When you circumnavigate the world, you will enter many different countries, and some have requirements for skipper competence and safety. You want to be prepared and not run afoul of any local ordinances.
But do you need a license to sail around the world? You do not need a license to sail around the world. However, certain licenses and certifications can help you in local jurisdictions, and it’s not a bad idea to get them. Though many countries require licenses for local boat owners and charterers, they do not always apply these rules to visiting sailors on their own yachts.
Some licenses still may help you, and there are administrative details you will need to make sure the paperwork is clear and legal for your trip. We’ll give you a rundown on those and more.
Who Needs a License to Sail?
Many countries require licensing or certification for resident boat owners. There is much variation between countries, and in some countries like the U.S, there is considerable variation from state to state. Licensing often applies to powerboats and personal watercraft and may not be needed for slower sailboats. Most times, short-term visitors bringing their own boats into the country are not asked to provide licensing.
The biggest reason to consider a license is if you plan to charter a vessel. Most charter companies require some proof of competence before they will give you a boat worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. But most people sailing around the world are using their own boats, not a charter.
The other reason to consider a license is that many recognized licenses meet all the local requirements for licensing that a country may have. For example, while they never asked us to show a license, there is a requirement for california boaters card to be licensed in every state. But the application to visitors on their private yachts is unclear. If we’d been asked for a license, my USCG 50 Ton Master License would have met any local requirements, as would have several of the ASA courses I’d taken over the years. Showing an internationally recognized license would have answered questions.
Types of Licenses
Many countries issue sailing and boating licenses that are internationally recognized. The most accepted are the International Certificate of Competency and the International Sailing License and Credentials.
The ICC is recognized by the United Nations and used through much of Europe and the Mediterranean, and should qualify you for any charter. If your trip around the world includes extensive time in coastal or inland European waters or the Med, you will need an ICC. The U.S. and Canada did not sign the resolution to adopt this and don’t recognize the ICC, and you will need to contact a Royal Yachting Association affiliate to get an ICC in North America before leaving.