Leaving Your Boat in a Foreign Port


A high percentage of cruisers we meet each year plan on leaving their boats in a safe place and flying home, often once a year. If youre leaving your boat for less than four weeks, it may be most convenient to leave it in the water, providing you can find a secure marina slip or mooring. For longer periods of time, it may be cost effective and attractive to combine dry storage in a secure boat yard with your annual haul out. Weve left Mahina Tiare 1, II & III on the hard or in the water in Portugal, the Azores, Sweden, Panama, Chile, Hawaii, Canada and New Zealand and over the past 35 years and have learned quite a bit about the process, from choosing a place to keep the boat.

The first place to start when deciding to leave your boat in a foreign port is to do your homework. The website Noonsite (www.noonsite.com) provides valuable links to boatyards and marinas. Also, Seven Seas Cruising Association (www.ssca.org) bulletins frequently publish letters detailing members experiences with leaving their boats in various countries. Next, go straight to the source and ask local sailors or other cruisers for their recommendations, and if possible, visit the yards and marinas to talk with the operators.

When looking for a marina to leave your boat, one of the main criteria to meet is for a well-managed and operated front office. The quality of the folks operating the place is going to make you feel a lot better about leaving your boat in a foreign port for an extended period. Also, check to see if gates for marina piers lock and ask if there are security guards or cameras.

If you choose to leave your boat on the hard in a boatyard, again, look for a well-managed office and also a yard with a paved, fenced and guarded storage compound. Ensure that Travelift or cradles are adequate for a boat of your size, and that the cables and straps are regularly inspected and periodically replaced. If possible, try to leave your boat in a steel cradle with adjustable arms rather than on screw jacks or 44-gallon drums with wedges. Always inquire about the yards insurance policy. Does it cover damage to your boat if they drop it, run into it, or if it blows over while in the yard?

If you are leaving the boat in a foreign port for an extended period of time it may work out well to leave a list of jobs to be done with the yard or associated workmen, so inquire about nearby yacht services including sail, engine and rigging repair. If they can then work on your boat in a quiet time, rather than it becoming rush job upon your return, and theyll appreciate the business. Contact the yard a month before your return to make sure the jobs are being completed. And lastly, ask when the busiest season and holidays occur.

Many yards and services are stretched to the max around these times. In our experience, don’t try to get anything achieved in European boatyards during the month of August or in New Zealand or Australia two weeks before Christmas and until a week after the New Year.

Stay tuned for a future article describing in more detail the items to take care of when carrying out the decommissioning and commissioning process.

John Neal and his wife Amanda Swan Neal are partners in Mahina Expeditions (www.mahina.com) sail training program. Together they have over 600,000 miles combined ocean sailing experience.

Darrell Nicholson
Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on sailboats and sailing gear for more than 50 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising. Its independent tests are carried out by experienced sailors and marine industry professionals dedicated to providing objective evaluation and reporting about boats, gear, and the skills required to cross oceans. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser who has been director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division since 2005. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license, has logged tens of thousands of miles in three oceans, and has skippered everything from pilot boats to day charter cats. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida. You can reach him by email at practicalsailor@belvoir.com.