Sailing and Boating in the Netherlands

Find out about the licences and boat registration necessary for sailing in the Netherlands...

The Netherlands has a rich nautical heritage and 4,400 Km of navigable waterways. It is as easy in some areas to travel on water as it is to travel on land.

Boat ownership in Holland is high, with more than half a million boats currently on the water. That's about one boat for every 32 people - unsurprising as the coastline extends for some 451 Km, although boating is mostly confined to the sheltered inland waters where there are around 600 marinas.

The most popular places for watersports include the following:

  • The Frisian seas
  • The Plassengebied
  • The Southwest river delta
  • The Maasplassen
  • The Ijsselmeer
  • The North Sea
  • The Waddenzee
  • The Westerchelde

The wateralmanakken is a guide to waterways in Holland providing bridge and lock opening times, port information and general sailing regulations. It is published by the ANWB (similar to the Automobile Assocation - website in Dutch) which also produces the waterkaarten (maps and navigational charts). The waterkaarten are available to buy as paper copies or as a free mobile app. The ANWB also provides contacts and advice for sailors.

Boating and sailing are popular inland and at sea. There are many sailing schools offering courses and instruction to all ages and levels.

Dutch Sailing Licences (Vaarbewijzen)

All vessels over 15m or which are capable of speeds over 20 Km per hour must be driven by a holder of at least a small watercraft licence (klein vaarbewijs).

There are four types of boat permit, allowing the holder to navigate rivers, canals and lakes on either a small or large vessel and the other allowing the holder to navigate all inland waterways as well as the open water in either a small of large vessel.

No licence is required to skipper a boat which is less than 15m in length and not capable of speeds over 20 Km per hour.

Sailing on the North Sea does not require a licence as long as the trip is not commercial.

Getting a licence

The Commissie Watersport Opleidingen (CWO) in co-operation with the ANWB regulates sailing diplomas and licences in the Netherlands. A CWO certificate acquired at a CWO sailing school is internationally recognised.

Any watersport school can teach the rules of navigation and provide experience piloting a boat. An exam is then taken to obtain the licence.

It is imperative to have a licence appropriate to the vessel being driven, the Dutch water police may board a vessel and request to see the permit.

Applicants must be 18 years or over and pass a medical examination. Applications are made to a CWO sailing school that will oversee the training and exam.


Registering a Boat or Yacht

It is not compulsory to register a small boat; however there are advantages in doing so. As with cars and road vehicles, boats and yachts are registered with the Transport Authority (RDW).

All boats that can travel at over 20 Km per hour must be registered.

The Craft Identification Number (CIN) is a permanent unique fourteen-digit alphanumeric identifier issued in Europe. The first two letters are the country code and the following three letters are the manufacturer’s identity code. Five digits represent the serial number. Letter A-L plus a digit represent the month of delivery and year of production, and the final two figures the model year.

Speed Regulations

There are no speed limits on the larger rivers, the Ijsselmeer, open sea channels in Zeeland, the Waddenzee and coastal waters.

Restrictions on canals and lakes vary between five and nine knots.

In the western and northern areas of the country there are routes that can be accessed by yachts of any height, with no bridges at all. Contact the marina closest to the waterway in question to ask for information on height restrictions.


Emergency numbers
All Emergency Services Tel: 112
Netherlands Coast Guard
(Nederlandse Kustwacht)
Tel: 0900 0111
Maritime Rescue Service of the Netherlands (Koninklijke Nederlandse Redding Maatschappij) Website