Sail Overseas: A Beginner’s Guide to International Voyages

Put together this beginner’s guide to help you plan and set sail with confidence. With the right preparation, you can enjoy a safe and successful international voyage.

What is international voyage?

The term “international voyage” refers to any trip that crosses international borders. This includes voyages between countries, as well as journeys that involve passing through international waters.

Some examples of international voyages include sailing from the United States to the Caribbean, cruising around the Mediterranean, or embarking on a transatlantic crossing.

What is a short international voyage?

A short international voyage refers to a sailing journey that takes you beyond the waters of your own country but for a relatively brief duration of time. Typically, these voyages are made to neighboring countries or regions that are easily accessible by sea.

For instance, a sail from Florida to the Bahamas or from Italy to Croatia can be considered a short international voyage.

Short international voyages can be ideal for testing your sailing skills and gaining confidence in handling your boat while being exposed to new environments.

Which ocean is the roughest to sail?

Generally speaking, the Southern Ocean around Antarctica is widely considered the roughest and most treacherous ocean to navigate. Its notorious combination of high winds, huge waves, and icebergs can be extremely dangerous for even the most experienced sailors.

Which ocean is easiest to sail?

One of the easiest oceans to sail on is the Indian Ocean. This is because it is generally calmer and less affected by storms compared to the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The Indian Ocean also has a more consistent wind pattern, making it easier for sailors to navigate.

What size boat is best for international voyages?

The answer depends on various factors such as the destination, the crew size, the length of the journey, and personal preferences. However, as a general rule, most sailors recommend boats that are between 30 to 50 feet in length.

Boats in this range provide sufficient space and comfort for extended journeys, without being too large or unwieldy. They also have enough storage space to carry essential supplies, including food, water, and fuel, as well as safety equipment such as life rafts, EPIRBs, and safety harnesses.

Popular international sailing destinations

1. The Mediterranean: With its turquoise waters, charming coastal towns, and warm climate, the Mediterranean is a top choice for many sailors. Popular stops include Greece, Italy, Spain, and France.

2. The Caribbean: Known for its crystal-clear waters, white sandy beaches, and year-round sunshine, the Caribbean is a sailor’s paradise. Popular destinations include the Virgin Islands, St. Lucia, and the Bahamas.

3. Southeast Asia: With its diverse cultures and breathtaking landscapes, Southeast Asia offers an exciting and exotic sailing experience. Popular stops include Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

4. The South Pacific: With its remote islands, diverse marine life, and stunning scenery, the South Pacific is a dream destination for many sailors. Popular stops include Fiji, Tonga, and French Polynesia.

5. The Indian Ocean: With its unique cultural heritage and beautiful landscapes, the Indian Ocean offers a rich and fascinating sailing experience. Popular stops include Mauritius, Madagascar, and the Seychelles.

Factors to consider when choosing a destination

Here are some important factors to consider:

1. Climate: The weather conditions at your destination should be favorable for sailing. Check the weather patterns, including wind direction and speed, temperature, rainfall, and storms. You don’t want to sail into hurricane season or bad weather that may make your voyage risky.

2. Navigation: Consider the navigational challenges of the destination. Is the location known for heavy traffic, strong currents, shallow waters, or unmarked hazards? Ensure you have the necessary skills, equipment, and experience to navigate safely.

3. Culture: Learn about the culture and customs of the destination to ensure that you do not offend the locals or break any laws. Research their religious and cultural beliefs, food, clothing, and traditions, among others.

4. Language: Familiarize yourself with the local language or learn some basic phrases to facilitate communication with locals and other sailors.

5. Facilities: Ensure that the destination has the necessary facilities, including marinas, repair facilities, fuel, water, and provisions. This will ensure that you can access the necessary resources while sailing.

6. Cost: Consider the cost of sailing to the destination. This includes visa fees, customs fees, taxes, fuel, berthing fees, and food expenses, among others.

7. Attractions: Consider the attractions and things to do at the destination. Do you want to explore new cultures, try new foods, enjoy different recreational activities, or visit historic sites?

Here is a good video of crossing the pacific ocean on a sailboat

Preparing Your Boat for International Sailing

Here are some essential steps to ensure that your boat is ready for the adventure ahead:

1. Conduct a thorough inspection of your boat: Before you set sail, inspect every inch of your boat to ensure that it’s in good condition. Check the hull, deck, rigging, sails, and all other equipment for any signs of damage or wear. Address any issues that you find before you leave.

2. Upgrade your boat’s safety features: Safety should be your top priority when sailing overseas. Make sure your boat is equipped with all necessary safety equipment, including life jackets, a life raft, flares, and a fire extinguisher. It’s also a good idea to install a GPS tracking system, AIS, and a VHF radio.

