help_outline Skip to main content
HomeBlogsRead Blog

Guy Jones around the world

2-19-18-Q Flag on Steroids-Galapagos
By Guy S Jones
Posted on 12/30/2018 2:21 PM

From: Guy Jones <>
Sent: Monday, February 19, 2018 9:03:03 AM

Subject: Q Flag on Steriods


Hi All


Following a very pleasant night at anchor we  arose to the symphony of honking seals and sea lions and they can be loud and they are everywhere.


For those somewhat unfamiliar with the process of entering a country by sea on a private vessel, let me provide a generic “Clearance 101” tutorial. First, when a vessel enters the territorial waters of a foreign country, the entering vessel must fly a yellow or Q flag to indicate that the vessel has not been cleared (accepted) into the entering country. For the historians among you, this goes back to the 15th century when vessels entering a foreign port had to be medically inspected prior to disembarking to protect the host country from yellow fever, cholera and small pox etc. The Q comes from the fact that the vessel and cargo was in effect in quarantined until cleared by medical officials.


In most countries to excluding the US, the captain or skipper of the vessel will take, passports, boat papers and insurance to immigrations. In the US and a few other countries, every sole on board must  present themselves to immigrations. Once the vessels and all persons have cleared immigrations, we then clear customs.  In most countries the skipper can make a declaration but in some countries each sole must declare what they are brining into the countries which may extend to liquor, cigarettes, drugs and weapons and whether you have more than $10,000 in dollars or the equivalent.  This may in very unusual circumstances involve custom officials actually boarding the vessel and typically this entire process for immigrations and customs takes about 20-30 minutes process.


Now we get to the clearing process for Galapagos which is ironic because it does not begin in the Islands but in Panama.


In Panama, agents working for Galapagos must fumigate your vessel and get a declaration signed by the Captain/Skipper in Panama that the vessel is free of certain insects to include ants and the ever present roach. Then, the vessel must have the bottom cleaned and some vessels actually have certificates of the hull cleaning for $250 per vessel. If you use this service the divers will re-inspect the vessel in Las Perlas and will if required, perform added cleaning at no-charge. As for me, I am RETIRED so I have to be mindful of expense so I paid a local diver $100 to clean the bottom of Footloose in Panama City then another diver $50 for the inspection and added cleaning in Las Perlas.


Now fast forward after 94 hours of motoring, 37 hours of sailing, 7 hours of sleep and there is  knock on the hull and I see a lady who speaks very good English and she welcomes me to Galapagos and hands me three immigration forms. She tells me that she will be back in one hour to collect them. I say Wow, this really effective. True to her word at 10:00 AM there is a rapping on the hull and I come top side to see nine people in various uniforms in a launch tying up to Footloose and three other young men in dive gear in a dingy orbiting about 5 yard away. The first to speak is a gentleman who advises me that he is “my agent”  and advise me that the eight people are from Immigrations, Customs, Policia, National Parks, Ecological Protection, Disease Control and the three people in the dingy would like to inspect my hull. Each of these eight people plus “my agent”, plus the young lady and myself are now seated in my cockpit (what a picture that would have made but, I could not photo process). Each of these individuals had clipboards and “my agent” ask me questions from each clipboard in English and then translated my responses in Spanish where there are recorded in Spanish.  After this Q&A is completed 55 minutes later, I am given the each of the clipboards (in Spanish remember) to sign. REALLY?


Following the Q&A, there is an inspection of the vessel where there is a requirement that a sign be posted in every head that “Black Water Must not be Discharged in to Sea” or a “Do not Throw Garbage in the Sea” sign must be posted in the galley. Next, they inspect your refrigerator, freezer and panty and remove food on the prohibited list like, ready for this, tuna, pasteurized milk and cheese, over ripe bananas, custard, raspberries, mangos only between February and October, chili, loose tobacco, and 16 other items. (we hid our tuna and cheese in the bottom of the freezer under eighty pieces of other fish). They inspected your life rafts and the certificates, life jackets, flares, fire extinguishers and cloths to determine if they match the number of declared people on board. They record the amount fuel and water you have on board and the size of your holding tanks.  They questioned me about the vessel’s procedure in the event of an oil spill. My response was that we had several bags of rags.


Getting to Galapagos is not an issue, just 94 hours of motoring but staying there is. By the way, I passed the hull inspection. Two of the 29 vessels did not. There were required to take their vessels forty miles offshore where a diver paid by the Government would clean the hull. The bill is $1,000. One vessel opted not to comply and left Galapagos the next day without ever clearing in.


Notwithstanding the above, the care taken is obviously paying dividends. , I am anchored in 36’ of water in a commercial harbor and I can see the bottom. Impressive.



By 12:00 I was flying the national colors of Ecuador and a welcomed visitor to Galapagos. Now to find that flightless bird.


S/V Footloose
Leave a Comment