BREXIT for Boaters 1

In the first of a series of articles on Boating in Spain after BREXIT, we’re going to take a detailed look at Spanish maritime legislation and the acceptability of boating licenses issued by the UKs Royal Yachting Association (RYA).

We suggest that you read this article in combination with the RYA’s excellent article “Brexit – what happens next?”, which sets the issue of BREXIT and RYA-issued sailing qualifications in an international context.

Before we take this deep dive, you’re welcome to read the executive summary if you just want a quick answer.


If you’re reading this article because you’re a British citizen or hold a boating licence issued by the UK Royal Yachting association, then we’re afraid that the news at this time (see the date of publication above) isn’t too great. The Spanish Maritime authority has confirmed that, until further notice, British sailing qualifications will not be valid for chartering Spanish-flagged vessels or even for skippering your own boat if that vessel has a Spanish flag.

As far as the acceptability of RYA qualifications in Spain is concerned, there are four basic cases.

  1. A UK national or UK resident with a Spanish-flagged boat
    At this moment, this skipper will need to obtain a Spanish qualification (although the situation can change at any moment).
  2. A UK national or UK resident with a UK-flagged boat
    This skipper can continue to operate his / her boat with an RYA certificate.
  3. A UK national or UK resident with a boat that’s flagged in another country (neither Spain nor the UK)
    This skipper may be qualified to operate his / her boat with an RYA certificate. Spanish law allows this but the question is whether or not the boat’s flag state accepts the qualification.
  4. A non-UK national with a Spanish-flagged boat
    A non-UK national will not be able to skipper a Spanish-flagged boat with an RYA qualification, even if that certificate was obtained before BREXIT.


Key legislation

The different key pieces of legislation and instructions issued by the Spanish maritime authority are:

Real Decreto 875/2014, de 10 de octubre, por el que se regulan las titulaciones náuticas para el gobierno de las embarcaciones de recreo.

The Real Decreto 875/2019 is cornerstone legislation on boating qualifications for pleasure craft in Spain.

Real Decreto 238/2019, de 5 de abril, por el que se establecen habilitaciones anejas a las titulaciones náuticas para el gobierno de las embarcaciones de recreo y se actualizan las medidas de seguridad en la utilización de las motos náuticas.

The Real Decreto 238/2019 is an amendment to the cornerstone legislation; it is significant because of a change in an Annex (Anexo IX) that layed the ground for the non-acceptance of UK qualifications after BREXIT.

BREXIT: Repercusión en los procedimientos relativos a embarcaciones de recreo

An instruction sent by the Spanish Directorate-General for Merchant Shipping to harbourmasters addressing a number of BREXIT-related issues, including the acceptability of certificates issued by UK authorities.

Let’s now look, at the different cases that Spanish legislation considers.

1. Chartering a Spanish-flagged pleasure craft

Legislation introduced in 2014 (Real Decreto 875/2019 or Royal Decree 875/2019) established that anyone with a boating licence could charter a Spanish-flagged pleasure craft, assuming that the certificate qualified them to skipper the kind of boat they were renting. This legislation also set out criteria regarding the acceptability of certificates. These criteria are listed below. For a certificate to be valid, all criteria need to be met.

  1. The certificate needs to be in date.
  2. The certificate must be issued either by the skipper’s country of origin or country of residence.
  3. The country issuing the certificate must belong either to the European Economic Area (EEA) or be listed in Annex IX of Real Decreto 875/2019.

A number of certificates issued by the United Kingdom Royal Yachting Association were specifically listed In Annex IX of the Real Decreto 875/2014. These certificates included all levels of the RYA Yachtmaster scheme together with the International Certificate of Competence (ICC). For this reason, many RYA schools (ourselves included) were advising students who were taking a Powerboat Level 2 course or Day Skipper course to use their course completion certificate to obtain an ICC from the RYA, since Powerboat Level 2 and Day Skipper certificates were not listed in Annex IX (for the simple reason that they are not formally “Certificates of Competence” (COCs).

In accordance with the 2014 legislation, UK nationals or UK residents could legally skipper a Spanish-flagged charter boat if they had a Yachtmaster COC or an ICC. So, what happened?

