Import process - step by step guide

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If you don't yet have a craft identified please go to our find a boat blog pages.

Ok, so you've identified a craft or have even paid a deposit or purchased.  If the latter we hope you've got your proof of title.

Here are some things to think about when building an import project, presented in a fairly chronological order.  We'll deal with each in turn:


It should be obvious that the overall cost of transporting a craft purchased near to a suitable (ie Eastern US) embarkation Port is going to be considerably lower than one located in Central or Western America.  Boats in California can look very attractive, but shipping rates are double those from Florida and take twice as long so please think carefully about falling in love with that Pacific boat.  


You may have this sown up already but if not read on.  As with any product there are three key issues to address:

  1. Is the craft as described
  2. Is the vendor entitled to sell it
  3. how can I ensure I will receive the goods having made payment

The first can be difficult to judge from 5,000 miles away, unless of course the product is new and/or you are able to visit.  We have people who can view craft and/or undertake surveys on your behalf.  Where possible we find people who specialise in craft of the type so that their opinion is relative to other craft they see.  Buying sight unseen is increasingly common, but only where supported by third party assessment.  Be wary of trusting a selling Broker as their responsibility to you is very limited.

Whether a vendor is entitled to sell is often down to whether they have the correct title documents.  In Florida for example boats are registered and have a title document.  If there is a loan (or lein) outstanding the Title document will normally be held by the Bank which lent the money.  If a vendor can't produce a Title document they probably can't legally sell the boat.  We have partners in the US whose business is checking clear Title and arranging de-registration, money well spent if the Title isn't yet clear.

Payment would normally be made through the selling Broker and so long as they are kosher this should be fine.  Brokers have to be licensed and bonded in Florida but this does not apply to most other States so be wary of who you pay money to and seek assurances where possible.  If buying privately (especially if from an auction site such as then ideally payment should be made when the goods are collected, not before.  Bear in mind that even if a boat is misrepresented, getting satisfaction via the US legal system is a big ask for someone located 5,000 miles away.  In some circumstances (location dependent) we can arrange for payment to be made by our representative(s) when the craft is picked up.  They can also give the craft a once-over to ensure that to their best ability, the craft is as described.  A small fee is charged for this but this is far cheaper than finding your boat never existed or your money has vanished with an unbonded Brokerage business...

If the boat is being sold by a Broker then it makes sense to use a buying broker as a no cost option to you.  They can help verify the boat and manage the purchase process.  We are pleased to recommend Nordic Yacht Works who not only deliver but are also European (though based in Lantana, FL).


One great thing about the US is that there's a certain paranoia about ownership and registration.  US craft are registered in much the same way as cars are in Europe and the 'Title' documents are a convenient proof of ownership.  In the case of craft with outstanding finance this title document will normally be held by the bank so if a seller can't show you the title they probably don't have the (sole) right to sell.

Boats are also normally registered with the US Coast Guard who will, on request (and payment) provide details of their registration history (including previous owners).


Shrink wrap

What a great invention.  Not only does it keep out the black dust impregnating every Port but it also keeps out wandering fingers.  Money well spent.

Cradle vs trailer

Cradles are made to order, normally from some planks, bolts and occasional steel reinforcement.  Costs vary by size and weight but normally in the USD 600 - 1200 range.  Cradle based cargo rates are more expensive, but since the cargo sits lower on a cradle than a trailer the shipping volume is reduced.  In practicable terms there's little difference in overall cost and you get to keep (if required) the cradle for winter storage.  Remember though that you may have to arrange separate transportation for this from the disembarkation port if your craft is being picked up on a trailer.  Some cradles can be disassembled and reused.  Be aware that some Ports will not transfer boats from a cradle to a trailer,  but will insist on moving boat and cradle together.  In these cases it is important to ensure that the boat and cradle can be transported on your trailer (ie the trailer can be converted to a flat bed for the initial journey).

Trailers make transport to and from ports potentially easier but you need to remember that US trailers are NOT road legal in the EU/EEA without substantial (and thus expensive) modification.  For larger trailers modification may not even be possible.   Note that it may sometimes be possible to source a EU specification trailer in the US (Call for details), but normally only for small trailers.

It is increasingly common for US trailers to be used for 'park and ride' services where a craft is kept on its trailer when not in use and then launched by the marina/yard when required.  US trailers are suited to this.

CE non-compliance modifications

All craft will have non-conformities to address but the good news is that these are normally simple and relatively inexpensive to rectify.  You may wish to have these changes made in the US where rates and parts availability may be better.  Note that this doesn't mean the boat has to be CE marked in the US, as to a large extent the non-conformities will be known in advance.  Clearly some non-conformities such as engine emissions, requiring replacement engines, are not inexpensive, but again, if required, you may decide a necessary repower is better value in the US.

