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Updated: Feb 23, 2021


You have finished your sailing passage to Australia; avoiding cyclones, battling massive seas, eating poorly, being wet & cold, dealing with a mutinous crew and now with the first sign of civilization you face your greatest challenge – bureaucracy. This will surely test you more than sailing into a storm.

"Sometimes I'm confused by what I think is really obvious. But what I think is really obvious obviously isn't obvious?"

The process of returning your yacht to Australia and going through all of the entry protocols can be overwhelming at the best of times. It will be very administrative and will involve:

  • Identifying the relevant port of entry,

  • Finding the boarding station and making bookings,

  • Understanding and following harbour protocols,

  • Interfacing with the Australian Border Force regarding notification schedule and reporting,

  • Ensuring all your documents are filed and/or are onboard,

  • Planning your customs process,

  • Arranging for biosecurity to inspect for food, infestation and wood, and so on...

It would be like earning a university degree to cover off all of the steps involved. So, in this story we’ll focus on the area that causes the most angst - what to do when you are told that you must import your vessel upon return. This sends the blood pressure up for many a hardened skipper.


There is a lot of bewilderment and frustration among yacht owners who bring their yachts back to Australia from overseas when they are told that they must “import the vessel” by Australian Border Force. Immediately many owners start feeling FUD. In their minds they are being asked to pay taxes on something that they already purchased in Australia - 15% of the yachts value flashes before one’s life – there goes the new set of sails.

Men go to far greater lengths to avoid what they fear than to obtain what they desire.

Fear, uncertainty and doubt, frequently abbreviated as FUD, is a tactic used by some dodgy salespeople. It’s a tool used to influence perception by disseminating negative and dubious or false information – they prey on inexperience.

I am sad to say that there is considerable FUD in the area of importing a yacht which is being perpetuated by people who stand to gain by this FUD. By spreading questionable information about the drawbacks of DIY yacht import skippers can be persuaded to pay a professional when in reality they don’t need to. The trick is knowing when to use a professional when importing a yacht back into Australia.

This story will help you understand the process and hopefully reduce your stress levels. You should be able to work out if you need the services of a professional or if you should DIY.


Let’s start with the basics. When you leave Australia (on your yacht) you need to clear out of Australia. We all understand that formal clearance by ABF is required before you depart, and that it is an offence to depart without getting this clearance. Think of this as a permission slip to leave.

Further your Australian yacht should be listed on the Australian Registrar of Ships operated by AMSA and you should have title to the yacht. You do this because often you will need to prove that you own the yacht to other authorities.

Declaring what is on the yacht is an extra step that many skippers forget. This is another form which is an export declaration. The important thing to remember when clearing out is to ensure that you list everything of value on the vessel including your crew’s personal electronic items on this declaration. This ensures that you don't get charged GST and duties for bringing these items back into Australia when you return.

Many skippers get caught here. In their rush to depart and not miss the weather window they provide sparse details on equipment on their yacht when making an export declaration. When they eventually do return, they will need to explain the new glistening things onboard that have mysteriously appeared on the yacht while it was away – for example radar, AIS, radios, chart plotters.


In life the three sure things are death, taxes and getting wet when sailing - we dont get to choose when these happen.

Some cunning owners refit their yachts with lots of gadgets while away overseas – their thinking is that they will save on taxes when they come in. The government in its wisdom and to catch these wily operators have a process in place to ensure that the right amount of tax is paid.

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail

The best thing to do is to document every item of value on your vessel so that it is on record when you departed Australia. The more meticulous the better. You should have pictures as well that supports the assertions of what was installed on the vessel along with demonstrating the condition. It is highly recommended you keep service records and parts purchase receipts. Some think this is painful, but the pain finding old receipts can be more intense while your vessel is impounded.

I hate paying taxes. But I love the civilization they give me

Aside from people smuggeling and contraband and bio-security - the main thing you need to understand is that ABF is checking that you are not dodging paying duty and GST on items when you come back in on a vessel.

This includes any enhancements or modifications made to the vessel while it was away. Coming back with new rig, new sails, and electronics and not being able to explain these will create a few “expensive” issues for any owner going through an importation.


Doing an international yacht race is exciting and a captivating idea but there are some ‘got-ya’ moments when you participate in an international race.

