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Buying a Boat In Croatia: The Complete Beginners Guide

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Thinking about buying a boat in Croatia? We did and this is everything we learned. This is the complete beginner’s guide to purchasing a boat in Croatia, meaning, it is for beginners, by beginners. It includes everything we learned along the way when buying a boat in Croatia for the first time.

Having spent four years traveling by van, we decided to shake things up a little and try our hand at something new. Sailing the Adriatic. It was an ambitious plan given our limited sailing experience (read: almost none) but one which we were excited to attempt.

The first thing we needed to do was to find a boat, learning to sail was a close second on our to-do list.

Looking at options to rent a boat over a few months to sail the coast of Croatia, Albania, Montenegro, Greece, and Italy, we quickly realized that it would be very expensive to rent. Much like our previous van adventures, it seemed it would be more economical to buy our own second-hand sailboat and sell it after six or seven months at sea.

Can I Buy a Boat in Croatia

Yes! In fact, Croatia is one of the best places to buy a boat, not just because it’s a great place to sail, but because a very busy and very seasonal yachting industry means a large market for boats.

Sailing and cruising are hugely popular in Croatia and it has become one of the most popular boating destinations in the world. With such an established yachting industry, buying a boat, even as a foreigner, has become a relatively typical process (even if it’s not exactly straightforward).

Given how popular sailing is here, it comes as no surprise that there are thousands and thousands of boats in the marinas that line Croatia’s coastline. Moreover, with a huge charter industry, and plenty of international owners, boat turnover is high and there are always lots of different boats for sale to suit any style or budget.

How Much Do Boats Cost in Croatia?

In terms of ready-to-sail boats that won’t require a lot of work to start sailing, you will be looking at anything from €20,000 for smaller boats from the 1980s (what we bought) up to €200,000+ for larger more modern yachts. Of course, you can also find large 50-foot-plus boats that are priced into the millions, but that sort of purchase is well beyond the scope of this post.

Regardless of your budget, you are likely to find great value for money here as there is a large turnover of yachts every season and great bargains to be had if you look hard enough. That being said, when it comes to sailboats, it’s not hard to buy a lemon, and that could be quite a frustrating, expensive, and even dangerous proposition. Make sure you carry out your due diligence when shopping for a boat in Croatia.

Why are Boats Cheaper in Croatia?

There are a number of factors that make buying a boat in Croatia cheaper.

For one ting, the high volume of boats on the market leads to a buyer’s market.

The ancillary costs of boat ownership are also much cheaper in Croatia as a result of lower living expenses than in many other regions associated with boating. This means administration, maintenance, and other costs such as purchasing marine equipment and resources can be kept lower, offsetting the total cost of buying a boat.

How to Buy a Boat in Croatia

How to buy a boat may seem a bit overwhelming at first, but easily accomplished if you follow these simple steps.

Finding Boats for Sale in Croatia

We started researching well in advance and were glad we did. With a budget of around €20,000, we had to crawl the classifieds for a tidy monohull in good condition, which wouldn’t require too much additional work.

Our aim was to buy a reputable brand above 30 feet long with two or three berths, between 30 and 40 years old. After a couple of inquiries of boats within these parameters and a couple of not so flash boat surveys, we adjusted our wish list slightly.

In the end, we settled for something slightly shorter, a 29-foot Beneteau built-in 1986. It turned out to be the perfect size for the two of us, easy for beginners to handle, and plenty of space for a couple used to live in small spaces. With a slight reduction in length, there was a significant increase in the quality to price ratio of the available boats. We also had to stretch our budget by 20% to afford this particular boat which was in pristine condition with many aftermarket improvements and modern instruments and apparatus included.

We used the online marketplace yachtworld.com to find a boat that suited us. Yachtworld includes listings of both sailboats and powerboats from around the world but primarily in Europe. You can filter by region and specific country, narrowing your search down to boats for sale in Croatia. You can also use parameters like size, age, make, and price to further narrow your search.