3. Stock up on supplies: Make a comprehensive list of all the supplies you’ll need for your journey, including food, water, fuel, spare parts, and tools. Plan for at least a few weeks of provisions, in case you encounter unexpected delays.

4. Get your boat serviced: Before you leave, make sure that your boat is serviced by a qualified professional. This includes checking the engine, changing the oil, and tuning the rigging.

5. Make sure you have the necessary permits: Many countries require that you obtain permits before you can sail in their waters. Check the requirements for your intended destination and make sure you have all the necessary paperwork in order.

6. Learn how to navigate in unfamiliar waters: Sailing in unfamiliar waters can be challenging. Make sure you know how to read charts and navigate using GPS, and learn about the local weather patterns and tides.

7. Plan for emergencies: Even with careful planning, emergencies can happen. Make sure you have a plan in place for dealing with medical emergencies, equipment failures, and other unexpected situations. Familiarize yourself with basic first aid techniques and learn how to make repairs to your boat.

Obtaining Necessary Documents and Permits

Passports and Visas: Make sure your passport is up-to-date and has at least six months’ validity remaining. Check if you need a visa for the countries you plan to visit and apply well in advance if necessary.

Boat Documentation: You’ll need to obtain proper documentation for your boat, including registration and proof of ownership. Some countries may require additional certifications, such as a safety inspection or insurance coverage.

Customs and Immigration Clearance: When entering a new country, you’ll need to clear customs and immigration. Research the specific requirements for each country and ensure you have all the necessary paperwork and fees.

Fishing Permits: If you plan to fish in foreign waters, you may need to obtain a fishing permit or license. Check the regulations for each country you plan to visit.

Health Certificates and Vaccinations: Some countries may require health certificates or proof of vaccinations for you and your crew. Check the regulations for each country well in advance to avoid any issues.

Tips to navigate foreign waters

1. Plan your route carefully: Before setting sail, plan your route in detail. This should include identifying potential hazards such as reefs, shoals, and other obstacles.

2. Understand local navigational aids: Familiarize yourself with the navigational aids used in the region you will be sailing in. These can include buoys, markers, and lights.

3. Monitor weather conditions: Keep a close eye on weather conditions as you sail, and adjust your route accordingly if necessary. In some regions, weather can change rapidly, so be prepared to adapt your plans.

4. Maintain good communication: Make sure you have a reliable means of communication on board your vessel, such as a satellite phone or radio. This will allow you to stay in touch with other vessels and local authorities as needed.

5. Respect local customs and regulations: Every region has its own set of customs and regulations governing boating activities. Take the time to research these before you set sail, and make sure you comply with all local requirements.

Communicate and seek assistance while at sea

Here are some tips to help you communicate effectively and get the help you need while at sea:

1. Install a marine radio: A marine radio is the most reliable way to communicate with other boats and emergency services. Make sure you know how to use it before setting sail and keep it charged and in good working condition at all times.

2. Carry flares: Flares are a signal that can be seen from far away and are recognized internationally as a distress signal. Carry at least three flares in your safety kit and know how to use them.

3. Use a satellite phone: If you’re going to be sailing in a remote area with no cell service, consider investing in a satellite phone. This will allow you to communicate with emergency services even if you’re out of range.

4. Use social media: If you have access to the internet, social media can be a useful tool for seeking assistance. Make sure you have a way to charge your devices and consider installing a marine Wi-Fi system on your boat.

5. Know the international distress signal: The international distress signal is a series of three blasts followed by a pause and then three more blasts. This signal can be used with a horn, whistle, or radio to indicate that you’re in trouble and need assistance.

6. Stay calm and focused: In an emergency situation, it’s important to stay calm and focused. This will help you think clearly and make decisions that could save your life.

Resources and Tools for International Sailing

Preparing for an international voyage requires extensive planning and preparation, but fortunately, there are numerous resources and tools available to help make the process easier. Here are a few to consider:

1. Sailing Associations: Many sailing associations offer resources and support for sailors planning international voyages. Some examples include the Cruising Club of America, the Ocean Cruising Club, and the World Cruising Club.

2. Online Guides: There are many online guides available for sailors planning international voyages. Some examples include the World Sailing Offshore Special Regulations, the US Sailing Safety at Sea course, and the Royal Yachting Association’s online course for offshore sailing.

3. Apps: There are also a number of apps available to help with international sailing. Some popular ones include Navionics for navigation, Windy for weather forecasting, and PredictWind for weather routing.

4. Government Resources: Before setting sail, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the laws and regulations of the countries you plan to visit. The US State Department’s website is a great resource for information on travel advisories, visa requirements, and other important information.