Taking to the waters? You may need a new licence for your ship, jet-ski or yacht in France…

Permits are not required for sailing boats, or boats with a motor less powerful than 4.5 Kilowatts (6CV) sailing sea or inland waters. Note: “Jet-Skis” and similar craft have power which exceeds this; a permit is needed.

Permit Categories

Prior to 1 January 2008, permits were issued in the following three categories. These licences remain valid but are no longer issued.

  • La Carte Mer: for a boat with a motor from 6CV to 50CV. A permit for daytime sailing within a 9 Km range of the coast, awarded after taking a theory course and practical lessons, and passing a test
  • Le Permis Mer Côtier: for boats with motors 50CV and up. The permit allows night sailing, but within a limited range from the coast, and is awarded after a course and test
  • Le Permis Mer Hauturier: This is gained through a full boating course at a boat school, and licenses one for all forms of boating

The Recreational Permit (Permis Plaisance)

On 1 January 2008, a new system introduced. The Permis Plaisance is available for four different purposes. There are four permit types, one each for sea and inland waters, each of which can be extended. An applicant must be at least 16 years of age and provide the examination centre with a medical certificate. A theory and practical test must be passed before the permit is issued. The basic permits are:

Sea Waters Inland Waters
Côtière Eaux Intérieures
sailing within 6 miles of shelter (dock or safe anchorage appropriate to the craft) boats up to 20 metres
Test: QCM + practical Test: QCM + practical

The QCM is a theory test of 25 questions (four errors are allowed). Practical training may begin before the theory test is taken, but a permit is only issued when the practical and theory tests are passed. A minimum of three hours practical training must take place at a training center. Permits can be extended with additional tests and training.

Note: The RYA Levels Two National Powerboat Certificate is considered equivalent to the French Permis Côtière, allowing non-French residents to use a French registered boat.

  • Visit OceanPro for more information about the RYA Level 2 Powerboat Certificate

The extension permits are:

Sea Waters Inland Waters
Hauturière (deep sea) Grande Plaisance Fluviale
no distance limit no length restrictions
Theory exam 1h30 9 hours practical training

Before being issued a permit for deep sea sailing (Hauturière), a theory test on navigation, tides, weather and regulations must be passed. To attain the “large river craft” permit, the candidate must be at least 18 years of age and have done a minimum of 9 hours practical training on a boat of at least 20 metres in length.

Applying for the permit

There is a single point of contact in each department:

  • Coastal départements: Contact the Directions Départementales des Affaires Maritimes
  • Inland départements: Contact the Services de la Navigation (and for Nantes, contact the Direction Départementale de l’Equipement de Nantes)
  • Application forms can be downloaded from the French Government
  • Detailed information is available in French from the government website

The International Certificate of Competence (ICC)

The skippers of British Registered boats – motor or sail – do not require an International Certificate of Competence (ICC) when sailing in French coastal waters. If you are planning to use the French canals and rivers, the boat’s skipper must have an ICC certificate valid for Inland Waters (having passed the CEVNI exam). However, if you are planning to charter or use a French registered boat, you may need an ICC.

ICC (International Certificate of Competence)

The International Certificate of Competence (ICC) is issued by European Union countries to a person who has completed a particular national boating licenses. It provides proof of competence and is accepted by most EU countries’ sailing authorities (some national regulations over-ride the ICC). An ICC is valid for 5 years. Royal Yachting Association (RYA) approved training centres can provide for appropriate tests to issue an ICC to be taken in English. Depending on experience and competence a course takes from one to three days to complete. UK nationals and residents can take a course for the ICC at RYA-ecognised sea schools and training centres. The ICC can also be awarded on production of an appropriate RYA certificate. ICC forms are available from the RYA website, or from RYA-recognised sea schools that test for the ICC. The application form must be completed and submitted with a passport photograph and copies of practical course completion certificates if applicable. Note: As of 1 March 2011, the ICC can be issued to nationals of the USA, Canada and countries not members of the UNECE. Jet Ski Permit: A one day RYA course catering specifically to obtaining a licence for these craft is available, it’s the Personal Watercraft Certificate of Proficiency (PWC). This certificate comes with an official RYA translation which explains the course content, translations in  French, German, Spanish and Italian.

  • Comprehensive information is available from the RYA

Foreign Boat Permits

Foreigners with a boat permit from their home country, or another EU country, are allowed to use a French registered vessel of the size stated in the permit. In the case of a control, a French translation of the information on the permit must be provided. French nationals holding a foreign boat permit must change it for the equivalent French permit.

With contributions by Phil Godwin of Oceanpro The South of France RYA Sea School and powerboat training. Oceanpro website For further information Tel: 04 93 53 65 95 or e-mail