Department for Transport




1        MCA Codes of Practice

         1.1     Current Codes

         1.2     Small Commercial Vessel and Pilot Boat Code (SCV Code)

         1.3     Rescue Boat Code of Practice

         1.4     LY2    The Large Commercial Yacht Code

2        Examination and Certification of Code Vessels

         2.1    Requirements for Small Vessels to be Examined and Certified

         2.2    Lists of Certifying Authorities

3        The Large Yacht Unit (ENSIGN)

4        The Vessel Policy Unit

5        Manning Requirements

         5.1    Small Commercial Vessel Code

         5.2    Large Yacht Code

6        Are you Hiring or Chartering a Coded Boat?

         6.1     Code Discs

         6.2     Agency Administrative Listing of Coded Boats

7        Protecting the Public

         7.1     Enforcement by General Inspection

         7.2     Enforcement by Prosecution

1        MCA Codes of Practice

1.1     Current Codes

There are currently five Maritime and Coastguard Agency "Codes of Practice", which can be applied to United Kingdom vessels in commercial use.

YELLOWThe Code of Practice for the Safety of Small Commercial Motor Vessels
BLUEThe Code of Practice for the Safety of Small Commercial Sailing Vessels
BROWNThe Code of Practice for the Safety of Small Workboats and Pilot Boats
REDThe Code of Practice for the Safety of Small Vessels in Commercial Use for Sport or Pleasure operating from a Nominated Departure Point (NDP)
LY2The Large Commercial Yacht Code (please see 1.4)

SMALL VESSELS    -    defined as vessels  up to 24 metres "load line length",


LARGE VESSELS    -    are those of  24 metres "load line length" and over

The Codes contain safety requirements for the vessels and crew of commercially operated vessels, carrying no more than 12 passengers, and are an acceptable alternative to the Merchant Shipping Regulations which would otherwise apply. These Codes are available on request from the Vessel Policy Branch.

Extract from SI 1998/2771 Merchant Shipping (Vessels in Commercial Use for Sport or Pleasure) Regulations;

"pleasure vessel" means-

(a) any vessel which at the time it is being used is:


       (aa) in the case of a vessel wholly owned by an individual or individuals, used only for the sport or pleasure of the owner or the immediate family or friends of the owner; or

       (bb) in the case of a vessel owned by a body corporate, used only for sport or pleasure and on which the persons on board are employees or officers of the body corporate, or their immediate family or friends; and

   (ii) on a voyage or excursion which is one for which the owner does not receive money for or in connection with operating the vessel or carrying any person, other than as a contribution to the direct expenses of the operation of the vessel incurred during the voyage or excursion; or

(b) any vessel wholly owned by or on behalf of a members' club formed for the purpose of sport or pleasure which, at the time it is being used, is used only for the sport or pleasure of members of that club or their immediate family, and for the use of which any charges levied are paid into club funds and applied for the general use of the club; and

(c) in the case of any vessel referred to in paragraphs (a) or (b) above no other payments are made by or on behalf of users of the vessel, other than by the owner.

In this definition "immediate family" means-

in relation to an individual, the spouse or civil partner of the individual, and a relative of the individual or the individual's spouse or civil partner; and "relative" means brother, sister, ancestor or lineal descendant;

1.2    Small Commercial Vessel and Pilot Boat Code (SCV Code)

The MCA has reviewed, and harmonised the existing codes of practice for small vessels. This was not intended as a simple merger of the small vessel codes, but an opportunity to rationalise and update the requirements where appropriate, to ensure that the “harmonised” code would reflect good practice within the industry. It was not intended however, to produce major changes to the philosophy or content of the Codes, or to place retrospective requirements on vessels currently operating commercially.

Stakeholders from all areas of the marine industry, (including designers, builders, regulators and operators) participated in the Working Group charged with this task of harmonisation.  This ensured that the new harmonised code, the “Small Commercial Vessel and Pilot Boat (SCV) Code” remains an “industry-wide” agreed standard. The SCV Code has now been approved for publication and is available for use, as an alternative standard, by all small vessels wishing to be certificated for commercial use through Marine Guidance Note MGN 280 (Adobe Acrobat PDF Document Icon PDF Document 920 KB); or in hard copy, from any of the Agency’s Marine Offices. Full implementation of the SCV Code as a free-standing code, in its own right, will follow the coming into force of a Statutory Instrument (Regulations) and the publication of the code, as a Merchant Shipping Notice.  

1.3    Rescue Boat Code of Practice

The Agency, in co-operation with stakeholders in the voluntary rescue boat sector, through a working group, have developed a “Code for Under 15 metre Open Rescue Boats”. The code is available for download from the MCA website and is publicised in MGN 466 (M). To access the code click here.

1.4    LY2    The Large Commercial Yacht Code

The “Code of Practice for the Safety of Large Commercial Sailing and Motor Vessels”, or LY1, was introduced in 1998. The Code applies to vessels in commercial use for sport or pleasure, which are 24 metres in “load line” length and over. Or, if they were built before July 1968, are 150 gross tons and over, according to the tonnage measurement regulations at that date. Such vessels are not permitted to carry cargo, or more than 12 passengers.

The code sets standards of safety and pollution prevention, which are appropriate to the size and operation of the vessel.  For vessels of this size, standards are normally set by the relevant international conventions.  The Code provides equivalent standards, as permitted by these conventions where it is not reasonable or practical to comply with the prescriptive requirements of the international convention.

