Which flag to choose for a round-the-world trip by boat?

You may know it: it is possible to choose the flag to display on your boat. Whatever your nationality, as an owner, you can choose to adopt a “flag of convenience” from a foreign country.

But have you thought about which pavilion would be the most suitable for you, as part of a world tour? Boat-registration.com returns, in this new article, to the many elements to take into account in order to make your choice between the French, British, Dutch, Spanish or Polish flags...

The conditions and deadlines for obtaining the different flags

Eligibility for the foreign flag

The prerequisites for registering your boat are not the same in all countries. Think now about the tax residence you will choose for your world tour: it is indeed a determining factor!

To obtain the British flag, for example, you must physically reside in the United Kingdom, or create a company there and have recourse to a legal representative there. For the Belgian flag, the owner can be a natural or legal person but must have a connection with Belgium, ie be resident or of Belgian nationality. For the Dutch flag, the owner must necessarily be a natural person residing within the European Union.

The Polish flag is the most affordable, with accessibility to any owner of a pleasure boat under 24 m, of any nationality and without any particular restriction.

As for France, it is possible to register your boat from the moment you are a European citizen. Residence permits for citizens outside the European Community are only accepted for Britons who have obtained the renewal of their residence permit before 30/09/2021, mentioning the Brexit agreement.

You are of European nationality but do not reside in France? No problem, we have a solution for you!

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The complexity of administrative procedures

Registration under the Polish flag is certainly the simplest to date. There is no control or inspection of the vessel below 15m, and the payment of VAT is not a prerequisite (which is only of interest for non-European resident owners potentially not subject to VAT ).

This does not mean, however, that you should not submit to this obligation: flying a Polish flag may in some cases be a source of repeated checks at sea . Opt for peace of mind, and get in good standing or be sure to have all the documents proving your temporary admission and proof that you are a permanent resident in a non-EU country!

To obtain a national Dutch flag (Kadaster), and not a certificate from a sports organization (Watersportvertbond), a safety visit will be mandatory and this is the responsibility of the owner. Note that no rental, even bareboat, is tolerated under the Dutch flag. Like the Polish flag, registration with Kadaster does not require proof of VAT payment.

To register your boat under the British flag, the administrative burden for non-British residents is based on the need to open a structure on British territory. This entails representation and maintenance costs for the structure. This is why in the state there is no particular interest if you do not live in Great Britain to register your boat under the UK flag. On the other hand, with a view to commercial use, it may be interesting to aim for registration under this flag.

Verification of the tax status , origin and legal status of the boat, ownership of the vessel… Everything is checked! If the administrative procedures are cumbersome, they are still far from being as tedious as for the Spanish navigation flag, by far the most complicated to acquire and what is more very restrictive.

The time required to obtain the flag

If you have little time before casting off, be aware that the time required to obtain the navigation flag varies from one country to another.

The Polish flag is the fastest to have: it is possible to receive a provisional flag certificate in 2 to 3 days and the permanent registration is generally received within 30 days.

For the French flag, it takes between 15 and 30 days to obtain a pleasure craft registration certificate. It is therefore very similar to the Polish delay.

Note that obtaining a British flag takes about 2 weeks, and it takes 2 to 6 weeks for registration under the Dutch flag. Finally, obtaining the Belgian navigation flag takes 5 weeks in 2023.

Did you know ? You are required to declare to the tax authorities of your country of residence the registration of your vessel abroad, regardless of the flag for which you have opted!

The validity of flags, whether limited or not

Depending on the planned duration of your trip, the question of the validity of the flag may be of interest to you. A distinction is made between navigation flags granted “for life” and navigation flags which need to be renewed. Thus, the French, Polish and Dutch flags are valid without time limit, and without it being necessary to make any request for renewal. However you will see a date of validity on your French registration certificate which corresponds to a verification every 10 years of the property and the characteristics.

On the other hand, the British and Belgian flags must be renewed every 5 years. Registration on the Spanish register imposes a safety visit to be carried out every 5 years, with the presence of the boat in Spanish waters. For Poland, a safety inspection is mandatory every 5 years for vessels over 15m.

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The regulations and constraints in navigation, according to the flags

CE marking

Under the five flags, all boats built after 1998 must have CE certification. In Spain, ships must also be approved by the Directorate General of the Merchant Navy (DGMM), which represents additional procedures and costs, to be renewed every 5 years.

Concerning ships built before 06/16/1998 and the implementation of CE marking on pleasure craft, the boats must be studied on a case-by-case basis in order to find the best option.

Safety equipment according to the navigation flag

You have no doubt planned to equip your ship completely, to ensure that you are safe, in coastal and offshore navigation. But did you know that the regulations concerning safety equipment differ considerably from one sailing flag to another?

Under the French flag, the yachtsman is required to carry the equipment corresponding to his situation, detailed in Division 240. Among the many elements to be carried, he has for example the obligation to have a VHF on board, when it moves more than 6 miles away from shelter. The situation under the Polish flag is very similar, with a list of safety equipment requested very similar to that of the French register.