You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today

All care but no responsibility. The race organizer usually obtains all the approvals for the entrants and undertakes the administration. This is risky as any innocent mistake that they might make could result in pain to be felt by the owner. You should always obtain a copy of any documentation made on your behalf. It is worth reading the following link from AMSA on international yacht races and ensure that your race organizer is following this.

It was a good idea at the time. If you undertake a international race, finish at a port (outside of Australian waters) and decide to then visit other places, by yacht, you will most likely automatically fall into the ‘re-import the vessel’ category when you come back. Many unsuspecting skippers don't realize what they have just done. They step from one world into another with this innocent move.


Owners become extremely frustrated when they come back to learn that they have to now re-import the vessel back into Australia.

In the case where you intend to stay on at the destination for an extended period or choose to cruise for an extended period then as the owner you should arrange individually to complete the exportation document.

Most races have an exemption made for yachts to undertake the race and then come back. The nature of this exemption is discretionary by ABF. The vessel is logged in their systems as being in the race so when it returns all should be good.

This extract from the ABF should help clarify things for you.

Export declarations are required for small craft departing Australia. All small craft departing Australia for a place overseas are considered exported and require an export declaration to be lodged. This is also the case for Australian-owned vessels. When an Australian-owned and registered vessel returns to Australia and has ceased its international voyage the vessel may be imported on a formal import declaration quoting GST exemption code 417 (GSTE417) for returned Australian goods. There are circumstances where an export declaration may not be required, such as for a foreign owned yacht with a control permit departing Australia for a place overseas; or when an Australian owned yacht departs Australia to participate in a race and returns to Australia without visiting multiple ports overseas.

Taxation is a serious enterprise. 500 years ago they cut your head off. Today its only "frustration by paperwork" which sounds like an improvement, I think.

The ABF have significant powers to deem a vessel as being imported. This power comes from legislation

A useful way to think about it is that once you are classified as importing a vessel the onus is on you to prove why you shouldn't pay duty and tax on the vessel – this is a procedural way of ensuring that anyone entering by vessel into Australia is assessed in a consistent way. Consistent way means you need a bureaucracy.

Unfortunately for yachties this means that the vessel is treated like a “good” in this situation the goods are the yacht, its fittings and fixtures.

The ABF systems are mainly geared for the management of goods in traditional form i.e. Containers full of car parts, bulk goods carriers, car carriers and so on. Importation of yachts is a very insignificant part of Australia’s trade. The importance of yachts compared to containers being imported is self-evident. This explains why the system treats a yacht coming back like a “good”.

The good news is if you have done all your paperwork in the right way when clearing out the effort of “importing a vessel” will be easy, simplified or maybe even avoided.

However, if you have been deemed to be importing a vessel you will have to go through the formalities, just like you are bringing in a container of TVs. Think of this process as something to ensure that no-one is bypassing paying duties and taxes on their way into Australia. You’re doing your bit for the country.


When being asked to “import the vessel” if you can afford a customs broker this is usually fastest and easiest way to undertake an import. The trick to a good result here is finding a broker that is decent at what they do and understands what is needed to be done when importing a vessel. Some brokers have never done a vessel import – and may be learning on the job at your expense. We often use decent brokers when we need to deal with importing a vessel - it is a fairly straight forward thing and quick.

Government departments really aren’t set up to deal with individuals, their systems are not designed to process all the paperwork, hence why electronic lodgements are the preferred method. To go through a manual clearance process may take anywhere from 3 weeks to 2 months.

To contrast the manual process we spoke with a well known Australian broker Dazmac - they can have a yacht pre-cleared and finalised once Quarantine has done their part in 2-3 days after arrival. Dazmac provide a good guide that outlines how their process works that owners will find useful. (see ).


Now the notion of paying someone to do this paperwork makes your blood boil – the good news is that you can do it yourself. Just don't get it wrong.

