On buying and registering a boat as an expat…

By: Noah D.

Now, there is absolutely no reason to take what I am about to say as any sort of legal advice. This is simply a record of my experience with the fact that I am a US citizen living in the UK on a visa, purchasing a boat in the UK, with the intent to keep (and use) the boat in the UK for an extended period of time… and then go sail it around the world. Eventually.

Contrary to what the forums would have you believe, it is not rocket science to purchase a boat overseas. The whole process is merely checking boxes. Is that an oversimplification? Not really, to be honest with you. All that matters to the guy checking all your documents is that you have all the boxes checked.

The problem comes with knowing which boxes to check. And, good lord, are they spread far and wide.

Purchasing a Boat

A boat or yacht, for the most part, does not fall under the typical categories of purchased goods. I say for the most part because in some instances a boat is a “possession”… in some places it is an “asset.” But lets not get bogged down in that quite yet. The thing to know is that purchasing a large(ish) yacht is somewhere between buying a house and buying a car. It is not a house because it is fully mobile, but it is not a car because it is even more mobile than a car and is governed by different laws (mainly related to international conventions). In more ways than not, you may compare a yacht purchase with the purchase of a private aircraft.

A US citizen can purchase a boat in the UK. Or practically anywhere in the world, for that matter. The exchange rate is fickle, but that’s one of the things that any expat will grow accustomed to. I strongly suggest dealing with a reputable broker, like our friends at Burton Waters in Ipswich, UK. A good broker can be your best friend in a complicated issue like this. They’ve done it hundreds of times and will do it a hundred more.

Dealing with a broker feels a little like dealing with a good name-brand car dealership. There should never be any high-pressure sales tactics or shady business going on. But the negotiation process will feel similar. My last car, bought new, cost literally less than a fifth of what Proteus costs, but the whole process seemed familiar and was handled in the same way. Offers are made, counter-offers are discussed after going behind closed doors with the business manager, etcetera etcetera.

The biggest factor with international yacht purchases will be the fact that you will be almost certainly turned down for a mortgage or a loan from a UK agency. As a US citizen on a visa, you’re just too much of a risk. (…unless, of course, you’re making heaps of money.) For all intents and purposes, wherever the money is coming from (personal loan, equity, boat mortgage) you’re going to be paying cash for it as a huge bank transfer. (NOTE: Lending agencies like BoatUS often have a policy in their fine print of only loaning money to boat purchased in the USA. Keep this in mind.)

Otherwise, the process is extremely similar to buying a boat anywhere, even at the boat dealer in your home town. After putting a security deposit down, you sign your “intent to buy,” you get the survey done from a licensed marine surveyor, you do sea trials, you agree to the terms of payment, you make the payment, you finalize the transaction, you get the paperwork and the keys to your new – or new to you – yacht.

Value Added Tax (VAT) and Sales Tax Considerations

The European Union and the European Economic Area have this thing called VAT. It is akin to sales and use taxes in the USA. However, what people have difficulty understanding is that VAT is a transaction tax tied to the importation of the thing (boat, camera, table, etc) into the EU/EEA. Thankfully, the powers that be have made this VAT a one-time thing when it comes to boats. So, with your purchase, you get a little piece of paper – essentially a receipt – that says that the VAT is paid on your boat and, as long as you do not keep it out of the EU for a really long time or resell it outside the EU, the VAT PAID status will stick.

Proteus, though she is a USA-built vessel, had her VAT paid by the previous owner when it was registered in the UK after being kept in Guernsey. (Guernsey, in the Channel Islands, is not technically in the EU.) That means that the boat is already imported, so the fact that the yacht is changing hands to a US citizen is largely irrelevant as far as HM Revenue is concerned.

We will get our comeuppance, however, when we decide to eventually move Proteus to the USA. On arrival – not on documentation or registration – the customs official is likely to have his hand out for us to pay a 1.5% import tax on the purchase value of the boat. That said, we MIGHT have some alleviation with this because the boat was originally built in Florida, but… I’m not going to get my hopes up.

Registering a Boat

Again, contrary to what the internet forums would have you believe, yacht registration mustn’t be so complicated. Nor must it be done with anxiety or lived with with insecurities. In brief, an American citizen cannot legally register a yacht in the UK. People out there will tell you that “As long as you have a UK address, nobody every checks.” Be that as it may, do you really want to gamble that? And there’s another factor…

The most important thing in dealing with registration/documentation is to have everything “look right.” And, by “look right” I do not mean doing anything to deceive anyone. This is what I mean: “A US citizen, with legal authority to live/work in the UK (visa), is on a boat which he legally owns and is legally imported into the European Union (VAT paid) and is legally registered with the US Coast Guard and the state in which he legally resides.”

Perhaps I’m being too by-the-book, but there is just so little to be gained from deceiving anyone: I could not care less about anecdotal evidence on forums. And, when cruising around Europe, I don’t want to be dreading the customs official raising his eyebrow at my helter-skelter registration paperwork.

So, all that said, here is what is legal for an American expat, buying and registering a boat in the UK. When you have all your paperwork (title, bill of sale, etc), document the boat with the USCG and register the boat in your home state with a US address. It takes a few days to get the paperwork through, but it isn’t too hard. You’ll have to claim a name and home port and have these inscribed on the hull. And the USCG will give you a documentation number that must be affixed to the interior of the boat somewhere.

Secondly, registering your boat in your home state shouldn’t be difficult considering the fact that most UK visas are not technically “residency” visas, meaning that you will maintain some legal residency in the USA. Most people stick with their parents for simplicity – and cheapness – sake. Anyways, to register the boat in your state, all you have to do is take the paperwork (bill of sale, title, etc) to the county courthouse and register it just like you would a little fishing boat or a daysailer. You’ll be given a sticker and a registration number. Here’s where it gets different: the sticker goes on the boat in a conspicuous location, but the state registration number is actually NOT LEGAL to put on a USCG documented boat. (I think it is better anyway: keep those ugly-ass numbers off the hull!) The only numbers that go on the boat is those that the USCG gave you for the interior. Mine are next to the nav station, glued on tightly.

As for off-shore registrations or LLC’s? Personally, I’ve never been to the BVI, but I could easily register my boat there. Still, some people swear by them as a practical alternative. I can’t help but feel like it is a tax dodge. I also don’t see it as “simple” because of all the following cost and tax oddities involved. The cost and frustration and legal maneuvering is definitely higher (at least every option I saw was). Is it legal? Yeah, I guess. But you might want to be careful next time you’re bemoaning Big Business CEOs for tax sheltering in the Caymans while your boat is flying the flag of Macau…

Insurance Matters

You guys slay me with all your non-insured boats out there. I tend to be a bit of a free spirit, but it just seems reckless. The problem comes from the fact that a US registered boat won’t be getting insurance from small-time UK insurance agencies anytime soon. I mean, it only makes sense. And not all US insurance agencies are going to insure a boat 5000 miles away. Your choices are limited.

Personally, we are with Yachtline. There are others, but we are more than pleased with them. They’re a major company, and I believe they’re backed by heavy-hitter Lloyd’s of London. And they’re very fair about our cruising range: pretty much the entirety of northern Europe and the British Isles from Brest to the Elbe. We pay less than 1% of the surveyed value of the boat per year for full coverage and liability. Paying a little bit (tiny, in the grand scheme of yacht ownership) a year or risk completely losing a six-figure boat that we love as much as Han Solo loves the Millennium Falcon? I just cannot justify the risk.

Another factor that came in to play was that I lacked my official International Certificate of Competence. Some insurers I talked to was wary of me because of this and a few gave me insultingly high quotes accompanied with severe range restrictions. If you’re an expat with a big boat in international waters, you’re certainly entering into specialty insurance and some insurer’s prices reflect this. I’m working on taking the RYA tests all the way up to Yachtmaster Ocean (even though I’ve been on the water most of my life), so at least that’ll be one more thing that cannot be held against me.

Accessory Registrations

Just like most places in the world, you’ll need your VHF registered with the FCC (for the US) which is accepted in the UK. This is one of those grey areas, too, but keeping all the registrations in the same country just feel a little less fishy to the guy checking your papers. The FCC has a surprisingly straightforward application process (for a government agency that regulates a very complicated thing). You should be able to get your call-sign and MMSI number with minimal suffering.

I mentioned it earlier in my insurance negotiations, but… The thing that is accepted everywhere, and I personally recommend, is all those licenses and yachtmaster classes to put towards your International Certificate of Competence. The RYA itself is a veritable treasure trove of information on all things boat education and, as a member, you have unlimited access to all their resources. There are tons of private (but RYA authorized) training centers in London alone. My personal favorite is CitySailing. Paul, there, has been amazingly helpful and I cannot recommend it enough.