Under the British flag, navigation can be done without VHF whatever the distance of separation, for vessels with a hull length of less than 45 feet (13.7 meters). Under the Belgian flag, it is the owner himself who chooses the safety equipment to be taken on board. He simply needs to have a VHF on board, or a double VHF if the length of the ship's hull exceeds 20 meters. As under the Dutch flag, the yachtsman under the Belgian flag is not required to have a life raft, even if he wishes to navigate in the offshore zone, and there is no specific regulatory visit to be carried out.

Finally, with a Spanish navigation flag, the regulations are much more demanding: in Spain, there is no distinction between pleasure craft and commercial vessels. Also, the law requires to have on board specific equipment depending on the type of boat and the navigation area. Beacons, life rafts or fire extinguishers must be checked annually and any vessel over 6 m in hull length must undergo a Technical Boat Inspection every 5 years.

It is important to remember that in terms of safety on board, choosing a flag for the non-obligation to have a life raft on board in offshore sailing is really not wise.

The license and the navigation area

Even if a world tour by boat is most often done aboard a sailboat, Boat-registration.com details for you the navigation permits required for motor adventurers, according to the different flags:


If in France, the navigation license is required as soon as the engine power exceeds 4.5 kilowatts, the owner of a vessel under the British flag, for example, can navigate without a license or limitation.

Under the Belgian flag, if he resides in Belgium for tax purposes, he can also sail as far as the offshore zone without having a specific licence, without restriction of engine power. The permit remains compulsory in specific cases.

Under the Dutch flag, it is the category of the boat (A, B, C or D) which determines the possible distance from a shelter. The permit is only required if the hull length is greater than 15 meters or if it is possible to sail at more than 20 km/h.

The special case of navigation in French territorial waters

If it was possible, thirty years ago, to sail by simply respecting the regulations of the country of registration, it is no longer possible today. Since the Leroy law on the blue economy of June 20, 2016, frequentation of the waters of French territory by natural or legal persons whose tax residence is in France is subject to French legislation. Whatever the nationality of the owner or the flag flown, sailors residing in France for tax purposes are required to comply with French regulations, in navigation or in port.

Whatever the navigation flag displayed, in terms of safety equipment and armament, or the navigation license to be possessed, it is therefore the French regulations that you will have to apply! An important element to take into account when considering a round-the-world trip by boat, French territorial waters being the second largest maritime area on our planet, with nearly 11 million km².

The navigation flags from the financial point of view

The registration request

The choice of your navigation flag for your round the world trip can also be made according to your budget.

In France, the price of registering the vessel varies from one to a few hundred euros, depending on the length of the hull. Under the Belgian flag, the yachtsman must pay a registration tax for the registration of his boat, if he has a hull length greater than 7.50 m. This amounts to €2,478 for a new boat. With a second-hand boat, the amount of the tax drops by 10% per year of seniority.

Registration under the Dutch flag requires a security visit and costs between €2000 and €3000, regardless of the boat. Asked for the national flag, valid everywhere in the world, this tariff should not be confused with that charged for obtaining the flag of a sports organization, only allowing recognition in Dutch national waters.


Finally, registration under the Polish flag requires the payment of relatively affordable application fees, which vary according to the hull length of the vessel. These costs are generally between 450 and 1000 € and include the intervention of an external service provider. However, the ships must be visited by the Polish administration: a very expensive safety visit, which costs several thousand euros and must be renewed every 5 years. It should be noted, however, that the first safety visit should only take place 10 years after the year of construction.

For the Spanish flag, as for the Dutch register, the authorities require a safety visit to be renewed every 5 years. The rate is similar to that requested in France and Poland.

The annual tax

When a boat is registered in France, its owner must, each year, pay a tax formerly known as the Annual Francization and Navigation Right, now called the annual tax on marine recreational vehicles (TAEMP). The amount varies according to the characteristics of the vessel, and only vessels whose hull length is less than 7 m and whose engine power does not exceed 22 administrative HP are exempt. For a Nautical Motor Vehicle (VNM), the actual power must be less than 90 Kw.

passport law

British, Dutch, Spanish or Polish… Whichever foreign flag you choose, if you are a French tax resident, you will also have to pay the passport fee. This is the equivalent of the TAEMP (ex DAFN), designed for owners of boats that do not fly the French flag.

The tax is calculated according to the length of the hull and the age of the boat, and it is payable each year by all owners residing in France for tax purposes, whether or not they sail in French territorial waters. As part of a round-the-world boat trip, you will be concerned by the passport fee if the hull length of your vessel is greater than or equal to 7 m, and/or if you are equipped with an engine whose power administrative exceeds 22 CV. If you board a Nautical Motor Vehicle whose real power is greater than or equal to 90 kW, you will also have to pay the Passport Fee for it.

Be accompanied when changing flag

Depending on your navigation project, your situation and the route you plan to take for your round-the-world trip by boat, various solutions are undoubtedly worth considering. Trust the experts at Boat-registration.com to determine which navigation flag is right for you and to carry out all the steps until you obtain your new flag! Go sailing, our team takes care of your papers.

All the steps for my boat

Which flag to choose for a round-the-world trip by boat? – Bateau-immatriculation.com