4 more days

I’m on my way to France on Friday to start the handover process. Robin and the kids will be joining me on Sunday and we will start provisioning for our first voyage.

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5X under spinnaker, nice view!

These past few weeks have been a bit frustrating, because since Wildling moved out of the construction yard at Outremer and into the water, there are no more photos or updates from the guys at the factory, so I’m hoping everything is still on track for the handover.

I’ve finished off most of the administration details we needed to get done before handover. We arranged insurance with Pantaenius Australia, who provided us a competitive price for cruising in the Mediterranean. I’m happy to use Pantaenius because we had them for our previous boat and I found them to be excellent. They even handled a small claim we made when our dinghy disappeared (a long story) and couldn’t have been more helpful and professional about it.

I also have to get an MMSI number, which is a 9 digit unique identifier used by international Search and Rescue organizations to lookup information about our vessel from their worldwide database if we have an emergency onboard. We need to program this number into our VHF DSC radio and our AIS system. Since we are Australian flagged, we have to follow the Australian process for getting an MMSI, which, like many things to do with government agencies in Australia, is inexplicably convoluted and slow.

You would think that since the MMSI is an element of safety at sea, that they would give you one when you provide all your vessel details, which is what they do in the USA via an online registration process that takes about 15 minutes, but no. Instead, I had to study for and pass an exam on marine radio operating procedures (which by the way was super informative and I strongly recommend it to any sailor, MMSI or not) and then wait 4 to 6 weeks to receive my operator certificate in the mail. Then I can submit an MMSI application form along with a copy of the famous radio operator certificate and wait another 4 to 6 weeks to get my MMSI number. I didn’t realize all of this until last week, so I did a crash study course and sat my exam on Friday afternoon, and now I’m just 12 short weeks away from having an MMSI! As long as we don’t have any emergencies at sea in the meantime, everything will work out fine!

The good news, is that EPIRBs (radio becaons that send the position of survivors in the water to the COPAS-SARSAT satellite network) do not require an MMSI. Instead they have their own internal identifier code. I’m buying our EPIRB in France, so we will have that if we have really major problems.

I also had to get a custom made, stainless steel marking plate with our official registered number and vessel length. This is needed to comply with the Australian vessel registration marking requirements and needs to be permanently attached to one of our interior bulkheads. I have our shiny new marking plate with me and will attach it when I get to the boat.

I’ll post an update when I get to Wildling, along with lots of photos!

Flags and Red Tape

Now that the design details are sorted out and construction is progressing, we have to work out the details needed to launch Wildling and take her out on the water. It turns out you can’t just buy a boat in a foreign country and go sailing, that would be way too easy. There are a bunch of international and local rules and regulations that have to be satisfied:

1. A vessel that is sailed internationally has to have a nationality. It’s like a person traveling outside their home country. Without a passport, you won’t get very far. Boats are the same, but unlike people, boats don’t have to take the nationality of their country of birth, so we get to choose a nationality for Wildling. The process of assigning a nationality is called registration or flagging, and Wildling will be an Australian flagged vessel.


2. All vessels should carry an EPIRB distress beacon that will send a distress signal to search and rescue services in case of an emergency. EPIRBs need to be registered with the rescue authorities so they know which boat is sending the message. This is pretty simple, we just have to fill out some forms.


3. An ocean going vessel should carry a DSC equipped radio transceiver capable of broadcasting a digitally encoded distress message, and an AIS transceiver capable of broadcasting and receiving GPS coordinates and information about the vessel. These systems are used to locate and alert nearby ships in the case of an emergency and to avoid collisions. They need to have what’s known as an MSSI number, which is a unique code that identifies the vessel. The boat has to be registered before an MSSI can be issued.

The power of AIS. This is a radar plot of what's surrounding the vessel. The triangles are the AIS signals for the other vessels in the area. The readout gives their location, course and speed and whether there is danger of a collision.

The power of AIS! This is a radar plot of what’s surrounding the boat. The triangles are the AIS signals from other vessels in the area, overlaid on the radar plot. The readout gives their location, course and speed and whether there is danger of a collision. You can see the radar can’t detect the vessels behind the land mass in the middle of the screen, but AIS can show us their exact position.

4. When traveling offshore it’s recommended to carry two types of radio communications equipment. A VHF radio, which is standard for all ships, and provides line of sight communications up to about 50 miles, and an HF radio, which is not required, but highly recommended as it allows for long distance radio communication from 50 to several thousand miles. In most countries an operators license is required for both of these radios. In addition, if you carry an HF radio, you need a special ships station license and call sign for the radio. In Australia, you need a radio operators license, and a registered vessel, before you can apply for a ship station license.

5. Most countries require some kind of driver’s license for the person in command of the boat. The USA does not require this for pleasure craft, but Australia does, and so do most of the European countries surrounding the Mediterranean sea.


The most complicated item on the list is to register Wildling so she can travel internationally. Our last boat was flagged as an American vessel, which worked real well for us. We never had any trouble with customs or immigrations in any of the foreign ports we visited, and it helped us meet a lot of great people when we were cruising. Since we now live in Australia, and we plan on bringing Wildling home to Brisbane at some point, we will be registering her as an Australian flagged vessel. Traveling under Australian nationality is about the same as American, in that it’s pretty well accepted everywhere.

The only downside to Australian registration is that the process is much more complicated and expensive than when we did it in America. We can’t complete the application until the boat is finished and ownership is transferred to us, so we will be getting everything ready to go in the meantime.

Next on the list is to get an Australian marine radio operators license. Getting a license requires passing a theory exam and demonstrating the correct use of marine radio equipment and emergency procedures. You don’t need one of these in the USA, but you do in Australia (are you seeing a pattern here?) Once I have a license, and a registered boat, I can apply for an MMSI and a ship station license. Even though we won’t be operating a radio in Australia for a while, because we have Australian registration we have to get an Australian radio license and MMSI number.

Lastly, I need to get a boat driver’s license (or whatever it’s called). Once again, this isn’t needed for an American pleasure boat, but when sailing in Europe, many ports need to see your license when you arrive, so having an Australian one will give me something to show them, and I will need it when we return to Australia. This requires a training course, followed by a practical and theory exam.

At least all of these study courses, forms and exams will keep me occupied while we’re waiting to go sailing!