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, estimated at around 1:64 per capita and this is not surprising 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 providing bridge and lock opening times, port information and general sailing regulations. It is published by the ANWB (motoring service) which also produces the waterkaarten, navigational charts. It 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 two types of boat permit, one allows the holder to navigate rivers, canals and lakes and the other is for all inland waterways and open water.

  • For more information on the types of licences: Click here (in Dutch)

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.

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

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.

  • For more information on the small watercraft licences: Click here (in Dutch)

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.

Other licences are required depending on the size of the boat or yacht being sailed and the speed at which it can travel, and whether it is travelling into another country.

International permits recognised in the Netherlands

Some foreign boating permits are recognised in the Netherlands. To obtain a licence in English that is recognised in the Netherlands see the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) of the United Kingdom.

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 RDW.

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

  • Further information can be found (in Dutch): Click here

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
Further Information
Do you have a suggestion to improve this page? click here...

Content Sponsor


DutchbuzZ is a weekly English-language radio show broadcast on FM 92.0 in The Hague. Everyone...
Find out more...


We have over 40 years of experience insuring the health of expatriates worldwide. Our plans have...
Find out more...


English and Dutch language courses in The Hague for beginners up to advanced. Small group...
Find out more...

Become Member List your Business Blog For Us

Featured Information

Income Tax

Income Tax

Find out about the tax responsibilities for residents, non-residents and partial non-residents.

Schooling & Education

Schooling & Education

Find out about the Dutch international, primary, secondary and university school systems.


Health Insurance Quote