If concerned about possible non-conformities you can always talk to Gablemarine prior to purchase.

Please note that whilst Gablemarine can provide guidance we cannot provide guarantees over what non-conformities will exist as this can only be determined as a result of a full CE marking project.

120v AC (US) to 230v AC (EU) Conversions

Normal practice is to install a transformer to convert dockside 230v AC (16A) to 120v AC (30A) to feed the existing 120v AC panel board in the US craft.  This works very well and in addition can be extended to offer separate 230v AC circuits both for sockets and new consumers.

Gablemarine offers a range of options available in kit or installed form.  These use the highest quality components designed for this purpose and marine use.  We do NOT use the yellow building site transformers often used by others, as these are a) not designed for continuous use (how many tools are used 24/7 like A/C units) and b) not of isolating type (meaning you could be eating away your sterndrive whilst plugged in).  Cheap does not work in boats operating in what is a very corrosive environment. 

For more information on our packages look at our AC packages page.


As with non-conformities you may decide to have the mechanical components serviced in the US prior to shipping.  That way you know the craft will be ready for use on arrival.  It's probably cheaper too and will help identify any issues before the craft leaves US shores.

Boat Survey

Some say US surveys are 30 pages of caveats and it's true that in the litigious society that the USA has become, it's sometimes difficult to get a straight answer.  That said, the option is available.  Alternatively you may want us to find a yard owner/foreman to give an opinion which may well be closer to the truth and considerably cheaper.

We certainly would not recommend you to take what any seller tells you as a true representation.  This applies as much to dealers (even if for this manufacturer) and brokers as it does to private sellers.  Caveat Emptor is the rule here.

Engine survey

Better than a craft survey as it involves a number of pre-defined mechanical tests and so can be objective from the word go.   These can be particularly valuable if the craft has been afloat in salt water for extended periods.  Running engines is always a good idea as is checking the stern drives etc.

Sea Trial

Normally part of a survey or inspection, there really is no better test of the mechanics than a sea trial where the components are viewed under load and in normal operation.  Running an engine ashore is all well and good but a sea trial reflects operation as you will wish to use the craft.

Valet services

Every yard has one and thery probably do a better job than in the EU.  Americans love clean boats, so expectations and service are high.  Assuming you're going for shrink wrap you'll benefit by a nice clean boat on delivery, with obvious family benefits.  Boat valet services in the US are often described locally as 'Detailing'.

Road Transport

US trailers are wider than EU versions and as the trucks are bigger too, one can consider trailering much larger craft than would be possible in the EU.   Flat bed trucks are also available although these are not as common and will almost certainly require a cradle and access to a crane at both ends.  Clearly, nearer is cheaper.  Although it is possible to haul boats across the US (eg from California) this is both expensive, time consuming and not without risk (see Location comments above).

Normally a road transporter will have insurance cover but if required this can be supplemented with a separate policy arranged through us.  Check the cover before rather than after.

Transport services can be arranged through transport sites such as where you can place details of a requirement and let people bid.  In theory (and if careful, in practice) this can provide significant savings, BUT, make sure those you use are professional and properly insured as the US is a large country to search for a boat that someone collected and then disappeared....

Port Documentation

The term 'docker' is enough to send a shiver down the back of any importer.  The closed shop days of old still exist to some extent, as does the risk that extra charges will creep in on an apparently random and inconsistent basis.   Our agents know the tricks and run a tight ship, which to you means we get what we expect for the price we expect.  Documentation charges also vary by Port.

Note  that the craft will be measured at the port and charges based on these measurements, not those provided to produce the shipping quote.

Note also that US shipping charges do not normally include the agents fee at the EU Port (see later).

Loading at embarkation Port

The loading charges should be included in the general Port fees and having given prior notice this is normally the case.  Again, using the right people reduces any chance of a surprise.


For the Eastern US a number of shipping lines operate a RoRo service calling at a range of Ports.  As you might expect these services vary, but in general its a case of you get what you pay for.  The cheaper lines are less reliable, have less sailings from fewer ports and may well treat your new toy as 'cargo' rather than your 'pride and joy', resulting in a few knocks and scratches.  At the other extreme you have companies whose whole ethos is geared to zero-tolerance on damage, with regular sailings and more dependable delivery dates.  Ultimately it will be your choice.

For yachts there are additional services capable of taking deck cargo, perhaps even full rigged.  For smaller craft there is always the option of using a container, the cheapest option but not without its own risks.

As noted above, shipping charges are normally based on measurements taken at the embarkation port.  Remember that craft with sterndrives or outboards get longer as the drive is lifted.  Also, craft with a gantry/arch will be considerably cheaper if this is removed and stored within the cockpit area.  If on a trailer, those with hinged hitch extensions will reduce overall length and thus provide savings.