In 2019, the Spanish Government enacted new legislation (Real Decreto 238/2019) with a revision of Annex IX and a new list of Certificates of Competence (COCs) that the Spanish authorities would accept. In this new list, the certificates of all EEA countries previously listed were dropped (this made sense as EEA qualifications were already accepted). The only remaining countries were Andorra, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Venezuela or Canada.

As we approached the BREXIT withdrawal date, and with a significant dose of wishful thinking, a lot of us were looking at posts published on Government websites and hoping that the withdrawl agrrement would mean that UK skippers could sleep easy in their bunks with the knowledge that their hard-won qualifications would continue to be valid in the sun after the UK formally withdrew from Europe at the end of 2019. But this was not to be. As the withdrawal date came and went, the noises coming out of the Spanish maritime autjority (DGMM) in Madrid were not hopeful and this uncertainty was finally put to rest in a circular issued in mid-February (2021). This circular very clearly stated “British citizens cannot continue to benefit from the recognition of their recreational boating licences to govern pleasure boats under the Spanish flag”. Why not? Because RYA certificates weren’t listed wasn’t listed in the

If you’re interested in reading the relevant paragraphs of Real Decreto 875/2014, we’ve reproduced these below.

1. Las embarcaciones de recreo españolas se podrán alquilar a cualquier persona física siempre que ésta disponga de un título de recreo o un certificado habilitante en vigor, pudiendo ejercer el gobierno de dichas embarcaciones dentro de las atribuciones que el título o el certificado le confieran; el cual, deberá estar expedido por el país de su nacionalidad o el de su residencia y siempre que éstos pertenezca al espacio económico europeo o estén recogidos en el anexo IX de este real decreto.

2. En el supuesto de expedición por el país de residencia, ésta se deberá acreditar en el país otorgante del título en el momento de la expedición de éste, para lo cual, el interesado deberá aportar cualquier documento que en derecho justifique la residencia, y en concreto, para los ciudadanos españoles, de acuerdo con lo dispuesto en el artículo 2 del Real Decreto 3425/2000, de 15 de diciembre, sobre inscripción de ciudadanos españoles en los registros de matrícula de oficinas consulares en el extranjero.

3. Las embarcaciones españolas también se podrán alquilar sin tripulación y para la navegación de recreo, a ciudadanos en posesión de un título profesional en vigor expedido por un país firmante del Convenio STCW, según los requisitos de su capítulo II, sin que en ningún caso se puedan sobrepasar las atribuciones que le otorga el título profesional.

Disposición adicional tercera. Alquiler de embarcaciones de recreo españolas. Real Decreto 875/2019

You might also want to read this paragraph from the instructions issued to harbourmasters in February 2019.

Desde el 1 de enero de 2021, los ciudadanos británicos no se pueden seguir beneficiando del reconocimiento de sus títulos de recreo para gobernar embarcaciones de recreo de pabellón español, al no cumplirse los requisitos establecidos en las disposiciones adicionales tercera y cuarta del Real Decreto 875/2014, al pasar Reino Unido a ser considerado país tercero y no figurar en la relación de países recogidos en el Anexo IX, cuyas titulaciones expedidas son reconocidas.

Instruction sent by the Spanish Directorate-General for Merchant Shipping to harbourmasters in mid February 2021

What if I own a Spanish-flagged vessel?

Although this circumstance is dealt with in another paragraph of RD 875, the same principle applies as for chartered vessels. The main thing is that you are required to hold a certificate of competence in order to skipper a privately-owned pleasure craft with a spanish flag. The legislation then goes on to say what kinds of certificate will be accepted.

  1. Certificates of competence issued by the Spanish authorities. Assuming you meet the criteria, the only requirement to be issued with a Spanish COC appears to be that you apply with a Spanish national identification card or with a passport.
  2. In the case of EU (or rather, EEA) nationals or residents, certificates of competence issued by either their country of origin or by their country of residence.
  3. In the case of non-EEA nationals or residents, hold a COC that figures in the list in Annex IX (of the 2019 legislation). As we’ve seen, the only countries listed in the 2019 legislation were : Andorra, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Venezuela or Canada. As with the requirements for chartering a Spanish-flagged boat, you will also need to be a national or resident of the country that issued you with the certificate.

