The boating license’s ultimate guide for sailing abroad

by | Aug 8, 2019

The international boating license question

Thinking of taking sail across Europe? Depending on your situation, you may need a boating licence to do so.

A boating licence is generally not a requirement when renting a vessel along with a guide. The guide (skipper) is certified and will handle all navigational demands while on board. However, in the case of a bareboat rental, no guide is present on the vessel, and some sort of certification is then necessary.

The type of certification may vary from country to country. Generally, however, the International Certificate for Operators of Pleasure Craft, also known as the International Certificate of Competence (ICC) is recognized by multiple jurisdictions and is sufficient for bareboat charters.

In this quick guide, we’ll get you acquainted with the regulations applicable across Europe’s most popular sailing destinations.

Do you need a boating license to rent a boat?  

Areal picture of a sailboat near Marseille

If you wish to rent and sail abroad, here is a list to help you find your way around the different regulations in the most popular countries for yachting.


To drive a sailboat, no license is required in France even if significant experience is required.

On the other hand, a coastal license is required to use a motorboat with a power greater than 6 horsepower.  License extensions are required to navigate offshore (hauturier) or on lakes and rivers (fluvial). The ICC is also recognized by French authorities.


Boating licenses issued by the EU Member States are automatically valid and accepted in Greece. Those outside the European Union are accepted if they meet EU standards. Finally, licenses in languages other than English or Greek must be translated.

To rent a boat in Greece, a license is required for sailing boats and motorboats with more than 30 horsepower. In addition to the ICC, Greece recognizes the American International Proficiency Certificate (IPC) and the International Sailing Licence and Credentials (SLC) by NauticEd.

Below 30 horsepower, a boat license is not required for motorboats. 


A license is required to drive a sailboat beyond 6 miles from a shelter. Regarding motorboats, there is no need for a boating license if the power is less than 40 horsepower. 

Italy accepts the ICC for use within its territory as a certificate of boating competence.


Croatia has the highest concentration of sailboats for rent in Europe, and safety is therefore paramount. This is why it is mandatory to have a VHF radio license (CRR) in addition to a boat license in order to be able to sail, regardless of the flag of the boat. The ICC is recognized by Croatian authorities.


Licence-free boat rentals are possible in Spain, provided the vessel is up to 5 metres in length, has a maximum of 15 Horsepower, covers a distance of less than 2 nautical miles from the coast, and is used only on a daytrip. Licence requirements are then dependent on the size of the boat, and are issued by Spanish authorities.

If in possession of a boating licence issued outside Spain, it is necessary to consult relevant authorities to establish if an exception can be issued. This is usually possible with an ICC, the UK Yacht Master Certification, and the US Coast Guard Licence. 


Regardless of the category of sailboat or motorboat, a license will be required. Similar to the way boats are rented in Greece, licenses issued by the EU Member States are automatically valid and accepted in Portugal. The ICC is generally accepted but prior confirmation is recommended.


A certificate of competence (Amatör Denizcilik Belgesi) is required to navigate for sports or leisure purposes. It cannot be used for commercial activities and is valid for the following boats:

  • All motorboats 
  • Vessels between 2.5 m and 24 m in length and up to 50 tonnes gross weight.

The ICC is also recognized for use in Turkey.


Similar to that in France, a nautical license is not required to use a sailboat. However, it will be necessary to have one if you want to rent a motorboat with a power greater than 15 horsepower, where in addition to local licencing, the ICC is recognized.


On Dutch inland waters, a small vessel licence (klein vaarbewijs) is required for vessels longer than 15 metres in length, or shorter than 15 metres but capable of speeds above 20 kilometres per hour. A different licence (groot pleziervaartbewijs) is required for vessels between 25 and 40 metres in length. The international equivalents of these licences, including the ICC, are recognized by Dutch authorities.


Local authorities do not require a permit to operate on coastal and inland waters. However, it is strongly recommended to have the necessary skills and experience to navigate safely. 


To rent a boat in Norway, it is necessary to have a licence if the vessel is longer than 8 metres or has more than 25 Horsepower. Licences issued by EU member states are recognized, as well as the ICC provided it includes coastal navigation.

United Kingdom

A licence is not required to operate a vessel on offshore waters of the UK. However, prior registration is required for sailing on inland waterways. A Boat Safety Scheme Certificate (BSSC) and boat insurance are required, as well as registration with the Environment Agency responsible for the specific inland waterway.


A pleasure craft can be operated licence-free if less than 12 metres in length and 4 metres in width. The Swedish licences (Förarintyg (Inshore Diploma) and Kustskepparintyg (Coastal Diploma)) are otherwise required. The ICC is not recognized by Swedish authorities, who instead recognize the Coastal Yachtmaster Diploma.


If you wish to sail in Switzerland, a boat license will be required if: 

  • Engine power exceeds 8 horsepower
  • The surface area of the sails is more than 15m2 

To drive a boat with a motor exceeding 8 horsepower, a Class A motor license will be required. For sailboats above the 15m2 boat’s sail limits, it is the category D sailing license that is required.

Swiss nationals wishing to sail at sea will be able to pass the sea license. The ICC is recognized only for non-Swiss residents.


For the rental of a boat in Monténegro, a license will be required, regardless of the type of boat. Locally and internationally-issued licences are recognized for use in Montenegro.

Can you rent a boat without a license?

Picture of a boat without license

Do you want to enjoy a boat rental but do not necessarily have a boat license? Don’t panic, several solutions exist: 

  • You can decide to rent a boat without a license. Some boats are so small that they do not require a license. Again, this differs from country to country.
  • Renting a boat with a skipper is an excellent solution if you want a complete and stress-free sailing experience.
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