Most yachts for sale in Croatia will be listed by yacht brokers, some of the most recognizable names in Croatia are Selymar, Bach Yachting, and Amissani. Buying a boat in Croatia that is listed with a broker provided a level of convenience and security that I can’t imagine you would be able to assure with a private seller.

We enquired about boats listed by Selymar and Bach Yachting, and ultimately purchased a boat listed by Bach Yachting. Although the broker represents the owner, we found the broker, Nina Borić from Bach Yachting, incredibly helpful, communicative, and proactive every step of the way. She supported us through the entire purchase process (and continued to support us well after the transaction was complete). We found the broker so helpful that we decided to list the boat for sale with Nina when we complete our trip.

Boats in a marina in Zadar Croatia
You can find different types, sizes, and shapes of boats for sale in Croatia at any price point

VAT on Boats in Croatia

What Does ‘Taxes’ or ‘VAT’ Paid / Unpaid Mean in Boat Advertisements in Croatia?

As Croatia is in the EU, VAT or sales tax is applicable for personal purchases including boats.

When you are buying from a private seller they should have already paid VAT (though not always, so be sure to check) when they purchased or imported the boat.

However, if you are purchasing a boat previously used by a business such as an ex-charter yacht, they likely would not have paid VAT and it will be payable by the buyer.

VAT is 25% in Croatia so this represents a huge cost component of the final cost.

If you plan to take the boat out of the EU then you can get the VAT refunded, but it is still a large upfront cost and, of course, there may be tax implications when it comes to importing the boat somewhere else.

Choosing an Ex-Charter Boat vs Choosing a Privately Owned Boat in Croatia

A row of sailboats in the water. Buying a boat in croatia.
Buying charter yachts and buying private boats in Croatia each have pros and cons

We are new to sailing and have only bought this one boat, so we do not pretend to be experts on the matter. But, based on our research and limited experience, we can offer our opinion.

The pros of purchasing ex-charter boats are that they are usually well maintained with the boat, sails, and motor being regularly and properly serviced.

The obvious cons are that ex-charter boats often see more action per sailing season than privately used boats. They will be sailed all season, by people who may not be the most experienced sailors and who do not have a vested interest in taking care of a boat the way a private owner might. This means that charter boats often show more wear and tear than privately owned boats of the same age.

There is also the issue of VAT discussed above.

Purchasing a privately owned boat comes with its own set of risks and advantages too. The risk here is that you buy from a private seller that did not take good care of the boat, allowed issues to fester, and did not regularly and properly maintain their boat.

The pros are that if you can find a boat for sale that has been lovingly cared for, maintained, and updated by one (or two) dedicated owner(s), you will get the best vessel of all. One that hasn’t been flogged by renters, has been properly looked after, and has been updated by an owner who used the boat themselves.

Bow thruster in small sailing boat
Finding happy surprises like a brand new bow thruster in the bottom of the boat is better than finding a puddle of water

We were lucky enough to find such a boat. The boat had only been used for a couple of months each season and had been lovingly cared for, devoutly maintained, and routinely upgraded. The addition of a powerful bow thruster, offshore navigational instrumentation, solar panels, and wind turbines, and the inclusion of extra equipment like tender, outboard and two autopilots were great inclusions on such a small and affordable boat.

Organizing Pre-Purchase Survey and Marine Surveyor Croatia

Once you have found some boats that suit your needs and budget, the next step is to arrange a pre-purchase inspection by a qualified marine surveyor. This step is crucial in any boat purchase, but even more so if you plan to buy without seeing the boat yourself. You need to rely on your surveyor to care as much as you do when inspecting the boat for any potential defects. Luckily, there are many competent and qualified surveyors in Croatia.

To find a marine surveyor, you can ask a boat broker to put you in touch with a surveyor, conduct a Google search or ask for recommendations in sailing forums from others that have engaged surveyors in Croatia.

