The Recreational Craft Directive and its implications for narrowboat owners

The implications of the RCD regulations for narrowboat owners - from marine surveyor Mike Carter.

Mike Carter is principal surveyor for Marine Surveys Ltd. He was recently awarded the title of 'Surveyor of the Year' by the YDSA. He shares his knowledge about the RCD which can affect anyone buying a canal boat.

Marine Surveys Ltd. website at has more details of the RCD and their services.

What is the Recreational Craft Directive?

The Recreational Craft Directive (RCD) was introduced by the European Commission in 1994 to ensure a uniform level of safety in the design and manufacture of recreational craft throughout the European Economic Area. The directive came into force in 16th June 1996 with conformity being voluntary until 16th June 1998 after which the RCD became mandatory. An amendment was introduced in 2004, with the intention of incorporating marine engines and jet ski craft within the scope of the Directive.

The Directive applies to all craft intended to be used for sporting and recreational purposes with a hull length of between 2.5 and 24 metres.

There are a number of Exclusions:
craft intended solely for racing
canoes, kayaks, gondolas and pedaloes
surfboards and sailboards
historical replicas
hovercraft and hydrofoils
craft intended to be crewed and to carry passengers for commercial purposes (these are covered by another directive)
craft built for own use provided they are not subsequently placed on the market for at least five years.
Does My Narrowboat need to comply?
Unless the boat is being built by you, for your own use then the directive does apply in full. DIY builders or those fitting out a shell should be aware that if they choose to apply the exclusion and then later find that they need to sell the craft then they could be faced with a mandatory ‘Post Constructional Assessment’ which is very likely to incur large professional fees running into several thousand pounds.

What happens if I don’t make my boat comply?
The offence of not complying rests with the ‘responsible person’ who is normally the builder or the person who project manages the build. The DIY boat fitter is also considered as the ‘responsible person’. Failure to comply can be deemed as a criminal act on the part of the ‘responsible person’ and is punishable by a stiff fine and custodial sentence.

Does it just apply to new boats?
No, not exclusively, it applies to all pleasure craft when they are first ‘put on the market or put into service ‘ within the European Economic Union. So this includes craft imported from outside the EU and any commercial craft converted for pleasure use wherever they are sourced. As such commercial narrowboats, barges, fishing vessels, Tugs, work boats and passenger boats which were in a commercial capacity after 16th June 1998 are all required to comply with the Recreational Craft Directive when they are ‘put on the market or put into service ‘ as a recreational craft.

What must I do in order to comply?
There are administration requirements for the ‘responsible person’ to compile a file of technical information about how the craft satisfies the ‘Essential Requirements’ of the directive and in addition a detailed Owners manual must be produced so as to inform the owner on how to operate the craft and its equipment in a safe fashion.
Ultimately a completed craft which satisfies the requirements must be marked with the ‘CE’ logo and be fitted with a builders plate indicating how many passengers, crew and luggage may be carried aboard the boat.
For barges and other craft intended to be cruised in non ‘Sheltered waters’ proving compliance can be more elaborate.
What Essential Requirements are applicable to narrowboats?
All the ER’s must be satisfied irrespective of the craft type, however achieving compliance can be less difficult for narrowboats than for example a transatlantic sailing yacht.

Do I have to employ professional help?
Not necessarily, depending on your craft type, For inland waterways craft which are not intended to be used at sea then self certification is possible and relatively easily achieved by someone competent enough to carryout the fitting out process.
For craft that may put to sea or operate in some estuaries then the involvement of a notified body may be required for various aspects of the process.

How much does compliance cost?
It can be free! Depending on your craft type, and how you choose to go about the process. However to embark on the process alone may prove to be arduous and some professional guidance may well be money well spent. Beware of becoming bemused by the chatter of some ‘professionals’ who in some cases have been known to deliberately emphasise the difficulties before offering up their own trouble free one stop solution at a cost of hundreds or even thousands of pounds, equally beware of those who claim all you need is an owners manual and offer a ‘one size fits all’ as these is rarely the only or the most cost effective options and both may come back to haunt you, compliance is rarely that simple or that complicated , its normally a little time consuming and elaborate.

Is a Boat Safety Scheme Certificate sufficient?
If the certificate was correctly issued prior to 1st April 2005 then in general terms where the BSS regulations cover the same areas of the craft as the RCD then the requirements of the RCD were less stringent than those of the BSS. However with the new look BSS (post 1st April 2005) then many of the BSS requirements fall far below the statutory requirements of the RCD.
In addition BSS examiners and participating surveyors are not permitted to issue a BSS certificate to any craft which is not CE marked but which it is intended will become so in the future.

What standards can I use for my Narrowboat?
With a few exceptions any standard can be used to declare compliance with the Essential Requirements providing they suitably cover the requirements of directive. This would include where appropriate ‘custom and practice’ or a bespoke testing procedure providing there is sufficient documentation in builders technical file and the relevant Essential Requirements have been adequately satisfied.
There are specific ISO standards which have been written for use with the RCD, these are known as ‘Harmonised Standards’ and full compliance with these standards assumes conformity with the directive.

Can I fit an old ‘traditional’ engine to my new narrowboat?
Very little of the RCD has been clarified by the courts, however current thinking on this matter is that any engine which was in existence within the EU before 1st January 2006 may be fitted into a new craft and need not comply with the emissions regulation concerned with particle emissions. The reasoning being that the new approach directives, which cover all CE marked products and of which the RCD is one, do not and must not apply to second hand goods except in the case of items imported into Europe.
Getting this wrong could result in a requirement to remove a non compliant engine and its replacement with one which is complaint followed by an additional need for a post constructional assessment. This would be highly costly and as such professional advice from an RCD specialist should be sought before a non-compliant engine is selected for installation.

Do I have to CE mark my self build boat before I can take it into the waterways of mainland Europe?
No, it is not a legal requirement, but it can be a difficult task to convince the European customs officer of that fact!

Where Can I Get Help With the RCD?
The British Marine Federation and the Royal Yachting Association are both able to offer some limited and very general guidance on the Directive but it is unlikely to be a perfect match with the specifics of your boat.
You can seek help from a professional surveyor experienced in this field, but be sure that they have got the experience required to assist you in selecting the best compliance options to suit you and your boat rather than persuading you to adapt your boat the way of claiming compliance which is the most cost effective to them.

Some Useful starting points would be: The Recreational Directive 94/25/EC
  The amendment 2003/44/EC
  Marine Surveys Ltd.
  CE Conformance

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