For a pleasure yacht to be legally engaged in trade and considered a commercial yacht, she 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 people on board.
In general, 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 force behind nearly all technical standards and legal rules for safety at sea and prevention of pollution by ships. The key rules that affect yachts are the following:
SOLAS – International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea
The SOLAS Convention, in its successive forms, is generally regarded as the most important of all international treaties concerning the safety of merchant ships. 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.
The bulk of 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.
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 is the most important of all global treaties 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 Watchkeeping 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 watchkeeping 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 yachting are the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS), Bureau Veritas (BV), Det Norske Veritas (DNV), Germanischer Lloyd (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.
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 yachts 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.
Because of this, the United Kingdom (through the 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.
Now in its third edition, the Large Yacht Code (LY3) has become the de facto standard within our 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.
Another area of great contention is the allowance for certain private yachts to charter. This is where opinions fluctuate and, in many cases, conflict with the actual rules. It is a dynamic topic and answers fluctuate depending on the particular flag involved.
Many people can attest that achieving commercial certification for a yacht is a difficult process. Some will opine that maintaining the certification is an even higher task. Commercially certifying a yacht has traditionally been a taboo subject for all but the largest of yachts seeking to charter. Breaking this chain of incorrect, pass down, verbal history for “impossibility” is imperative for elevating the quality standard within our industry to the next level.
Capt. Jake DesVergers is chief surveyor for International Yacht Bureau (IYB), an organization that provides flag-state inspection services to yachts on behalf of several administrations. A deck officer graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, he previously sailed as master on merchant ships, acted as designated person for a shipping company, and served as regional manager for an international classification society. Contact him at +1 954-596-2728 or www.yachtbureau.org. Comments on this column are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.