We were referred to a marine surveyor by Sleymar Yacht Brokers to help us look at one boat we were interested in. Initially, we were hesitant to use the recommendation of the broker advertising the boat, but after receiving the CV of the surveyor and talking with him it became immediately clear that he took his job seriously and would provide a thorough and objective assessment of the boat. In the end, he delivered a fair, measured, and detailed report that included hundreds of photos. He gave us his professional interpretation and it was clear that the boat, while a decent project for someone else, would not be suitable for beginners looking for something ready to sail.

When we found our next potential boat, we immediately re-engaged our surveyor and his next report was much more favorable. We made an offer based on his recommendation and were able to secure the boat. The surveyor later returned to conduct the sea trial to ensure the engine, sails and other components that could only be assessed at sea were in good order.

I would love to recommend this particular surveyor here, but unfortunately, he retired shortly after conducting the final sea trial on our boat.

Paying for a Boat in Croatia

Croatian currency kuna
How should you pay when buying a sailboat in Croatia?

As mentioned above, for security and simplicity’s sake it is better to buy a boat through a broker. A reputable broker will make sure everything goes smoothly, the contract is properly executed and proper paperwork is filed. They will hold the deposit and the balance of sale until the contract is executed and provide the new owner with a bill of sale and relevant paperwork.

When it comes time to sign the dotted line and transfer money, the easiest and cheapest way is to transfer from a bank account in the European Union directly to the broker’s holding account. If you don’t have an EU bank account the next cheapest way to transfer money is with Transfer Wise.

Following receipt of the balance, the broker will arrange the finalized contract and bill of sale before transferring the funds to the seller.

How to Register a Boat in Croatia

Before you can sail your new boat must be registered. Either in Croatia or elsewhere. 

Like many things regarding public administration here, registering a boat in Croatia is an exercise in bureaucracy.

After learning the requirements of registering a boat in Croatia, we opted to register our boat in Poland instead.

The procedure to register a boat under the Croatian flag, from what we understand, works like this:

Firstly you need to gather copies of the following documents:

  • A completed boat registration application
  • A VHF registration application
  • Contract of sale – translated into Croatian by a court translator
  • Flag deletion certificate – translated into Croatian by a court translator
  • Passport(s) of the buyer
  • CE certificate
  • Builder plate
  • Insurance
  • An OIB number for all buyers (similar to a social security number)
  • You need to have a signed and notarized authorization of a Croatian resident that can receive mail on your behalf.

Once you have all the paperwork, you can take it to the harbormaster’s office for evaluation. 

THEN you can apply for a survey of the yacht at the Croatian Ship Register. They will need to organize a survey of the boat (out of the water). 

In addition to checking the condition of the boat, they will confirm that you have all the necessary safety and navigation equipment onboard necessary for the type of navigation area you plan to register your boat for. 

If your boat passes muster, you can pay your registration fees and await the registration documents which can take weeks.

The registration including the survey costs about 2,000 kunas or €250, it also doesn’t include any items you need to purchase or repair to meet registration requirements which can be costly.

The VHF license application costs around 340 kuna or about €45. 

Additionally, you will need to pay an ongoing maritime registration fee of 530 kuna or €70 euros per year. 

Finally, you will need to spend 1,500 kuna €200 euros or more for the translation of documents.

Alternative Registration Option: Registering a Boat in Poland

Buying a boat in Croatia doesn’t mean you need to register your boat there.

Poland allows remote registration of boats by foreigners. At €550 The cost of registration is expensive but comparable to the total cost involved in Croatian registration. Most importantly, the process is much more straightforward and far quicker. 

For registration in Poland you will need to gather:

  • Boat Registration Application
  • Notarized Contract of Sale
  • Flag Deletion Certificate
  • Builders plate
  • If you have a survey report you can attach this to the application
  • A photo of the engine

Once you have organized the documents, your best bet is to use an agent to file the application, this will ensure things run smoothly and quickly.