Again, if you’re interested in reading for yourself the relevant paragraphs of Real Decreto 875/2014, …

La Dirección General de la Marina Mercante, a través de las capitanías marítimas, autorizará a los ciudadanos del espacio económico europeo, así como a aquellos de los países reconocidos en el anexo IX de este real decreto, para el gobierno de embarcaciones de recreo de pabellón español, siempre que dispongan de un título de recreo expedido por el país de su nacionalidad o el de su residencia, debiendo éste pertenecer también a dicho espacio o ser de los reconocidos en el anexo IX de este real decreto; con sujeción a los requisitos a los que se hace referencia en la disposición adicional tercera de este real decreto.

Disposición adicional cuarta. Autorización de titulaciones extranjeras.
Real Decreto 875/2014

What if my boat doesn’t have a Spanish flag?

Here, things start getting a little more complicated since these cases can be affected by the legislation of the skipper’s country of origin or residence, by the flag state under which the vessel is registered and by the legislation of the territorial waters where we’re sailing. However, the same 2014 legislation we looked at earlier makes very clear the position of Spanish authorities (although this has been disputed by maritime lawyers).

The basic premise here is as follows: if you’re boating in Spanish territorial waters, you’ll need a boating licence that permits you to skipper this type (sail/power) and size of boat. This requirement applies in any and every case.

The legislation contemplates two scenarios. The first scenario is that the skipper’s country of origin or country of residence is the same as the vessel’s flag state. The second scenario is that the skipper’s country of origin or residence is different from the vessel’s flag. In summary:

  1. If your boat is registered in your country of origin or country of residence, you’ll need a boating licence that complies with your country’s legislation.
  2. If your vessel is registered in a country that is different from your country of origin or country of residence, you’ll need a boating licence that complies either with the legislation of your country of residence or origin or, in cases where there is no legislation regarding boat licences, that complies with legislation in your country of origin. Obviously, if you’re resident in Spain, this brings us back to the absolute requirement to have some sort of boating licence accepted by the Spanish authorities. This paragraph also means that Spanish nationals cannot operate non-Spanish flagged boats in Spanish waters, except in the special circumstance where a non-Spanish licence was obtained while resident abroad.

If you’ve still got some energy left, here is the original in Spanish.

1. Toda persona que gobierne una embarcación de recreo, abanderada en otros Estados, que navegue por aguas en las que España ejerza soberanía, derechos soberanos o jurisdicción deberá estar en posesión de una titulación que le habilite para realizar dicha navegación.

2. A los efectos previstos en el apartado anterior la titulación exigible, en aquellos casos en los que la nacionalidad del patrón coincida con la del pabellón de la embarcación, será la requerida de acuerdo con la legislación del país de nacionalidad del patrón; y para los casos en los que no coincidan ambas nacionalidades la titulación será aquella requerida por la legislación del país de residencia del patrón o en su defecto, la de su nacionalidad.

3. La acreditación de la residencia para los españoles se hará de acuerdo con lo dispuesto en el artículo 2 del Real Decreto 3425/2000, de 15 de diciembre, sobre inscripción de ciudadanos españoles en los registros de matrícula de oficinas consulares en el extranjero.

Disposición adicional quinta. Exigencia de titulación para el gobierno de embarcaciones de recreo abanderadas en otros Estados. Real Decreto 875/2019

We sincerely hope that you’ve found this article useful and that it helps clarify whether or not you’ll be able to get out on the water with your RYA certificate.

If you’re going to be long-term resident in Spain and you already have a little Spanish (at least a level B1), a very good option will be to get yourself a Spanish qualification. Our sister School, Greenwich Nautica (it’s actually our parent rather than sister!), is recognized by the Spanish Directorate General for Merchant Shipping, the Comunidad Valenciana and the Region of Murcia to conduct sail, motor, powerboat and VHF training.

In the next part of this series Boating in Spain after BREXIT, we’ll have a look at Spanish qualifications. There’s even one qualification you can do in English!

Fair winds and following seas or “¡”Buena proa!” to use the Spanish equivalent.

author avatar
Simon Mellor-Clark
Simon Mellor-Clark is the Director of Greenwich Nautica, a Spanish sea school operating in the Valencian Community, the Region of Murcia and Madrid. Simon is also the principle of The Boat School Denia, an RYA recognised training centre operating in the Valencian Community. Simon is a Capitán de Yate as well as a Patrón Profesional de Embarcaciones de Recreo as well as being a Powerboat Instructor and SRC (radio) examiner. Simon has lived in Spain for more than 25 years.