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What Are The Legal Requirements For My Commercial Yacht?

For a pleasure yacht to be legally engaged in trade and considered a commercial yacht, the vessel must be surveyed and certified to numerous international and national regulations. These rules cover a spectrum of topics for safety, environmental protection and security. Applicability is based upon a combination of the yacht’s length, tonnage, and the number of personnel on board.

The majority of international regulations are established by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a specialized agency of the United Nations. Its 170 member states and three associate members are the body behind nearly all technical standards and legal rules for safety at sea and prevention of pollution by ships.

The rules:

SOLAS – International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea SOLAS, In its current structure, the 12 chapters cover all aspects of shipping from construction and fire protection to nuclear propulsion, dangerous cargo, safety management, and maritime security. SOLAS affects internationally trading vessels of 500 gross tons and greater. For regulatory purposes, a commercial yacht is considered a cargo ship. If she is certified to carry more than 12 guests, regardless of size, the yacht is no longer a cargo ship, but a passenger ship, even if one calls her a yacht. There is a distinct difference between these two vessel types.

Contains requirements for: ISM Code – International Ship Management

The requirement can be made simple and easy by using the Ocean Time Marine SMS template software. Safety management systems (SMS) is a requirement that applies to Commercial vessels (including charter & commercially registered yachts of 500GT and over; those of any size chartering with more than 12 passengers) It is also recommended that vessels above 24m use a SMS. The Certificate(s) issued is a Safety Management Certificate and a Document of Compliance (for the management company) This code need not be difficult to comply with as long as care is taken to ensure the documented procedures accurately reflect the actual onboard procedures, providing they comply with the relevant requirements. Procedures need only be limited to operations related to safety & pollution prevention, but a safety management system may cover all aspects of the yacht’s operation if desired.

Compliance with this Code is a requirement of SOLAS Chapter IX (Management for the safe operation of ships). ICLL – International Convention on Load Lines The ICLL — as it is used today on all commercial, internationally trading yachts of 24m in length or greater — establishes detailed regulations on the assignment of freeboard, its effects on stability, and most importantly, the safe transportation of guests and crew. The convention takes into account the potential hazards present in different zones and different seasons (winter in the North Atlantic versus the tropics). The technical annex contains several additional safety measures concerning doors, freeing ports, hatchways, and other items. The main purpose of these measures is to ensure the watertight integrity of ships’ hulls below the freeboard deck. MARPOL – International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships MARPOL was established for protecting the marine environment. It includes strict regulations focused at preventing and minimizing both accidental and operational pollution. The current requirements are outlined in six technical annexes, each of which designed to combat a particular class of pollutants: oil, noxious liquid, packaged dangerous goods, sewage, garbage, and air pollution.

STCW – International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification, and Watch keeping for Seafarers STCW sets certification standards for masters, officers, and watch personnel on seagoing merchant ships. Commercial yachts are subject to compliance with the code, as well as any person holding a certificate of competence for a certain rank. STCW prescribes minimum standards relating to training, certification, and watch keeping for seafarers, which countries are obliged to meet or exceed. While the IMO is the source of these regulations, it is the member states that are responsible for enforcement. Commonly referred to as the Flag Administration or Flag State, this is the government that registers the yacht.

Through a series of inspections, plan reviews, surveys, and audits, the flag state ensures that a yacht meets the requirements of the applicable regulation. For example, for yachts registered under the British flag, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) is the Flag Administration for the United Kingdom and its dependencies (Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Gibraltar, Isle of Man, and other overseas territories). In some cases, the flag state delegates its enforcement authority, or a portion thereof, to a Recognized Organization (RO), most commonly a classification society.

The major classification societies in are the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS), Bureau Veritas (BV), Det Norske Veritas – Germanischer Lloyd ( (DNV-GL), Lloyds Register (LR), and Registro Italiano Navale (RINA). There are also organizations dedicated solely to yacht certifications, such as the International Yacht Bureau (IYB). Classification, as a completely private service performed by these societies, consists of the issuing of rules for the safety of vessels, and performing inspections to ensure that these rules are being applied. The main purpose is to protect vessels as a piece of property.

The rules apply principally to the structural strength of the hull and the reliability of its essential machinery and equipment. The owner uses the certificate issued by the classification society as an assurance of technical soundness and as a tool for obtaining insurance at a reasonable cost. Port State Control On the local level, sovereign and other self-governing nations have the right to control any activities within their own borders, including those of visiting yachts. Authority and control over foreign-flagged vessels in a country’s ports, used for verifying compliance with the requirements of the applicable maritime conventions, is called Port State Control (PSC). PSC may enforce its own unique, and sometimes unilateral, regulations. An example of this can be seen in the United States and its requirement for an Advanced Notice of Arrival. This is not an international regulation and is specific to vessels entering and/or departing U.S. waters.

For those yachts that operate in Europe, they will be familiar with the Paris MOU inspection scheme. As previously mentioned, the majority of rules outlined in SOLAS are designed for yachts of 500 gross tons or greater. For yachts, these rules can be difficult to meet full compliance as the regulations in SOLAS are predominantly written for internationally trading merchant ships. The major yachting flag states have recognized that yachts in commercial use for sport or pleasure do not fall naturally into a single class, and certain prescribed merchant ship safety standards have been found to be incompatible with the intended use, scope of operations, or safety needs particular to such yachts. Large Yacht Code Because of this, the United Kingdom (MCA) published the first set of rules for yachts over 24 meters. Known as the Large Yacht Code, this publication uses SOLAS as a basis for safety, but provides certain equivalencies and exemptions for yachts.

Currently, in its third edition, the Large Yacht Code (LY3) has become the major standard within the yacht industry. It is used by the United Kingdom and its dependencies (Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Gibraltar, Isle of Man, etc.), plus other major yachting flags including Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Jamaica, Spain, and St. Kitts and Nevis. Other flags have created their own National yacht codes, but they appear to be primarily based upon LY3 or its previous versions. Some Flag states have created an allowance for certain private yachts to charter. This, in many cases, conflict’s with the actual rules. It is a dynamic topic and answers fluctuate depending on the particular flag involved. Commercial certification for a yacht is a difficult process. Maintaining the certification can be an even higher task.

Ocean Time Marine has created a template SMS software that will assist with ISM compliance which has made this part of certification easier. Contact us.

If you are planning on buying an existing vessel, you may need an accurate history of the vessel to help you evaluate the investment potential. Let Maritime Survey Australia carry out a Pre-Purchase Condition survey as part of your due diligence requirements so that you may ascertain the condition of your vessel.

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