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Do You Need a License to Sail a Boat Around the World?

Published by Tamar Hela.

What's in this article?
  1. The Basics of Boat Licensing
  2. Sailing Around the World Legal Requirements
  3. Safety and Skills
  4. Pros and Cons of Getting a License
  5. Pros
  6. Cons
  7. Final Thoughts
  8. Set Sail With Ease - Let A1 Auto Transport Handle Your Boat Shipping Needs
Do You Need a License to Sail a Boat Around the World?

The seas call more adventurers than ever to embark on epic sailing journeys worldwide. For many, the dream of castling off on a multi-year voyage to remote coastlines across the globe is a lifelong goal.

However, before setting sail, would-be global sailors often have an important question: do you need a license to sail a boat worldwide?

International boating regulations can seem complex, but safety should always be the top priority when spending extended time at sea.

In this blog post, we will explore all angles of this licensing question by examining the legal requirements, practical skills needed, real experiences of past global sailors, expert advice, and more.

Ultimately, the decision depends on each individual's sailing ability, vessel, intended route, and risk tolerance. Let's explore the key factors to consider.

The Basics of Boat Licensing

Most countries have specific licensing requirements for operating motorized or non-motorized vessels of various sizes on their waters. However, the specifics vary significantly depending on location. The three main types of boat licenses applicable to global sailing are:

  • Recreational boat license: Often required for small, non-commercial sailboats or powerboats under a certain length (typically 6-12 meters). Focuses on basic safety knowledge.
  • Commercial boat license: This is needed for larger commercial vessels carrying passengers or cargo. It requires proof of advanced maritime skills and experience.
  • Master's license: The highest certification available, demonstrating expertise to captain any size of boat. They are eI earned through an extensive training program, including navigation, weather, cargo operations, and more.

On the high seas between nations' territorial waters, no overarching licensing rules are set by any global maritime authority like the United Nations. Coastal states generally only enforce regulations for vessels entering their exclusive economic zones (typically 200 nautical miles from shore). This means international waters are not directly governed, leaving the decision of obtaining certification up to individual vessels and captains based on their planned activities and destinations.


A recreational license is typically sufficient for small sailboats engaged in non-commercial, leisurely circumnavigation in international waters rather than territorial seas.

However, sailors should thoroughly research the specific requirements for each country they intend to visit, as regulations can vary greatly.

Popular destinations like Australia, New Zealand, France, and the South Pacific islands usually only require a basic recreational certification.

Meanwhile, some areas demand additional documentation such as onboard safety equipment, vessel registration, or proof of insurance. It's also wise to carry supporting documentation from one's home country flag state verifying licensing credentials.

Safety and Skills

Beyond legal compliance, safety should be any circumnavigator's top priority. Sailing across oceans requires navigational prowess, mechanical skills, weather awareness, emergency preparedness, medical knowledge, communication abilities, and physical stamina under challenging conditions - often without nearby help for thousands of miles.

While a recreational license provides a baseline, extensive hands-on sailing experience through assistant crewing, day sailing, coastal cruising, and bluewater passages is ideal preparation for managing responsibilities alone at sea.

Maintaining proper equipment, survival gear, communications, emergency provisions, and vessel seaworthiness is also paramount.

Regulations regarding safety gear vary, so global sailors should thoroughly equip their boats to international standards or exceed requirements to mitigate risk. Having the decisiveness and problem-solving abilities and fostering a prudent "fail-safe" mentality sets circumnavigators up for successful watches at the helm.

Often, competence speaks more than licenses when seeking help from other vessels in remote areas of the planet's oceans.

Pros and Cons of Getting a License

While not strictly necessary on the high seas, boat licenses offer benefits, particularly for multi-year global circumnavigations entering many jurisdictions:


  • Streamlined check-ins and less scrutiny by local authorities when presenting credentials
  • Potentially lower insurance rates with credentials verified training
  • Peace of mind knowing destinations can't deny entry solely due to lack of certification
  • Provides a framework for proper vessel handling education valuable offshore


  • Licensing requirements vary significantly between nations/states, adding complexity.
  • Cost and training time commitment to obtain certification
  • Credentials may limit the vessel size one is certified to operate
  • Over-reliance on licenses could undermine the importance of hands-on experience

Overall, licenses seem advisable for global sailors who do not wish to rely on competence alone when dealing with authorities and want standardized education. However, extensive offshore experience remains critical for voyaging safety regardless of certifications.


Final Thoughts

Whether licensing is strictly necessary for sailing worldwide depends on each voyage's itinerary, vessel, and individual circumstances.

But the consensus from experts and circumnavigators alike is that while licenses are not mandatory, they do offer prudent benefits - especially peace of mind during multi-year sailings with many coastal entries.

The appropriate credentials, coupled with intensive hands-on experience in apprentice crewing and commanding one's boat through varied offshore conditions, provide the optimal skill set and the minor paperwork headaches for global adventurers to circumnavigate safely under any conditions.

Whether certifications are held, competence and safety should remain sailors' top priorities. With thorough planning and persistent self-education, licensing should pose few barriers to pursuing grand maritime dreams. May following seas and fair winds be with all who embark on such voyages of awe-inspiring discovery on the oceans of our blue planet.

Set Sail With Ease - Let A1 Auto Transport Handle Your Boat Shipping Needs

Is it finally time to fulfill your dream of sailing the open water? Whether stashing your boat for the winter or relocating to a new home port, transporting your vessel can cause undue stress if not handled properly.

At A1 Auto Transport, we've been safely shipping boats of all sizes nationwide for over twenty years. Our enclosed carrier trucks provide secure, climate-controlled transport, so you can rest assured that your boat will arrive as pristine as the day it left.

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Tamar Hela is one of our featured writers at A-1 Auto Transport, researching everything from AI auto shipments out of China to what paperwork is required to move long distance. We can safely say she's become well versed in all things shipping and logistics while making the information easy to digest and understandable. 

Tamar has been a copywriter for over 16 years and was trained in the 7-Figure Copywriting Accelerator course through American Writers & Artists, Inc. (AWAI). She's also an incredibly seasoned copyeditor, having previously been the Chief Editor and Publishing Director for Cosby Media Productions, based in Atlanta, Georgia. 

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