Mitja from HinCo Yacht Services was able to facilitate this process for us.

You should receive an electronic copy of the registration and the original copies in seven to ten days.

The process cost us €550.

What Flags do I Need to Fly on My Boat in Croatia?

The most important flag is the ensign flag. The national flag from the country where the boat is registered should be flown from the stern forestay.

On the starboard spreader, you are required to fly the national flag of the country you are sailing in, in this case, Croatia.

How to insure a Boat in Croatia

Once your boat is registered you can organize insurance.

To sail in Croatia you must have third-party liability.

Organizing third-party insurance is simple.

We organized a quote online through Generali.

You may also wish to organise personal accident insurance (obligatory in some regions)or comprehensive insurance as well.

Obtaingin these insurances can be complicated by a range of factors including the age of vessel, nationality and address of owners, where the boat is registered, and where you plan to sail.

Your best bet is to find an insurance broker in your country of residence that can help you.

Obtaining a Croatian Vignette

Once the boat is registered and insured you will need to obtain a vignette or permit at the nearest Harbour Master’s Office or its branch office before you can sail in Croatia.

It is best to visit the Harbour Master in the morning during business hours as the Harbour Master is primarily a search and rescue service.

You will need to take:

  1. Original Registration Document (they accepted an electronic version from us but prefer the original)
  2. Identity Card (Passport)
  3. Skipper License
  4. Copy of liability insurance certificate

You should also take other relevant documents such as the bill of sale in case further evidence is required.

Do I Need a Skipper License to buy a boat in Croatia?

While no one will ask to see your credentials when you buy a boat, you are required to have a license to sail in Croatian waters. You will need a valid boating and navigation license as well as a VHF certificate of competency.

If you are already certified in another country, Croatia recognizes many state-issued marine and nautical licenses. Check out this list of international marine licenses and credentials recognized in Croatia. In some cases, you may be required to obtain a VHF qualification.

Getting a Skippers or VHF License in Croatia

You can obtain a skippers license or add a VHF license to your existing qualification in Croatia.

The qualifications available in Croatia are as follows.

Boat Skipper Category A

  • Is authorized to operate with boats up to 7m with engine power up to 15KW
  • Navigation areas III and IV

Boat Skipper Category B

  • Authorized to operate pleasure boats up to 30GT or charter boats up to 30GT without a professional crew
  • Navigation areas III and IV

Boat Skipper Category C

  • Authorized to operate with any kind of boat up to 30GT
  • Navigation area I, II and all the seas globally

Yacht-Master Categories A and B

  • Authorized to operate with any kind of boat up to 100GT for A category, and up to 500 for B category
  • Global navigation

VHF Certificate of Competency

  • Can be used in conjunction with an existing marine license that does not have a radio component.

To obtain any of the above licenses you will need to sit an exam at one of the Harbour Master’s Offices.

Contact the relevant office to find out dates and times for examinations. Generally the procedure is to register for the exam a day or two in advance and make payment at a post office or bank.

Many sailing schools in Croatia will help you prepare for these exams with theoretical and practical teaching. If you use a school they will also take care of organizing the exam.

I already had a marine license issued in Queensland Australia and only needed to add the VHF certificate. This required me to learn how to operate a VHF, with DSC. I had to familiarize myself with the controls, learn how to make regular radio calls and distress calls, learn the phonetic alphabet and numerals, learn how to report location using longitude and latitude, and memorise Croatian VHF channels and emergency telephone numbers.

I was able to find everything out online and teach myself. The exam itself was very short and consisted of a brief interview where I was asked to make a distress call, spell my name using the phonetic alphabet, and recite the Croatian Maritime search and rescue number (195).

Keeping a Boat in Croatia

If you choose to keep your boat in Croatia you will be spoilt for choice when it comes to marinas. The country must have more marinas per capita than anywhere else on the planet (don’t fact check me on that).