This is for the sea shipping only.  Insurance is available but optional.  Rates vary based on a percentage of the total value but in general lower rates incur a higher excess.   You may well find that using a better shipper negates the requirement for insurance but this is your choice.

We offer a range of market leading packages.

We also recommend Velos Group for non-shipping insurance.  Velos will cover the boat in the US as well as in Europe and can additional provide cover for European transport.  For a quotation at the best rates please use this link to Velos insurance and/or quote Gablemarine when making your arrangements.


It is very likely that the ship will not sail directly to your delivery Port, or indeed that your craft will arrive on the same ship.  In most cases, ships from the US make for a 'hub' port where cargo is tran-shipped to another vessel going to your delivery Port.  Clearly trans-shipping at best puts delivery dates at risk, at worst can be the source of damage.   Again, the more expensive shipping lines reduce the risks, especially delays.

Unloading at Delivery Port

As for loading it's important to be on top of costs and have previously agreed exactly who does what (and when).  Your shipping agent will charge for managing the paperwork and for liaising with the authorities to pay VAT and other taxes.

VAT and import taxes

Normally VAT and import taxes will be handled by the shipping agent.   They may well pay the tax on your behalf but will require repayment before allowing the craft to leave the dock.  The moral here is have the money available in an account where transfer to the agents account can be swift and painless.  Don't have the cash in a foreign account as this may take 10 days to clear!

Make sure you receive a VAT receipt when collecting the craft and DON'T EVER LOSE IT!  

Some countries eg Norway (which has a BHP tax) have additional local taxes which must be factored in.  We use local agents to ensure this is done correctly.

VAT obviously varies by country but the import duty at 1.7% is Europe wide (but check).  Note that the import duty only applies to craft whose overall length (in normal operation) is less than 12m.

CE Marking

In theory, it is not illegal to own a non-CE marked craft (though some customs officials can think otherwise).  It is, however, illegal to use or sell a non-CE marked boat (unless, exempt).  For some countries it may be beneficial to assess the craft prior to arrival, but generally speaking this is not a requirement and it is usual to assess the craft on the arrival dock.  Where necessary, we can issue a letter confirming that we are undertaking the assessment on the clients behalf, supported by a competency certificate from our Notified Body and this is normally sufficient for the craft to be released.   Clearly, being on hand, makes dealing with any issues or questions far easier.

Where appropriate we also undertake inspections in the US and this is increasingly common.  We also have people in the US who can undertake works to the craft to ensure all compliance works are performed before arrival in Europe.  Please call to discuss options.

Transfer to delivery vehicle

As in the US, this should have been pre-arranged and checked out.  Craft under 26 feet, (may differ by Port) shipped on a cradle, will normally be lifted by a forklift with long arms but note that (in UK) the lift will be of boat on cradle.  In other words, dockside drivers often won't lift a boat and leave the cradle (if transferring to a trailer).  That said, there are ways of getting around this.  Craft over 26 feet may need a crane.  Boats already on a trailer won't need any assistance.  Make sure the receiving shipping agent is aware in advance what you want done with the craft after unloading.

If a crane is required (at either Port) this will normally be charged extra and can easily add USD 1,200 at each Port.


We have a number of transport partners in the UK who can deliver across Europe.  Some of these are based in continental Europe so pick up ant any Port is possible.


Depending on where a craft is destined and the nationality of the owner, a number of options exist.  UK citizens have for many years kept craft in Europe (eg Spain) that were UK registered, normally Part 1 SSR (Small Ships Register).  Such an approach is under threat and some countries are already making moves to stop this practice (and charge more; no surprise).

Some countries also require additional certification to allow registration, which though outside the scope of CE Marking, is something we will help with if possible.  In Italy for example registration requires a Certificate of Power for each engine, not easy to come by.

We have companies in the US who can handle the necessary searches to prove Title and arrange de-registration from the US Coast Guard register.  Note that if you plan to sail the craft in US waters it may be sensible to delay registration until after you leave US waters.  Since 9/11 the US authorities have restricted movements and as a visitor you may find such restrictions painful to comply with and expensive to avoid.

The best advice is to consider registration and other issues before the craft arrives and don't make assumptions. 

Written By: Rowland Smith

Rowland Smith is a Naval Architect and founder of Gablemarine.  His industry experience includes Lloyds Register, British Shipbuilders Hydrodynamics Ltd, Cammell Lairds, BP Shipping Ltd & Conoco.  He has a degree in Naval Architecture, a Diploma in Marketing (CIM) and an MBA (Cranfield School of Management).  He has also held Director level positions in a number of technology and engineering companies, including CEproof, which provides RCD compliance software to builders. 

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