In the Netherlands, a boating licence (in Dutch: vaarbewijs) is required for sailboats and motorboats that are longer than 15 meters (around 50 feet) or can go faster than 20 kilometres per hour (about 11 knots). It means that a licence is usually not legally required for chartering a sailing yacht in the Netherlands. However, having one sure does have its advantages.
When applying for a license, you will learn about fairway markings and water regulations, among other things.
In addition, some yacht owners and charter companies require the skipper to have a boating licence even for chartering a boat under 15 metres, so with a licence, you also broaden your scope of options when looking for a charter.
Nevertheless, the Dutch boating licence has one major limitation. It only deals with the theory of sailing a boat. We believe it’s therefore even better also to take a sailing course and learn the tricks of the trade in practice. Also, don’t forget to make sure at least one crew member has an operating certificate for the VHF radio. By having both theoretical and practical sailing skills and being able to use the VHF radio onboard, your holiday will not only be safer. It will also give you more confidence and better judgement to deal with potentially difficult situations. We’ve listed some licence and course options below.
Dutch Boating Licence
The vaarbewijs is a licence specific to sailing in the Netherlands. You cannot exchange a foreign boating licence for a Dutch boating licence. According to the authorities, this is due to the heavy boat traffic in the Netherlands and some rules that deviate from international standards. The courses and exams for the Dutch boating licence are only available in the Dutch language, but you do not have to live in the Netherlands. You may also obtain a boating licence in the Netherlands as a foreigner.
The boating licence comes in two versions: Boating Licence 1 (BL1) and 2 (BL2)
BL1 deals with the basics, such as priority rules, legal provisions, engine technology, safety measures, the marking of the fairways, meteorology and the theory of manoeuvring a boat. This licence allows you to sail on rivers, canals and small lakes. After you have passed the test for BL1, you will also automatically receive the International Boat Licence (ICC for inland waters).
Suppose you want to sail on the open waters of the Wadden Sea, the Oosterschelde, the Westerschelde, the Ems, the Dollard, the IJsselmeer, and the waters around Amsterdam (IJmeer and Markermeer) on a boat that requires a licence. In that case, you will additionally need to obtain the BL2. BL2 mainly deals with navigating on open water, taking tides and currents into account. After you have passed the test for BL2, you will also automatically receive the International Boating Licence (ICC for inland and coastal waters).
Various institutions offer online courses, like Vaarbewijs Academy, Vaarbewijzen and Vaarbewijs. Exams are possible on weekdays and Saturdays. Booking for the exams is handled by a central authority, the CBR. You can find more details here. Don’t forget that it’s only possible to take the BL2 exam after you have passed the BL1 exam. It is possible to obtain both BL1 and BL2 in one exam. For those willing to study a lot in one go, this one-stop-shop option has a slight cost advantage since the cost for a combined exam is €75, whereas the price for the BL1 exam is €45 and the BL2 exam €53.
A final remark on the Dutch boating licence: there is a maximum boat length that you can legally sail with it. For boats longer than 25 meters, a large pleasure boat licence (Groot Pleziervaartbewijs) is required.
Just like it doesn’t make much sense to start driving a car without practical training, we believe it’s a good idea also to follow one or more sailing courses. A great school to learn the practical side of sailing on the open water is the Zeezeilers. (Disclaimer: Ivar was an instructor there for more than ten years). Founded in 1981, they chose the Wadden Sea with its tidal inlets as a base because of its unique character and versatility as a sailing area. Harlingen and Amsterdam are their home ports, and the three Centurions 41’s and two V44s are even sailing abroad. There are courses for all levels, from beginner to yacht master and from one day to multiple days. You can choose to be certified in the Dutch system (CWO – Commissie Watersport Opleidingen) or the international system (RYA – the UK-based Royal Yachting Association).
VHF on Board
To use a VHF radio on a boat, Dutch law requires that at least one person has an operating certificate (Basiscertificaat Marifonie). This allows you to operate a fixed or portable VHF radio on inland waterways, coastal waters, and at sea. We believe this is beneficial, as most lock and bridge keepers expect you to have a VHF radio and listen to it. Also, when arranging a berth in a port, a VHF radio is a valuable tool. On waterways with large commercial ships, you can hear what’s happening via the VHF radio. Owning a VHF radio is a major advantage over a cell phone in an emergency. With a VHF radio, everyone in your area can hear what is happening, and they can provide immediate help. Most institutions that offer boating licence courses also offer a course for the VHF operating certificate. It is also possible to take the exam by studying the theory in your own time. More information about exams and costs can be found here.
It's up to you
Whether or not you decide to obtain a boating licence, attend a sailing course, or get the VHF operating certificate is up to you. If you don’t feel like investing the time and money into getting the skills and paperwork in place, you could also choose to charter a boat with a skipper. Whatever you choose, stay safe, and enjoy your sailing holiday in the Netherlands!
About Sailors for Sustainability: Floris and Ivar are two Dutch sailors who sail around the world searching for sustainable solutions. Their inspiring stories of positive change aim to accelerate the transition to a society in which we live in harmony with nature and each other.