The Do-It-Yourself vessel (re)import can also be done. The key steps here are to: -

Also, you will need to gather documentation that supports

  • your ownership

  • proof of purchase

  • electronic equipment on board

  • A chronology of what you did after leaving Australia supported by AIS or other documentation

  • Clearance documentation of the last port before entry into Australia

  • You will require Gas Exemption Documents. You will also need to deal with refrigerant gases – make sure you research what gases your vessel has. This allows you to make use of a personal import exemption for your onboard gases (in refrigeration equipment / air conditioning)

  • You may need to find yourself a Yacht Surveyor to value the vessel if there is a dispute as to the value of the yacht

  • A pratique inspection slip. If a timber inspection has not been undertaken on the yacht - it may have to be done depending on the materials used on the vessel. See for more about pratique. It is worthwhile learning more about biosecurity

It is worth knowing that if you purchased the yacht in Australia, go overseas and come back that you are exempted under By-law Number 0176871 Item 17 – Goods exported and returned to Australia in an unaltered condition.

Even if you purchased the yacht overseas all is not lost since Australia holds many trade agreements and knowledge of these can be used to minimize or eliminate duties and taxes – for example with the USA. Import tax (GST) is still payable on the purchase price + sailing costs


Many owners lose their cool when importing a yacht but most are fine with it. Here are some suggestions to help you navigate those waters.

We say that word "bureaucracy" with such contempt. But it's that contempt that keeps this thing that we own and we pay for as something that's working against us.

When dealing with a bureaucracy you need to accept that it’s going to take time to resolve something that is important to you and just a job to someone else. You’re going to have to fill out forms, and wait for approvals, and provide documents, and answer lots of questions. You’re not getting around that no matter “how special you are” or “how bad the voyage was” – they’ve heard it all before and probably have a laugh around a cafelatté about the best yarn they’ve heard that day.

An important point about importing a yacht, is be prompt and take care to fill in forms correctly and lodge them. Do not hesitate to ask questions - filling in the wrong item could result in having to re-submit the form again – or a penalty. You are fighting for a spot in a bureaucrat’s massive in-tray. The faster you act, the faster they can start working through your request.

There are some basic suggestions to follow when trying to work with someone who is a bureaucrat:

POLITENESS WORKS. Rude people get bad service, a frustrating experience and longer time for an outcome. Always be polite no matter what. Understand that the situation that happened to you is not their fault - it’s the system and yelling at them will not fix it. Avoid posting awful things in social media. Your issue is not likely to be that worthwhile to anyone else and it will not reflect well.

RESPECT WHAT THEY ARE DOING. Be likeable, relatable and respectful. The bureaucrat you’re speaking with probably deals with many annoyed and rude people. It will be a refreshing experience for them to speak with someone who is nice, understanding and respectful. They may even go above and beyond for you – doing those little things that avoid you feeling like you are in a Monty Python skit.

ASK FOR HELP. People like helping and will respond better if they know they’re doing something worthwhile. Build empathy, not apathy.

UNDERSTAND THE SYSTEM. Bureaucracy takes time (lots of time) and effort to accomplish anything - seriously. Understand how the process works will help you manage expectations. People in the Bureaucracy tend to assume that other people already know the process. It’s a good thing to ask what comes next in the process. Respect works both ways – they will love educating you in the art of the importing the yacht.

FIND AN ADVOCATE. Get contact information for future reference. Find your helpful contact and turn them into your advocate. Use them to work the system for you. Every time you have another question, come back to this contact.


  1. The process of bringing vessels into Australia requires a lot of planning and document preparation - there is no getting away from this.

  2. There are many pitfalls for the unwary, unprepared, and lazy owner – and even more for those who claim its news to them.

  3. The need to import yachts that sailed from an Australian homeport and spent time overseas catches many owners unaware

  4. If time is taken to understand the ABF Export, import system and to create the relevant records and follow the procedures Import should not be stressful or costly

  5. It is possible to do this process yourself once you let go of FUD

  6. The process will require you to work with bureaucracy so take the time to be friendly, polite and respectful,

  7. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and expect things may take a little time,

  8. Some people, and it seems a lot of yachties, detest bureaucracy and paperwork along with the associated fees. Fighting the system will not make your life easier.

  9. Use of a broker experienced in import of yachts will make the import a painless process, reduce significant amounts of your time in trying to work through the process and minimize the risk of significant taxes and duties.

  10. Finally, you are back in the lucky country and have mastered the dark art of importing a vessel.

Please share this story with your buddies and help us spread the message. is an amazingly awesome offshore yacht relocation business based out of Australia. We're different, we're easy, and we're affordable. Use us, you won't be sorry, you'll be pleased.

Contact us and mention this story to get a awesome deal on your next yacht relocation.

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