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Maritime Laws: Working at sea

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency implements the maritime safety policy in the United Kingdom. Anyone with maritime vessels, or UK seafarers working at sea, must follow MCA rules and regulations. The MCA promotes the safe construction, navigation, and operation of ships. They do so by working with national and international partners in the shipping industry.

Maritime Safety Information Broadcasts

One of the main roles, and aims, of HM Coastguard is preventing the loss of life around the British coastline and at sea.

The Maritime Safety Information that they broadcast by radio, includes:

  • Information on wind strength and direction
  • Navigational guidance and warnings
  • Updates on sea conditions
  • Warnings of restricted visibility

Being in charge of a maritime vessel means you will need to check MSI broadcasts. Receiving weather and tide information will help you avoid accidents and collisions at sea (details below).

Another responsibility is ensuring you understand any navigational guidance or warnings broadcast by the MCA to your ship.

Note: Search and rescue operations could interrupt or delay Maritime Safety Information (MSI) broadcasts.

Receiving Maritime Safety Information

In the United Kingdom, Her Majesty’s Coastguard is responsible for broadcasting marine weather forecasts and Maritime Safety Information (MSI) via:

  • NAVTEX (Navigational telex) out to 270 miles
  • VHF (very high frequency) out to 30 miles
  • MF (medium frequency) out to 150 miles
  • Radio Medical Advice Link Call (MEDILINK) Service

Note: Seafarers can read further details in the ‘Weather broadcasts and Maritime safety information: leaflet‘. The MCA guidance notes include important information on marine weather forecasts and broadcast frequencies.

Weather and Tide Information

Weather Conditions at Sea

The Meteorological Office has forecast the weather conditions for the nation for 150+ years. Met Office forecasts provide useful information for seafarers about the present and impending conditions at sea, including:

Extended Weather Outlook

You can get a longer-term outlook on the weather via the 518 NAVTEX service. It provides information up to five (5) days in advance.

Note: The UK Hydrographic Office provides online tidal predictions through the Admiralty EasyTide Service.

Maritime Navigation Safety and Weather

Navigational Guidance and Safety

As a ship owner, there are several ways you can receive navigational guidance and warnings. The section covers safe navigation in adverse sea conditions and compliance with navigation equipment requirements for small commercial vessels.

Global Maritime Distress and Safety System

The guide explains the uses of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System. You can also check how to register or update 406 megahertz (MHz) beacons registration online.

Note: You can Register your boat with the coastguard’s safety scheme through the RYA SafeTrx service.


Application for Marine Licence

There is a set process to register and apply for a marine licence to carry out work that is going to disturb the seabed. Typical examples include building or construction work, dredging, disposing of waste, laying cables and pipelines, and working with explosives.

You can also view previous applications made for marine licences and decisions made on the case. Check the public register of marine licence applications and decisions. The tool facilitates a downloadable search by area or by licence type.

Use the same process to apply for a marine wildlife licence. The permit would allow you to do work that is likely to disturb protected species.

Note: The complexity of the case determines marine licence fees and charges for associated work. As a rule, it depends on the processing time taken by your local Marine Management Organisation (MMO) and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science.

Emergency and Life-Saving Equipment

UK regulations for emergency and life-saving equipment on ships vary according to certain factors. But, some minimum standards apply to the life-saving and fire-fighting equipment that ships must carry.

The section covers several important topics, including:

  • Life-saving equipment required by different ships and vessels
  • Rules on fire-fighting equipment (and exemptions)
  • The safe usage of emergency equipment (e.g. lifejackets)
  • The servicing and testing of emergency equipment on ships

Note: The help guide also explains how to get advice from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) on technical matters.

Hiring Crew for Ships and Yachts

The guide creates a checklist to follow when hiring crew for ships and yachts for UK-registered vessels. Find out what processes you need to comply with when hiring seafarers to work on a ship or a yacht.

Information in the section covers:

  • Checking crew qualifications
  • Certificates of competency (CoC)
  • Crew agreements and travel documents
  • How to provide a crew list

Note: You will need a seafarer medical certificate to work at sea. The guide explains how much ENG 1 and ML5 medical certificates cost and how to apply.

Fishing Vessels Licence

There are three steps to get a fishing vessel licence for boats that are 10 metres (or under). Even so, you may not need to apply for a fishing vessels licence if yours meets the exemption criteria.

The section explains how to:

  1. Register a vessel on the UK Ship Registry
  2. Get a licence entitlement
  3. Apply for the fishing vessels licence

Note: Small commercial boats need to be registered, surveyed, and inspected to meet United Kingdom safety laws.

Operational Standards for Small Vessels

The operational standards for small commercial vessels fall under the merchant shipping regulations. They relate to small vessels that operate under the UK flag and in United Kingdom waters.

The section covers:

  • Four safety codes of practice for small commercial vessels
  • How to get the correct small commercial vessel certificate
  • Local safety laws when operating overseas

Reporting Accidents or Incidents

The responsibilities of being in charge of a ship include monitoring sea traffic and reporting any accidents or incidents to the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB).

Marine Accident Investigation Branch
Email: [email protected]
Telephone: 023 8039 5500
Outside of office hours: 023 8023 2527

Outside the UK: +44 23 8039 5511
Outside office hours: +44 23 8023 2527

Fax: 023 8023 2459
Information on phone call charges

Note: This includes a report of any breakdowns, collisions, damage or structural failures, and pollution.

Seaman’s Discharge Book

You may know it as a Seaman’s Service Book or a Seafarers Identity Document. But, as a British seafarer you will need to get a Seaman’s Discharge Book (SDB) to work on a UK-registered ship or yacht.

Seafarer Working and Living Rights

Various laws protect seafarer working and living rights in the United Kingdom. The help guide explains how to respect and observe seafarer working and living rights while working at sea.

The Maritime Labour Convention came into full force for United Kingdom in August 2014. The ‘MLC 2006’ sets forth minimum standards relating to the working and living rights of seagoing personnel.

Working on a seagoing ship requires you to possess some academic and theoretical qualifications. Besides that, certain other seafarer skills and training are an essential part of getting a job at sea.

Note: The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) list some minimum training requirements for ratings or officers when working on certain types of ships.

Voyage Data Recorders

You might call the voyage data recorder (VDR) a ‘black box’ of the ship. VDRs collect and store information during the course of a ship’s journey, including:

  • Audio from the bridge
  • Depth underneath the keel
  • The position, speed, and heading of the ship

VHF Radio Communications

Note: All VDRs need testing after installation and then they need inspecting on an annual basis. Guidance notes ‘MGN 272 (M)‘ explain further requirements for voyage data recorders.

Maritime Law for Vessels and Work at Sea in United Kingdom