidance routine. And tenders to yachts and motor boats have to be registered in their own right. Everywhere else they are regarded, rightly, as an integral part of the parent vessel. Spainahoy!


“…years back we had a phone call from RYA to say a guy had been arrested in Spain for not having ICC [International Cert of Competence]. Boat confiscated and taken to a marina. He had done his level 2 with us some time beforehand but had not obtained an ICC after he got his level 2. despite having been told he would need one in the Med. His story to the police boat was that they had come alongside so hard they had washed all his paperwork over the side! Bottom line was the RYA issued him an ICC after I confirmed he had gained a level 2. Apparently cost him wages for delivery driver to take boat to marina and return (wouldn’t let him do it), cost of marina storage and a fine” www.rib.net


“You will be liable for the annual Tarifa G-5 tax which is effectively a tax on having a boat and varies with the power of the engine and the size of the boat**. The same tax exists in France and several other EU countries. It is payable locally.  The ‘average’ cost for a 12 metre sail boat is probably around 600€ annually. This tax appears to be applied in Valencia but not in other parts of Spain*. It is sometimes charged by the marina and included in the berthing fees.

The law in Spain about sailing changed in January 2011 and it is no longer required that EU citizens resident in Spain re-flag their boats, so once you have applied for the exemption of the matriculation tax, as in many other EU countries, you will be required to pay the same boat tax as Spanish Citizens. You will be allowed to equip and sail your boat according to the laws of your country of origin – until you register as resident in Spain.

No foreign country can dictate what qualifications or safety equipment a yacht or skipper in their waters must conform to. (TheUKdoes not require any qualification to ‘drive’ a boat so you do not need to carry one.) You may choose to, because not all Spanish Customs/Guardia Civil know that is theUKlaw! ForUKcitizens there are no legal requirements on boat equipment, so the same applies inSpain.

You must pay ‘Matriculation’ tax of 12% of the value of the boat**.

However it is possible to have this Matriculation’ tax of 12% waived if you apply for Spanish registration as follows:

1.The registration must be applied within the first 30 days from becoming resident inSpain.

2. The boat should have paid the standard taxes in the EU country of origin.

3. The boat should have been owned by you for at least 12 months before of getting the Spanish tax residency.

4. The ownership who obtain this tax benefit cannot sell the boat before six months.


“There is a mis-conception that leaving for Gib or Morocco for a day or two “resets the clock”. This we do know is NOT true. We have been trying to find the proper legal answer to this difficult question and found that no two answers are the same. What we have found though from Spanish tax consultants is that if you are in the country for more than 183 days or more you are deemed as a “Spanish resident for tax purposes” and all that this entails, but of course this only happens if you either declare yourself or you get caught! This tax status includes re- registering your UK flagged boat to Spanish which you must do.

If you go to a Spanish marina with an ESP registered boat you also have to have the equivalent of an RYA qualification. This involves doing a Spanish course in Spanish but if you don’t speak ESP then what do you do. Is there a way of converting your UK qualification to Spanish?


I agree it is easier to keep your head down low and you might be left alone but if you are caught then the consequences can be serious as mentioned in a paper published by the Cruising Association. Are there any other Spanish or UK tax consultants looking at this forum and this question.”

“The point is being missed somewhat and the discussion is drifting into the realms of tax . First there is no question of avoiding the tax. If you become a Spanish resident and own a UK flagged boat you MUST re-register the boat on a Spanish flag and yes you MUST pay 12% matriculation tax (registration tax) It is the same as owning a UK registered car and becoming a Spanish resident. You must re-register your car. This is not VAT, it is a tax on re-flagging the boat and to be avoided at your own peril.

“The question asked was “Can you convert your RYA qualification into a Spanish one”.  Remember that if you have re-flagged your boat to Spanish you will be required by Spanish marinas to show a Spanish boating qualification which can only be obtained after doing and passing a course in Spanish. We do speak a bit of Spanish, but there is a difference between knowing everyday Spanish and technical sailing terms enough to pass a written paper (which is required).”

