Can watercraft sail abroad? The regulations state that.


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Vessel checks

After telling you about Croatia’s entry into the Schengen area last week, many of you asked us if it is possible to go there by boat. In order to provide clarity on the topic of overseas navigation of vessels, we decided to devote this article to Italian and international regulations. We will also publish our research on navigating the waters of neighboring countries in the coming days.

What is a vessel: the Italian regulations

In Italy, the relevant legislation is contained in the Recreational Boating Code(Legislative Decree No. 171/2005). Pleasure craft is defined as “any unit that is rowed or has a hull length of ten meters or less […] excluding jet skis” (Art. 3). There is no distinction between rowing, motor, or sailing boats, as long as the length of its hull (non-structural appendages, such as bowsprit, nose, and ladders excluded) is less than 10 meters. Vessels, unlike boats, are not required to be registered in the Registers of Pleasure Craft (Art. 27), a bureaucratic simplification that, among other things, avoids the periodic review of safety equipment and seaworthiness.

No more than 12 miles from the coast

Although the technical approval characteristics of a recreational craft under 10 meters (a more than decent size for a modern boat!) might allow it, vessels cannot go further than 12 miles from the coast (Art. 27 Navigation Code). A limit that can be exceeded at sporting events organized by national and international federations (Art. 30) but not to be confused with the limit in territorial waters, which conventionally corresponds to a maximum of 12 nautical miles from the low tide line and can also go beyond 12 miles from the coast (see, for example, the Gulf of Taranto and the entire Tuscan archipelago).

The Montego Bay Convention

The international agreement governing the rights of the sea is the Montego Bay Convention of December 10, 1982 (implemented by Italy through Law 689/94). Under Article 90 et seq. the Convention guarantees freedom of navigation on the high seas (beyond territorial waters) to all ships flying the flag of any state. To guarantee this right, ships on the high seas are subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the state whose flag they fly.

In order to fly a flag, however, there must be an effective regime between the state and the ship, evidenced by relevant documents. Vessels, since they are not registered in the registers, lack this documentation, as in Italy the navigation license is issued only to boats and ships. The license, which could be described as a kind of passport, contains all the boat’s data, such as name (optional), registration office number and abbreviation, international call sign, size, engine data, owner, etc.

For these reasons, the navigation of a vessel in international waters constitutes a violation of the Convention, and sailing without a flag in international waters exposes the conductor to the possible risk of being subject to the sovereignty of military vessels of any nationality.

Vessels in foreign territorial waters

Although watercraft, like all vessels, do not need any authorization to travel abroad, except for possible customs declarations if leaving the EU, in foreign territorial waters they are subject to the regulations of the state in which they are sailing. Moreover, since they do not enjoy the legal status of flying the Italian flag, the vessels do not enjoy the exception provided by Art. 21 of the Montego Bay Convention whereby domestic laws and regulations should not affect the design, construction, fitting out or outfitting of foreign ships.

What are the consequences?

If sailing beyond 12 miles, the administrative penalties under the Recreational Boating Code are mainly fines but may also include seizure of the vessel if the insurance coverage is not valid. For other countries, it depends on national regulations. Even at the European level, there is no harmonization, and the requirements for the length of vessels and the distance they can go from the coast vary from country to country.

Can I enter Slovenia, Croatia, France, etc.?

In view of the many questions you have written to us in the comments, we will try to cover as much as possible of the legislation of individual countries in the coming days.

James Barbaro



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