Red Diesel And Its Effects

Inside the tower and packingRed diesel is just diesel fuel with red dye added to it. In some countries it’s a requirement by law that dye is added to low-tax fuel with the intention to deter its use in applications intended for higher taxed ones. Low taxed fuels are known as “dyed while those with higher tax are called “clearor “white

In the UK “red dieselis dyed gas oil intended for use in registered agricultural or construction vehicles as well as some other non-road applications akin to boats. It’s also allowed for use as a house heating oil, aviation fuel and fuel for diesel vehicles not using public roads. It carries a much reduced tax levy than the clear diesel used in ordinary road vehicles and as it is widely available within the UK, authorities sometimes perform roadside checks, especially in rural areas. Unauthorised use of red diesel can incur a heavy fine for tax evasion and spot checks have sometimes found as many as one in five motorists using red diesel.

The consequences on boating

The legislation, found in the Hydrocarbon Oil Duties Act of 1979, allows boaters to use red diesel in UK waters, but neither permits nor prohibits them from using it outside the UK. This year, 2012, the federal government announced a revised wording for the declaration which has caused much concern and confusion over using red diesel by the boating community. The RYA has challenged the proposed revised content and has stated their outrage on the Minister’s suggestion that UK sailors might not be permitted to make use of red diesel in international waters. They’ve also asked HM Revenue and Customs to amend or withdraw its proposal for a revised declaration and discussions are happening between them.

The proposed revised declaration

The confusion is that this does not accurately reflect the right position under either UK or international law. It requires signatories to falsely acknowledge that they’re aware of restrictions on fuel usage that do not exist. That is what the RYA is objecting to. If the wording simply reminded recreational boaters that other countries may apply their own legislation to vessels in their territorial waters then it can be per UK and international law.

The current situation

At the present time UK boaters have to adjust to any applicable regulations of a coastal state. In 2011, however, the EU opened “infringement proceedingsagainst the UK regarding the EU Marking Directive which relates to the availability of red diesel in the UK for private pleasure craft. The RYA claimed that the EU were bullying UK sailors in spite of the government having agreed a deal which allowed sailors to pay a component tax on 40% of their diesel used for heating and the total tax on the other 60%. But the EU does not agree with yachtsmen using red diesel for propulsion at all.

The issue is that in many areas of the UK, especially Scotland, Ireland and the West Country, only red diesel is obtainable and boaters run the chance of being prosecuted if they stray into the waters of nearby EU countries with red diesel of their tanks. I have actually read recently that no marina in the UK supplies white diesel. So how do you fill up your tanks with the clear fuel transport it by jerry can from a neighborhood garage forecourt, or arrange delivery by road tanker? While it appears that evidently France, Holland and Germany have agreed to simply accept the use of red diesel in UK boats so long as it can be backed up with a UK VAT receipt, Belgium remains stubborn, insisting that the UK is infringing EU law. They threaten to fine and prosecute any crew entering a Belgian port with even tiny amounts of red diesel of their tanks. In reality, however, it seems that only about 6 crews have been fined so far. It seems ironical that Belgium, which has less than 50 miles of coastline, is trying to dictate to the UK which has 8,000 miles of coast.

Despite the fact that France, Holland and Germany seem to have agreed to UK vessels using the red diesel, there are instances of skippers being threatened with large fines. One owner was informed by the Dutch authorities that his paperwork, showing payment of duty, was not adequate. In 2006 French officials are said to have dipped the tanks of UK boats and imposed fines if any red diesel was detected. Also German Customs have apparently hit some red diesel users. Two mega-yachts were boarded and fined thousands of dollars in Kiel for having red-tinted fuel in their tanks. This highlights another issue, that large amounts of clear diesel may have been legally purchased and utilized by vessels, but when examined, their tanks should contain some traces of the red dye and they may still be prosecuted. In reality even when a tank was topped up with white diesel whenever it became half empty, it would still need several refills before it reached the acceptable 0.07%.

Ireland has no problem with the red dyed fuel. Although their very own marked diesel is green, they are quoted as stating that they haven’t any colour bar on diesel.

Another concern is that while most sailors wouldn’t object to paying the full rate of duty on diesel, as they normally only use it for secondary propulsion, white diesel contains biofuel, sometimes known as FAME (fatty acid methyl esters) which might damage older engines and is more prone to cause diesel bug, because it attracts water.

The four key bodies involved within the campaign to retain red diesel for UK boaters are the Royal Yachting Association (RYA), the British Marine Federation (BMF), the Inland Waterways Association and the Federation of Petroleum Suppliers.

So in practice what do you do?

If visiting Belgium:-

Bear in mind that you simply risk being handed a considerable fine in case you are carrying red diesel regardless that you could also be able to indicate the proper paperwork proving that duty has been paid.

If visiting the Netherlands:-

You could have red diesel in your tanks but must not carry any extra.

You could show a receipt which must not be more than 1 year old.

Bear in mind that the Regional Custom Offices do not always act in keeping with the policy of the National Office Customs Administration. If you are fined, the National Office can investigate your case, but it’s essential to keep all the paperwork involved.

If visiting France:-

A British resident may arrive in French waters for a short lived stay as long as they refuel with correctly taxed diesel during their stay in France. It’s advised to use up as much red diesel as possible before you fill up with white, so as to dilute the traces of red dye as much as possible.

If the boat remains in France for an extended stay, invoices for any diesel purchased must be retained for 3 years to point out that duty paid fuel has been bought because the boat’s arrival in France. They must be kept on board to demonstrate that you have acted in good faith, in case of the fuel being inspected.

Bear in mind that it’s not permitted to purchase rebated diesel for recreational boating in France.

If visiting other EU member states:-

Keep receipts for diesel bought in the UK and ask the retailer to mark them “duty paid

Log the date of refuelling and engine hours to reinforce your records.

Do not carry extra amounts of red diesel anywhere apart from your main fuel tanks.

Do not buy red diesel in any country where rebated fuel for leisure craft is prohibited.

In conclusion

It is difficult to see where this will end. It really is a can of worms. Hopefully, with the help of organisations such as the RYA, BMF, Inland Waterways and Federation of Petroleum Suppliers, UK boaters shall be able to hold on cruising abroad without danger of prosecution. In the meantime the sensible thing to do is to be prepared, do your homework in regards to the legal situation in the countries you intend to visit and beware of straying into, or maybe boycott those who have a definitely anti-red-diesel attitude.


This situation is so fluid that this text should not be taken as a definitive statement on the present situation and accepts no responsibility for any inconsistencies between actual practices and the above article.

If you’re looking to purchase, charter or sell a ship, the The Yacht Market is the place to look,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *