Application to Visiting Yachtsmen

Unlike the UK, all boating activities in Portugal are covered by complex legal systems and requirements; at last count we found 29 separate laws and regulations directly related to Recreational Boating!

Any yacht “on passage” can claim in law that they only have to comply with their own country’s requirements.  Under Portuguese law, cruising along the coast, making frequent stops, or taking out a berthing contract, can all bring you under the local rules and regulations – even if the boat remains registered in your own country.

Exemption for Genuine Visitors

In February 2013, Lagos Navigators raised the issue of the requirement to comply with Portuguese safety regulations with the RYA.  The RYA then liaised with the Portuguese authorities and gained an important exemption from this law for cruising yachts, so long as they do not stay more than 180 days during a period of 365 days.  It has been confirmed that this is a total of ANY 180 days, not necessarily continuous, and ANY “rolling” 365 days, not a calendar year.  While we do not believe that the Maritime Police have the ability or the inclination to check up on your visits to every other port, if you are questioned more than once off the same port, you may find your berthing records and/or ship’s log will be examined.

In granting this exemption, the authorities stressed that safety was the prime concern behind this legislation.  The message is that if your yacht is seriously NOT up to an acceptable standard, (e.g. if you have NO flares at all!) you could well be treated as “unseaworthy” and dealt with accordingly.  More-over, if you have a serious incident or breakdown and require the lifeboat service to tow you in, your yacht will probably be declared “unseaworthy” and you may be required to meet the full Portuguese standards before you are allowed to sail again. (Yes, it has happened!)

Click here to see the full RYA document on the current situation. Please let them – and us – know of any difficulties you may experience.

Note that if you are staying here long-term, especially if you’ve bought property or pay local taxes, then you are well advised not to argue the point or get on your “high horse” about out-of-date flares etc. If you try to push the point, you could even be forced to change your boat to Portuguese Registration (yes, this has happened, too!).


Since 2011 there has been greatly increased activity by the RIBs of the Maritime Police – and also the Patrol Boats of the Navy – and the rules ARE being enforced.  In addition, the Maritime Police conduct occasional purges, checking for the correct use of such things as Lights, Anchor Balls and Motor Sailing Cones. Enforcement orders may be issued and/or fines or penalties imposed – €60 per discrepancy is the norm!

In 2013, we received and collated information from a number of yachts, on the actual items being regularly checked by the Maritime Police and Portuguese Navy.  Note that this list should be read in conjunction with the list of Requirements for your category of sailing, as shown below.

For the list of items routinely checked by the Portuguese authorities, please click here.


Most of the local rules and requirements for equipment are common sense and will be familiar to anyone who has used the RORC standards. In Portugal, requirements are laid down for 5 broad categories of yachts and yachting, as shown in the following table:-

TitleOceanOffshoreCoastalCoastal (restricted)Inland
Distance Offshore?AnyTo 200 nmTo 25 nmTo 6 nmEstuary or river
Distance from Safe Haven?------Up to 60 nmUp to 20 nmLess than 3 nm

If you sailed to Portugal, you will be deemed to be in the “Ocean” category, unless you can prove otherwise. For example, you may have used a delivery crew and now intend only to coastal sail.  If you are over-equipped for the category you claim now to be in, any extra safety equipment carried, MUST also be in date.

Details of the requirements for each of these categories can be found summarized (in Portuguese) on the local Cruising Association (ANC) web site.  They are also printed in a very handy Portuguese/English hand book, “Skipperslog”, available free from the Marina.  Unfortunately, some of the translations in the booklet are not entirely accurate, so we have produced a summary of the relevant requirements.  See below for the details.

For a full list of Safety and Equipment Standards required by Portuguese Law, please click here.


Local skippers require proof of their qualifications and there is an appropriate “ticket” system, similar to the UK structure, but legally enforced.

For visitors, an ICC (International Certificate of Competence) is the preferred document, though a UK Yachtmaster Certificate (with photograph) has been accepted without any query.

Flares (Pyrotechnics) – Disposal

Thanks to the good offices of the Manager of Marina de Lagos, we are able to have an annual “Flares Exercise” on the sands of Meia Praia.  Here, we get experience of using these potentially dangerous items, while safely disposing of any that are out-of-date.  This exercise is authorized, controlled and supervised the local unit of the Maritime Police (Polícia Marítima).

In March 2013, we learned that the Polícia Segurança Publico (PSP) – whose office is beside the Stadium – will arrange for some-one to come from Faro to collect out-of-date flares from any boat in the Marina.  To make a booking for this service, take your passport, boat registration, berthing contract and a list of the flares, (NOT the flares!) to the PSP office.

The actual collection can take up to 4 weeks to materialise – and you do not receive prior warning of the date or time –  but it has happened!  We are currently trying to arrange some scheduled dates each year, so that we can organize a combined collection service.


Flares (Pyrotechnics) – Purchase

To prevent pyrotechnics getting into the hands of football hooligans, chandlers in Portugal are now only allowed to sell flares to a yachtsman who has written approval from the Captain of the Port.

Getting approval requires a personal visit to the Captain of the Port’s office, opposite the Marina, to prove you are a Boat Owner. Take your Marina Contract, Boat Registration Document and Passport, and then pay the administration charge – in May 2011 this cost €17.44, irrespective of the number of flares wanted.

We have had conflicting reports that the PSP (local police) office by the Stadium also has to be visited.  If this is correct there will be forms to be filled in and charges paid.  They will contact their Head Office in Faro for the issue of authority to purchase –  which will take a week or ten days to arrive.

In either case, when you have the “Authority”, just go to Sopromar who will then order your flares.  They cannot hold a stock, but they will arrive in a day or two!  SIMPLE isn’t it??!!

We have been able to identify a number of alternative procedures and will be happy to discuss these with visiting yachtsmen on an individual basis.