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Do You Need A Boating License When Sailing Internationally?

The rules of traveling the world by boat.

Do you dream of sailing in different countries around the world? Sailing across the world can be an unforgettable experience. You can sail with your friends and family anywhere using your yacht. It’s also fun to take your powerboat for an adventure-filled fishing trip out there in the open seas. 

But before you can do that, you have to make sure that you won’t run into any legal problems when sailing internationally. Countries, and even states, have varying laws and regulations when it comes to their territorial waters and natural resources.

So, would you need a boating license to sail internationally? 

Short Answer: No, you don’t need a boating license to sail internationally. 

Exceptions: While you generally don’t need a boating license to sail around the world, certain certifications and licenses would be needed in several jurisdictions. Aside from that, the type of boat you will be using would determine if you’ll be required to get a license or not. 

For instance, you can get your CA boating license online when you’re planning to sail across the United States and Canada. The ‘California Boater Education Card,’ or ‘California Boating License’ is your proof that you have finished all boater education requirements successfully. Of course, don’t forget to carry your Boater Card on board for inspection.

While many countries require boating licenses for local charterers and boat owners, this rule doesn’t usually apply to those who are sailing using their private yachts. 

Who Needs A Boating License?

Licensing usually applies to personal watercraft and powerboats. More often than not, short-term visitors who bring their own boats don’t need to provide a boating license. However, if you’re planning to charter a vessel, the charter company would require proof that you’re competent to sail. Hence, you’ll need to show the charter company your boating license. You also need to obtain boat insurance for the vessel and its cargoes (if any) for protection.

Types Of Sailing Licenses

Many countries are issuing internationally recognized boating and sailing licenses, such as the International Certificate of Competence (ICC), which is used when sailing in the Mediterranean and Europe. However, it’s important to note that the United States and Canada don’t recognize the ICC. So, if you’re sailing within those territories, there is no need to obtain the certificate.

Another type of license is the International Sailing License and Credentials (SLC), which is recognized by a number of charter companies. Some countries issue specific certifications and licenses such as the US Coast Guard Master and RYA certifications. These licenses will help you qualify for the ICC or SLC without any coursework. In other words, it is much better to obtain a certification from the US Coast Guard Master first before applying for an ICC or SLC.

You Need A License For Ship Radio

While a boating license is not always necessary if you’re using your own ship, your radio must be licensed. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is in charge of collecting radio requirements and issue licenses with specific regulations on radio band plans.

Marine radios come in two types, the Very High Frequency (VHF) and the shortwave or Single Sideband (SSB). In the US, a Ship Station license isn’t required for pleasure vessels to use a VHF radio in local waters, but you’ll need a ship station license if you’re sailing outside the US. 

If you’re planning to talk to vessels in other countries, they’ll require you to present a license. You also need a special license if you want to use medium frequency or high frequency SSB radios in any condition.

You Still Need A Passport, Visa, And Clearance

Aside from a boating license, you need to have an up-to-date passport before you leave. Make sure to renew your passport six months before its actual expiration date, because most countries require it. And if you’re planning to stay in a certain country, you need a permission or visa, and the requirements would be different from one country to another. 

Before you sail in the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, or anywhere else in the world, it’s important to make sure that you have the necessary backup paperwork and clearances, like a departing alien clearance or sailing permit. And if you’re planning to get fresh seafood at some point in your journey, you have to know municipal and international fishing rules and regulations to avoid trouble.


Sailing internationally doesn’t require a boating license if you’re using your own yacht or vessel. However, if you’re going to charter one, you need to provide a boating license as proof of competency. While a boating license isn’t always necessary in some jurisdictions, it’s still better to have one to protect yourself from any future problems. Since different countries have various laws, it’s better to be prepared for the worst-case scenario.

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