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. With
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.
When does the RCD apply?
The RCD only applies when the craft is first placed on the market or
put into service. It does not apply after this date and there is no
on-going requirement for the craft to remain compliant with the RCD.
Does the RCD ensure craft quality?
No. The RCD stipulates that a number of Essential Requirements
should be met, which do not include a quality standard.
Does the RCD ensure that the craft is safe?
No. The RCD stipulates that a number of Essential Requirements
should be met, which include some but not all aspects of safety.
If a craft complies with the RCD does it
automatically mean that it complies with The Boat Safety Scheme
No. There are certain aspects of the Boat Safety Scheme requirements
that are Additional to those of the RCD. However, boats built to the
'harmonised' standards Supporting the RCD will be fully acceptable.
There may be new craft that are supplied with a Declaration of
Conformity to the RCD (showing compliance with the RCD) and a BSS
Certificate to show compliance with the Boat Safety Scheme. This is
perfectly acceptable. However, a BSS Certificate alone does not show
compliance with the RCD.
Who certifies a craft to show that it meets the
For inland waterway craft (e.g. Narrowboats), the boatbuilder may
self-declare or use a Notified Body to certify compliance. This may
mean that no independent person views the boat until it is 4 four
years old and due for its first BSS Certificate.
What is the '5-year rule'?
If a craft is built by a DIY boatbuilder only for their personal use
it is excluded from the RCD provided it is not placed on the market
within 5 years of its first use as a boat. The boat does not have to
be complete for the 5 year period to start, but does have to have
been used as a boat (e.g. Cruised on a waterway).
Can I buy a craft that does not appear to meet
If brand new, then No. When brand new, the craft should include: a
Declaration of Conformity; Owner's Manual; Builder's Plate
(including a CE mark); and a Craft Identification Number (CIN). The
CIN has to be permanently fitted to the craft (such as stamped in
the hull). Make sure that you see these before buying the boat.
If not brand new, then Yes. The RCD only applies when the craft is
first placed on the Market or put into service (an example of being
‘put into service’ would be when used as a hire boat). So, if being
sold as second-hand (no matter the age), unless imported from a
non-EU country or being an ex-commercial craft, then it does not
have to comply with the RCD. It is recommended that the craft be
surveyed before buying.
Should I have a second-hand craft surveyed if
it complied with the RCD when new?
It may be wise. The RCD only applies to the craft when brand new and
there is no requirement for it to remain compliant after the first
day. Original compliance with the RCD does not ensure quality or
condition. A survey should inform on the quality and condition of
the craft now.
Should I have a new craft surveyed if it is
deemed to comply with the RCD?
It may be wise. The RCD does not ensure quality or condition. A
survey should inform on the quality and condition of the craft.
Further, if the boatbuilder selfdeclared the boat’s compliance, then
the survey should help highlight if any areas are not compliant.
Should I rely upon compliance to the RCD when
deciding to purchase a boat?
No, because the primary aim of the RCD is to remove barriers for
trade between countries, and not to ensure quality or safety or
compliance with the Boat Safety Scheme requirements. (However, under
the Boat Safety Scheme remit, compliance with the RCD should meet
the BSS requirements)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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.