Preparing to “Go Foreign” Part 1: Sorting out the Paperwork

We are planning to go to Ireland when Covid restrictions allow but, Post- Brexit, Ireland is now considered “Foreign” to British Flagged vessels.  

Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, White Knight , as a “British Flagged” vessel, is supposedly free to navigate the High Seas within the laws of our Flag State. So after many years of almost unimpeded travel around European waters, now if we can expect our documentation to be scrutinised.

An insurance certificate and Ofcom radio licence with an out of date certificate of registry may have just about sufficed in the carefree days of almost unimpeded travel around European waters before Brexit. In those heady days a customs & revenue check was unlikely, unless the country’s coast watchers were out for a bit of fun.  But the populace voted that freedom away.

Now that the UK is a “Third Country” to our nearest and dearest neighbours and we try to “Go Foreign” suspicion could become automatic. Proper documentation including up to date registry can be expected and demanded by any Third Country’s border force. Upon returning to the UK our own Customs and Excise can expect and demand proof of VAT history or insist VAT be paid. It was time to sort out the ship’s papers.

The RYA gives advice : –

In short we needed:-

  • Registration document
  • Ship Radio Licence
  • Insurance documents (requirements vary by country)
  • Voyage Log
  • Evidence of eligibility for relief from VAT and import duty (to facilitate your return to the UK)

With a 40-year-old pleasure boat that has gone through at least 4 or 5 changes of ownership the chances of having all the original documentation are slim. All we had to start with were our bill of sale, a copy of a bill of sale drawn up 20 years before at the last change of ownership and an out of date certificate of registry. It was time to go on a treasure hunt.

We knew that White Knight had originally belonged to the Royal Armoured Corps Yacht Club. There were some vague details in the Club’s online history but a letter to the club’s secretary drew no response. The Contessa Owner’s Association had some basic details on its boat register including its original name “White Knight II” and a cryptic note “Misplaced in JRs book 644 after 651”. Armed with these vague details I contacted Jeremy Rogers Ltd, who were able to provide a letter confirming Boat Make, Name, Hull, Number Sail Number and details from the original invoice including the vital confirmation that VAT had been paid when White Knight had been built.

The original CO sail number did not match the numbers on our sails, but a quick call to the RYA Registration department confirmed that our sails were correctly displaying the RYA Sail numbers allocated to the RACYC in 1979. The RYA register was updated with our details, no need to change the sail numbers.

The next challenge was updating the United Kingdom Certificate of Registry Part 1 issued under the “Merchant Shipping Act 1995” and “The Merchant Shipping (Registration of Ships) Regulations 1993 as amended.” The old certificate we found in the chart locker was years out of date, but I sent an innocent enquiry to the Registry of Shipping and Seamen, Cardiff with a scan of the old certificate. A very helpful Officer of the Registry replied confirming that White Knight was still Part 1 registered but the registration was due to expire, good timing there. The officer also confirmed however that

  1. the engine in the boat was not the engine recorded on the register,
  2. the Port of Registry was Poole, not Southampton as shown on the transom and
  3. that our Bill of Sale was not sufficient evidence of the change of ownership because it was not in the MCA required Deed of Transfer format,
  4. also that fees were payable to update each of the incorrect details. 

The MCA Bill of Sale / Deed of Transfer was easily sorted out filling out three sets of the correct forms, one for each of the new owners setting out their shares in the boat and confirming that they were all British Nationals. These were sent to the previous owner to sign and return. I then scanned and e mailed these to the Register of Shipping along with a “Declaration of Eligibility” confirming the names, addresses and nationality / citizenship of all the shareholders, the number of 64th shares allocated to each and appointing a “Managing Owner” signed by all the shareholders.

The Engine was more troublesome. Ideally when the engine had been changed the owner would have simply sent a copy of the invoice confirming the engine details to the Register. But in our case, this had not happened. When had the engine been changed and by whom? I contacted the 2x previous owner who confirmed that the current engine had been fitted before he bought the boat and that he had never had any paperwork about the engine change.  Without the ideal documentation the helpful chap at the Register said they would accept a “Surveyors Certificate of Survey for Tonnage and Measurement of a Vessel Under 24 Meters (Excluding Fishing Vessels”, but it would have to be undertaken by a Yacht Brokers, Designers & Surveyors Association (YBDSA) Accredited Surveyor and reported on a YBDSA form, administered and registered by the YBDSA. There was another fee plus expenses to make this happen. I rang Colin, the surveyor who had undertaken the pre-sale survey. Normally this would have required another survey but as we were now in another Covid lockdown and the boat was no longer just up the road from him, but 500miles and three Covid locked borders away from him.   Colin had a chat with the YBDSA and came up with a solution. He would prepare the form based on the previous registration with his recent survey notes and photos of the engine to provide the new details. The fee payable would be only the administration fee to the YBDSA.  Result. The forms were duly completed, administered and sent to the Register of Shipping.

We did think of changing the Port of Registry to our new home port of Caernarfon, but this would have involved yet another round of form filling and fees. We decided to change the lettering on the transom from Southampton to Poole instead.

Three weeks and a load of paperwork, form filling and chasing around, our new “United Kingdom Certificate of Registry (Part 1)” was issued electronically, printed out and laminated for the Ships Papers.

The spectre of VAT “Returned Goods“ came lumbering over the horizon as the Brexit talks ground towards the final rounds of brinksmanship.  These complex rules are designed for the temporary export and return of goods like exhibition display material but are also applied to boats. Reading through the regulations it appeared that in addition to confirming that VAT had been paid somewhere and at some time, we may also have to prove the boat was in UK Territorial Waters at the end of the Brexit Transition Period. 23:00UT on 31 December 2020, covid locked-down in Caernarfon Harbour, we could not get near White Knight at the critical moment. But we had a marina receipt covering winter storage and we knew the White Knight would be visible on CCTV. A copy of both bits of evidence was added to the Ships Papers.

A few sheets of paper in a clear folder is not much to show for all the effort. How about a special ensign? A “Red Ensign” is the standard mark of a “British Flagged Vessel”. The Union Flag, Welsh Dragon, Saltire or Jolly Roger are not.  Again those ever helpful educators at the RYA have produced guidance:  

As members of the Royal Welsh Yacht Club we can be granted a “Permit” to fly a defaced Blue Ensign in accordance with a Warrant issued to the RWYC under Section 73 of the Merchant Shipping Act of 1894 (and the amendment to the RWYC’s Warrant issued by the Secretary of State for Defence dated 8 February 1985). In short, fill in the application form, provide proof of UK Part 1 Registration, sign that we have read understood and will comply with the permit conditions. Bingo we have a permit and a wonderful Defaced Blue Ensign to hang on the back of White Knight.

Result: Ships Papers and a Defaced Blue Ensign

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