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Sailing to the EU (and back)

What’s now involved with crossing the Channel?

The Cruising Association (CA) have produced a presentation about this very subject. It's about a half hour long YouTube presentation, and, if you are confused at the end of it I think you will have a lot in common with French and British customs! Click here to watch it.

The Dark Ages

When I started sailing a quick dash across the Channel was feasible (Gosport - Cherbourg - St Vaast - Gosport in 72 hours anyone?). You had to complete a three part form (C1331), You filled in boxes for each crew member - each box requiring painfully minute writing. You then left leave one copy in a box on the marina.

The French didn't bother with anything other than booking into the marina. they didn't have departure procedures either.

Approaching UK waters you hoisted a "Q-flag". In your UK port of arrival, one member of crew could go ashore with page two of the C1331, with additional details of all the customs goods (booze!) you were bringing back and post it in the box on the marina - not necessarily the one you left from. If HMRC hadn't visited you within the hour of arriving, you were free to lower the "Q-flag" and go home.

Freedom of Movement

Then we got "freedom of movement" as part of the EU rules. No more C1331's etc. - there was some confusion about how to handle a trip to France then to Channel Islands and then back to UK and HMRC couldn't answer it in Southampton, London or Dover so but that was resolved by ignoring the question.


Sometime in the days of this idyllic approach, the UK Government decided it would be a good wheeze to invent an e-Borders scheme so as to drive a coach-and-horses through the concept of freedom of movement.Before we all had internet on our phones, they said it was "envisaged that marinas would provide internet access to enable filing of the required electronic documents".

The RYA assured its members that it was working with government to implement this with minimal inconvenience. I had a letter published in their magazine demanding outright opposition as there was, for example, no provision for changing your intended port of arrival once you had set out. Eventually, the proposed scheme was dropped - I don't think it was because of me.


Scroll on a few more years and the will of the people (by a margin insufficient to change the GSA Constitution) was that we should leave the EU. The CA presentation refers to someone ignoring all the new rules because he had been assured by "leavers" that there would be no negatives in leaving the EU - I have much sympathy with his feigned innocence.

Anyway, the C1331 re-appeared, then a spreadsheet version then another electronic version. The status of any of these forms seems open to debate as they are coming and not exactly going quicker than UK Prime Ministers.The

The French have apparently also been unable to get beyond the stage of what needs to be done - you must have certain forms, have passport stamped, etc. - but not certain how to do it.

From the CA presentation, I gather:

  • Normandy and Brittany have different rules, and certain towns have variations.

  • You must enter via recognised Ports of Entry, unless you don't have to (and some of those Ports won't do the job).

  • You must register immediately upon arrival - even if the office is closed or a car ferry arrives at same time as you.

  • The customs officers may come to you, unless they won't (in which case you may need to hire a car and drive to their office).

  • They insist you must leave immediately upon clearing customs to leave (unless they don't).

  • I'm guessing they won't let you in to the country and give you clearance to leave at the same time so a one night stay seems impractical because you'll spend so much time dealing with an inconsistent bureaucracy that the boat will have left without you.

  • You must leave from same port as you entered, unless you don't have to.

How things have improved!

And they are going to get better! Apparently, the Governments each side of the Channel are working on new (incompatible being as we don't talk to each other) IT systems which will go by sets of initials. Far from making life easier for you to enter the EU, will require you to pay a fee for the privilege of such inflexibility that you will only be able to enter via fixed offices where they have bio-metric recognition hardware.

Things the CA doesn't cover....

  • Do we have to fly a "Q-flag" on entering EU, and do we have to fly when entering EU?

  • Does every crew member have to turn up at the Port of Entry (better hire a crew bus!) to enter and leave.

  • What do you do with a C1331 when you get to UK?

  • Are foreigners still getting shirty about legally purchased UK diesel? While mentioning "red" diesel, I am still waiting for UK government to revert back to the "no-tax" rules as they always said our system was only introduced because of the EU demands.

If we can't have freedom of movement, can we at least have the Dark Ages?

Meanwhile, I am looking for a bumper sticker that says "Don't blame me... I voted Remain"

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