The Cruising Association say US, Canadian, New Zealand, Australian, South African and other 'friendly' nationalities are most affected

Europe might be opening its doors to yachtsmen from around the world.

Currently non-EU nationals are not allowed to remain in the EU for more than 90 days in any 180-day period under the Schengen agreement which allows free passage for those living in the 26 countries which make up the union. These stretch from Sweden and Iceland in the North to Malta and Cyprus in the south.

US, Canadian, New Zealand, Australian, South African and other “friendly” nationalities are most affected. Under present regulations, people with these passports are restricted to 90 days within the Schengen zone, even though their boats may stay for 18 months – or twice as long with very little effort.

The Cruising Association has long been advising its many non-EU members how to circumvent the current restrictions, and members have been telling the CA about their experiences when things go wrong.

The most reliable way to stay is to obtain residence permits beforehand. But this is not easy when you have no fixed abode because you are cruising on a boat.

Another way to stretch your visit is to spend 6 months a year outside Schengen. Yachtsmen can do this by spending (and documenting) half the year in the UK, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, Albania, or Montenegro (Croatia comes off that list next year).

However, getting your sums wrong, or not noting an exit from Schengen, may cause an unintentional or apparent overstay. The penalty for this is a fine and a ban on re-entry for a period. If this occurs due to an emergency flight home, you then can’t return to your boat.

So Europe gets a bad name for being a bureaucratic nightmare for visiting yachts.

If this change comes about, it will be a very welcome change for yachtsmen who are not EU citizens.

The European Commission put forward the proposal last week to revise the EU’s visa code for third-country visitors to the Schengen passport-free area. The aim is to shorten and simplify the procedures for those wanting to come to the EU for short stays, with the objective of boosting economic activity and job creation.

The Schengen area is made up of 22 EU member states plus Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. There is one single visitor visa for the entire Schengen area. Bulgaria, Romania, Cyprus and Croatia are waiting to be given approval to join. The UK has refused to participate in the Schengen area. Ireland would like to join but cannot as long as the UK is not in it, because it would force the country to set up a politically untenable border control with Northern Ireland. Visitors must obtain separate visas for these countries.

The proposals must now be approved by member states and the European Parliament. Because the current parliamentary term ends next month, approval is not expected until 2015.