* my bold. **: no equivalents inUK

The UK has recognized that other countries have mandatory registration rules, so there is a voluntary registration scheme run by the MoT called The Small Ships Register. A large percentage of UK yotties sign up to this as it is a way to identify your vessel if stolen, for instance, prove ownership – handy when buying/selling – and pass muster with those countries that like to see a bit of paper and a ‘licence disk’ from some government ministry. Part III does the trick and costs £25.

One can actually register the vessel on the same registry as the QE2 or a super tanker. It’s a wonderful document dating back yonks. It divides a vessel up into shares of 64ths. My little Sabre 27 was registered. I bought it “for £1 and other considerations” and owned 64/64ths of her. It costs more but you get a much more impressive piece of paper and a plaque with the registration number and tonnage engraved in it which you bolt to a bulkhead. Proper seaman-like.

For those who want to look up more on this, this link is the best I have found so far: http://www.spainvia.com/boats.htm.

The fount of all wisdom for matters of this sort is The Cruising Association. Access to the data is restricted to members but for anyone intending to sail in Med waters in anything but a flotilla yacht, membership will repay itself hand over fist. The CA has a vast collection of info and charts for every patch of salt water on Planet Earth. The patron is none other than Sir Robin Knox-Johnson. He doesn’t mess with lubberly types

Splice the Mainbrace!

Chris Nation – Culture Spain


  6 Responses to “Sailing around Spain, a sea of regulations”

  1. ADDENDUM What I did not explain, although it is touched on in the piece, is that there are categories of vessel by size and an arbitrary designation of how far off shore they may go. To go afloat in any category of craft an exam must be passed. One is then restricted to that category and may not go any further of shore than that category is allowed.

    So the Top Gear stunt of crossing the English Channel in a pick-up truck with an outboard bolted to the tail gate would not be allowed anywhere in Spanish water because the craft would not fall into any category.

    More sensibly, most of my berth holders who crossed to Brittany for their summer cruise would not have been allowed afloat in their own boats, let alone cross the 100 miles of the Western Approaches, for lack of docamenti.

    It is this sort of bureaucracy, that detailed in the piece and PBO article above and that exemplified in the ‘Autonomo: The Movie’ video that will continue to foster rule-dodging, back-handers and the black economy in Spain. In this instance, a marvellous resource from which they could generate considerably more income from abroad, has got the bureaucrats stifling the life out of it.

  2. Im a french citizen wanting to buy a boat in spain with a spanish flag and use and store the boat in spain. I am a non resident and not a current EU resident. Can i buy a spanish flagged boat in spain and keep it there as a french citizen non-resident and non EU resident? Do I need the official spanish boating permit to skipper my boat for 2 months of the year? Thank you. ( I have a RYA Powerboat 2 qualification)
    Lex Fagen

  3. Lex Personally, I do not know. However try contacting Agustin at Gandia Yacht Club. Agustin is the English speaking sailing director there, who is extremely knowledgeable: http://www.rcngandia.com/nautic_php/web_php/index.php

  4. Here we have a classic example of the bureaucratic dilemma facing boat owners in Spain. The answer to M.Fagan’s queston will, if it exists at all, be extremely complicated and, in any event, expensive.

    I can only contrast this with the procedure in UK if he wished to keep his boat there – show that VAT has been paid on the original purchase of the boat when new, in any EU country and – viola!. C’est un fait accompli

    Bonne chance, mon ami …

  5. I have just bought a 4mtr rib in superb condition,with a 40 yamaha.It is a Spanish reg, on a Spanish matriculated trailer,licenced for 6,weight limit 525kls and insured.I have a small boat and rib master I Y T licence.I am finding it almost impossible to determine what equipment or anything else I need to do-or carry-to avoid the money oriented Spanish police! Someone please advise.It would be greatly appreciated.

  6. Mike. My deepest sympathy for your dilemma and best of luck with finding a solution. It seems to me there is an opening here for anyone prepared to spend their days digging through Spanish marine regs to answer questions on this stuff and to prepare the documenti for owners of boats. Hmmmm.

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