Our advice when it comes to keeping a boat in Croatia is to use one of the smaller marinas on the islands or small villages along the coast and steer clear of the large city marinas.

The marinas outside of major ports are cheaper, less busy, and with less strict regulations. On the downside, it may be slightly more inconvenient to reach your boat.

What Documents Do I Need To Have on My Boat In Croatia?

Before you start sailing in Croatia, make sure you have the following list of documents on board.

  • Vignette
  • Certificate of the skipper’s competence in boat handling (licenses)
  • Certificate of the third party insurance policy
  • Certificate of ownership or authorization for the use of vessel issued by the owner
  • Maritime information chart

If you are staying on anchor, outside of marinas you will also need to pay a nautical tourist tax. This can now be paid online and ranges from around €12 for smaller boats staying a few days up to a maximum of €800 for an annual tax for larger boats

If you are exiting or entering the country you will also need to check-in or check out at the Harbour Master closest to your point of entry or exit. Here you can obtain a certified crew list and passenger list.

Learn to Sail in Croatia on Your Own Boat

For us, buying the boat was only step one. Without any prior experience, we had to learn how to sail, from the beginning. Rather than going to a sailing school and paying to join a large group, we decided to find an instructor who would teach us how to sail on our boat.

After talking to a number of sailing schools, we found the most flexible, practical, and helpful to be Marlin Sailing in Zadar, conveniently located near our boat. The brothers behind Marlin, Dario and Saša, created a custom training plan for us that worked around our busy work schedule and was designed to get us from novices to novices who wouldn’t get into too much trouble in just ten days.

Rather than long days of sailing in one direction, we drilled docking, anchoring, more docking, sailing, docking, navigation, docking, securing shorelines, and docking again. They showed us the ins and outs of our engine and instructed us in emergency procedures and essential local information such as the weather patterns of Croatia and tips for surviving the busy summer.

Additionally, they advised us on necessary gear and boat improvement and even took us to the marine store, hardware, and rope store to help us with our shopping list.

What’s more, as professional instructors they taught us in such a way that our knowledge was built up every day, rather than overwhelm us with information. In just ten days they left us alone with our boat on the island of Iž, confident in our ability to begin practicing and learning on our own.

Should you be looking for beginner instruction, an introduction to sailing in Croatia, or just help with navigating the purchase process, reach out to Dario from Marlin, and tell him Eddie and Kelli sent you!

Whether or not you use Marlin, if you do decide to look for instruction or assistance, our advice would be to get on the phone with a couple of companies and feel out the one that most wants to work with you to deliver your required outcomes, and who you think will be a good fit in term of teaching style and attitude.

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Hopefully, you have found this information on buying a sailboat in Croatia useful. If you have a question or a comment, please let us know below!

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12 Comments

  1. What a big switch to go from van life to boat life. Congrats. You will certainly have lots of stories to tell.

    1. It is definitely a change, but we are up for the challenge. Learning to sail is not quite as easy as learning to drive.

  2. Wow! What an adventure this will be. A great guide for anyone wanting to buy a boat and go on a sailing adventure. Bon Voyage!

  3. While I have no intensions of buying a boat in Croatia anytime soon, this is quite the ultimate guide to do so.

    1. You never know where life might take you, a year ago I would have said the same thing!

  4. Wow this is such a comprehensive article on buying a boat, I love all the detail you put into it… also loved the tour around the boat..it has always intrigued me about the cost… and is it worth it, I’ll have to get back to you on that as I do like my luxury…ha ha
    Happy Sailings

    1. We have only been on the boat a month but so far we think it is worth it. We will see!

  5. Very good article! I will send you some questions privately. This article was very well thought out and gave very valuable information.

    1. Hi Claudine, I am glad you found it helpful! By all means, send through your questions and we will do our best to help.