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Operational Standards for Small Vessels

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

Information in this section explains which MCA safety codes of practice you must comply with. Check how to get the correct small commercial vessel certificate and relevant local safety laws when operating overseas.

MCA codes of practice that most small commercial vessels need to follow apply to any vessel that:

  • Is less than 24 metres long (operating only in favourable weather and daylight from a nominated departure point).
  • Is less than 150 gross tonnes and built before the 21st July 1968.
  • Carries cargo and no more than twelve (12) passengers.
  • Provides a service that does not carry cargo or passengers.
  • Is a pilot boat of any size (e.g. transporting pilots to/from larger ships).
  • The Merchant Shipping Regulations 1998 do not consider it as being a ‘pleasure vessel’.

Definition of a Pleasure Vessel

As a general rule, pleasure vessels are craft used for non-profit journeys and solely for sport or for recreation by owners, employees, family, or friends.

Note: Pleasure vessels that meet the conditions would be exempt from the MCA small commercial vessel codes of practice.

Small Craft Codes of Practice

There are four safety codes of practice for small (up to 24m) vessels. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) produces guidance notes covering these small craft codes, titled:

  • ‘Marine Guidance Note 280: Small vessels in commercial use for sport or pleasure, workboats and pilot boats – alternative construction standards’

Small Commercial Vessel Certification

Unless being used as ‘pleasure vessels’, all small commercial vessels need to have the correct small commercial vessel certificate.

Thus, you would need to arrange a survey of the boat conducted by a Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) approved authority. This is the correct process for getting the right certificate

Boats that pass the MCA survey will be issued with (either):

  • A pilot boat certificate
  • A small commercial vessel certificate
  • A workboat certificate

Small commercial vessel certificates are valid for a period of five (5) years in United Kingdom. But, you must keep the proof of certification on board the boat.

Note: Boats being surveyed for the first time would need to meet the stability requirements outlined in section 11 of Marine Guidance Note 280.

Being in Charge of a Business Boat

If you are the person in charge of a small business boat you would need to have the correct certificate. Check the appropriate small craft codes of practice for the boat to determine which certificate you would need.

Operating Overseas of the United Kingdom

In fact, there is no international code of practice for the safety of small commercial vessels outside of the United Kingdom.

As a general rule, most countries will accept commercial vessels holding UK certificates. Even so, you may need to follow the local safety laws of the country you are operating in as well.

Operational Standards for Small Commercial Vessels in United Kingdom