Believe it or not, if you have a state boating license (required to operate a boat in most US states) it is looked upon somewhat favorably by the powers that be internationally. It certainly is not an ICC – not even close – but it is better than nothing!


In the end, it all comes down to the fact that you have a very expensive thing, capable of moving across international borders, and there must be a certain amount of regulation involved. The idea behind having such a ridiculous thing as a passage-making yacht is to actually use it and make some passage. Sailing under a US flag and having everything on board match that US flag will go far in making some little tiny South Pacific island customs agent feel like everything is above board. Have a US citizen ride in on a boat registered who-knows-where with a bunch of other things that don’t match…? Tell me, why shouldn’t you be detained for 4 hours while all the numbers are run through their Windows95 computers on a 56k dialup modem…?

As everything is in the internets, take everything with a few grains of salt (even this blog!), and go out there and figure it out yourself. Don’t take my word for it. Here’s a few links that will help you on your way:

MarineTitle.com – A Reference for US Coast Guard documentation and state registration information
US Coast Guard Documentation Center – information and forms for USCG documentation
HM Revenue & Customs – Sailing your pleasurecraft to and from the UK
US Customs & Border Protection – Importing a boat for personal use into the USA
Small Ships Register – Registering a boat in the UK
International Certificate of Competence – how to apply for an ICC

A festival of tall ships…

By: Noah D.

While we’re still not fully moved on board (for paperwork reasons) we are taking every opportunity to be around boats. In London – especially in the late summer – this is not hard.


Even more so, the Totally Thames festival is going on. And, to kick it off, they’ve got the Royal Greenwich Tall Ships Festival in the east.


Basically, its a couple dozen huge sailboats that raft up, sail around, and hang out all weekend. Yeah, its a bit nerdy. I make no apologies.


But, at the end of the walk, we found grass that Lynn is sure was imported from The Shire. Or possibly it fell down from heaven. Or maybe it is because we have been living in London too long and good grass is hard to come by.



Anyway, not to get sidetracked by awesome grass, but we weren’t the only ones…


We spent the rest of the evening at The Yacht pub down at Maritime Greenwich. If you’re in the area and just want to sit and watch the river (or tall ships) go by, I fully recommend it.



What day by the Thames would be complete without a walk on the “beach”?

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The old Naval college is cool, right? Since it survived the alien invasion, thanks to Thor


Now, I am a little disappointed to miss the Southampton boat show this year. I’ve got some family stuff to attend to in the USA. It starts next weekend and runs almost exactly the duration of my time away. But there’s always next year. Maybe we’ll just sail on down… 🙂

On social media…

By: Noah D.

Social media has become one of those necessary evils. And, before I’m accused of sounding too cynical about it, I shall briefly explain myself:

In short, it is a way for our friends and families to keep up with us on our adventures. Even non-sailing adventures (which, until now, has been all adventures) have been shared and transmitted for everyone to see. Lynn and I are actually not the type of people to ever sit at dinner with our faces alight with phone glow; however, all the people that we moved away from by becoming expats still – for whatever reason 🙂 – care enough about us to want to see our photos and keep up with our weird life.

That’s where social media comes in.

Sailing, boats, yachts, and living on or around them is time-consuming. 140 characters is just about right for a quick update. A snap on Instagram is simple and fairly comprehensive (picture worth 1000 words?).

Down at the bottom of this page (any page on this website, actually) is our social media links. The most relevant to this website is likely our SailElement Twitter page. But if you want to see what each of us are doing, personally, check out our personal Instagrams.

The social media options out there are legion. But these, currently, are our favorites. If we add new ones, or if the addresses change, this will be kept updated. We hope you’ll follow along. And, if you follow, we’ll probably follow you… because there’s too much self-promotion around anyway: nobody can do it all alone.

What is in a boat name…?

By: Noah D.

“I think the act of naming something implies, very simply, that you’re not alone. We give names to things so we can talk about them. Once there’s a word for an experience, it feels contained somehow—and the container has a handle, which makes it much easier to pick up and pass around.”
~John Koenig (from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows)

The closest I’ve ever been to naming a child was when my sister named her cat. But that did not take too much deliberation, because she had been settled on ‘Dinah’ forever.

But naming something is a significant moment. It becomes the weird, specific sound that comes out of someone’s mouth that someone else hears and connects a brain spark to a real, physical thing in the world. Or it is the little particularly-arranged little squiggles on paper that cause a person to see a massive “other thing” somewhere else. In the case of a dog or a cat, it is something you’ll yell out the back door. In the case of a human, names can set a kid up for bullying or to become the next power player. In the case of a boat, it can either make people raise an eyebrow in curiosity, in indifference, or in commiseration.

I’m fascinated by Plato’s concept of Forms. I had a comparative religious philosophy professor simplify it to a simple (but very Socratic) question: “At what point does a table cease to be a table?” At some point, you will no longer consider a table-like object a table. Maybe it would be too small and be a stool. Maybe it would be too large or have solid sides and become a desk or a counter-top. But whatever you think of as “table-ness” is in your mind somewhere with boundaries (even if they are rather blurry at times).

Naming a boat takes on a slightly different slant. It is already a boat, of course; but when a boat gets a name, it then becomes what everyone else sees even when you (as the owner/skipper/master/captain) are not present. (And, when you are present, you get grouped in by your boat first and the people who are on it only if they know you personally: “Oh, that’s John and Jane of the _______!”) Far be it for anyone to judge, but you must admit, if you have spent any time around any marinas anywhere in the world you will likely see more than one boat with a truly ridiculous name.

So, Lynn and I have settled on a name. If you’re reading this blog, you obviously know that Proteus is written all over the place for no other reason. I’ve been consternating my soul for some time now about it. I wrote long lists of names, hunted the internets, and called up all manner of references and descriptions to come to just the perfect name. Lynn came up with one: “Proteus.”

Before you think there was any strong-arming or argument involved, let me tell you who/what Proteus was. Proteus was a mythological deity of the sea, oceans, and great rivers. But, more than that, he was the shepherd of the sea creatures and keeper of the wisdom of earth. Kings and conquerors sought Proteus because he apparently was so wise that he could foretell the future. To evade his pursuers, he was known to shape-shift into any number of natural things. From this, the term “protean” is derived, with positive connotations of versatility, flexibility, and adaptability.

Of course, the name must be Proteus.

For our purposes, and the reason why it is such a great name for our boat, Proteus is an ideal to aspire to rather than some past conquest. We are expats and travelers, sailors and wanderers. We are choosing this strange life consciously, not because it is convenient or because we can easily afford it – neither actually – but because we aspire to more than just what is “standard” or “average.” We are not taking the path of least resistance or “settling down” into whatever whirlpool sucks us in. We say: “We want to see the world.” So we will go do whatever it takes to do that. The purchase of our boat put every coastline on the planet within reach.

To be completely honest, the previous name of the boat (seen in the banner above) was not horrible. “Oscar” was actually my grandfather’s name. But a number of factor’s precipitated our decision to change the name: one being that the former owners’ new boat’s name also is related to Oscar, and we just did not want to have two Oscars in the same marina. We will be going through the proper denaming/naming ceremony, of course, to stave off any bad superstitions that might hang around. And it is kinda fun to smash champaign onto hulls…

MAR ProteusFinally, there are a number of mega-yachts and older vessels around named Proteus. There’s even this weird thing that everybody freaked about when it pounded around San Francisco Bay a few years ago: the original incarnation of the WAM-V was named Proteus. But we were hard-pressed to find many Proteus-es (Proteii?) out there in the registries. We know of one sailboat (a beautiful Oyster 655) sold a few years back, but her name may have been changed since then.

Basically, we just wanted something that, if the boat could speak, she wouldn’t be ashamed or mumble her name quietly when asked. Because we sure will be proud of her. If you look on BoatUS’s Top 10 Most Popular Boat Names list, you might see what I mean. There really are people in the world who spend tens of thousands of dollars on a boat and then paste “Aquaholic” to the hull. Seriously.

For further reading, there are a few more posts around the internet regarding naming boats, but two of the classics are Bumfuzzle’s “How to Name a Boat” post and John Vigor’s “How to Rename Your Boat” or “A Simple Denaming Ceremony” which may or may not have become standard reading for newcomers to the boat name world.

Stay tuned for the results of the ceremony…