As with the Codes for small vessels, it was recognised that LY1 would have to be revised to take account of advances in technology and changes of practice. This revision has taken place in consultation with the Large Yacht Industry. All comments from that consultation have been considered by Working Groups comprising experts from the international large yacht industry.

The new Code, now known as The Large Commercial Yacht Code, or LY2 for short, came into effect on 24th September 2004. LY2 has now been revised and is available as Merchant Shipping Notice MSN 1792 (Adobe Acrobat PDF Document Icon PDF Document 344 KB ). and it's amendment.

The revision process was designed to fine tune the original Code, rather than change the fundamental requirements, and as such the basic philosophy remains the same. It is important, however, to take account of experience gained through its implementation, and note the two major changes outlined below:

In LY1, there was no upper size limit to the Construction and Equipment sections.  However, there is an upper limit of 3000 GT for deck officer qualifications specifically designed for yachts and sail training vessels.  The general view amongst the industry was that any yacht of more than 3000 GT should not be built to the code but in accordance with the relevant IMO Conventions.   Thus, the upper limit for all applications of the code is now 3000 GT. Existing yachts exceeding 3000 GT which are already operating within the code may of course remain within the code.

Yachts exceeding 3000 GT, for which the building contract was signed before 24th September 2004, may still be built to the code.  The code however is intended for genuine yachts and sail training vessels and the Agency will not permit it’s use to be abused by its application to ships for which it was never intended.    If a vessel is realistically beyond the scope of the code, it will not be accepted for survey and certification.

Possibly the most significant change in LY2 is the introduction of the category “Short Range Yacht” for those vessels that cannot, or have no operational need to, meet the ‘Unlimited’ criteria.  This is particularly relevant to high-powered yachts with large engines that do not meet the subdivision and ‘damage survivability’ requirements in relation to engine-room flooding.

The parameters for Short Range Yachts are:-

Less than 300 GT (for new vessels); or Less than 500 GT (for existing vessels); Operation up to 60 miles from a safe haven (this may be increased to 90 miles on specified routes with the agreement of the Administration); and Operation within favourable weather – Force 4 by forecast/actual.

We believe that these yachts will not be unduly hampered in their operations and the weather restriction may actually assist Captains when they seek, for reasons of good seamanship, to avoid rough conditions. Due to the proximity of a safe haven and a reasonable presumption of available assistance, there is also a reduction in the requirements for structural fire protection (a weight-saving that will further benefit high-speed craft). “Short Range Yachts” are also permitted reduced standards of weathertight integrity, such as in sill heights and window specifications.

Additionally, provided that the yacht can demonstrate adequate maneuverability for man-overboard recovery; there is no need for a Rescue Boat to be carried.  However, it is necessary for the person maneuvering the yacht to be able to see the recovery operation whilst maneuvering, although this may be achieved by the use of remote controls.  Recovery should not be over the stern or adjacent to propellers.

2    Examination and Certification of Code Vessels

2.1    Requirements for Small Vessels to be Examined and Certificated

The owner/managing agent of a vessel to be operated under the Code, should:

  • Choose an authorised Certifying Authority and contact them to obtain a copy of the appropriate application form for examination/survey
  • Complete the form and return it to the Certifying Authority with an advance of fees (when requested);
  • Arrange with the Certifying Authority for the vessel to be examined by an authorised person and documented in the appropriate report form for a Compliance Examination.
  • Be in receipt of a valid certificate for the vessel prior to it entering into service.

2.2     Lists of Certifying Authorities
Lists of MCA approved Certifying Authorities, and the appropriate contact details, can be found in MIN 421(M).  

3    The Large Yacht Unit (ENSIGN)

The MCA Code is now established as the world-wide standard for Large Yachts. To support this the MCA has formed 'Ensign' - a dedicated business unit based in Newcastle, to provide a streamlined and customer focused service to the large yacht industry. Ensign may carry out surveys in accordance with LY1 or LY2 on UK, other Red Ensign or any other flag of yacht. Manning issues are retained by the Seafarers Standards Branch at MCA Headquarters in Southampton.  For Manning questions please call +44 (0)23 80 329 231 or go to

ENSIGN was officially launched at the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show in October 2001. For further information please contact a member of staff at ENSIGN on the genreal enquiries tel no: +44 (0)191 496 9917 or email

4    The Vessel Policy Branch

As of July 2008 Codes vessel work is undertaken within the Vessel Policy Branch of the MCA. However, there will remain a dedicated team specializing in code matters within the branch. The main function of this team, based in MCA Headquarters in Southampton is to provide policy, interpretation and technical advice on the codes of practice for commercial vessels. This is achieved through internal liaison, and most importantly, through working with industry, the aim being to provide consistent and up-to-date advice on all survey aspects, and ensure that code standards are upheld and developed.

5    Manning Requirements

5.1    Small Commercial Vessel Code

Vessels certified under a Code of Practice will be assigned an Area Category for their operation. For each category, there are required qualifications for the skipper and in some instances the crew. These qualifications are listed in the respective Code.

It is the responsibility of the owner/skipper to ensure that the relevant requirements are met and category limits adhered to.

Should lower qualifications be held, then the vessel should only operate in the lesser Area Category to which those lower qualifications are appropriate.

5.2    Large Yacht Code

Manning Scales for Large Commercial Yacht and Sail Training Vessels are listed in the Code. Details of Officer Certification for Deck & Engineer Officers and ratings are contained in MSN 1802 (M) and MGN 156 (M) and MGN 270 (M) respectively.

6    Are you Hiring or Chartering a Coded Boat?

6.1    Code Discs

Increasingly Code Stickers or Discs, similar to Road Tax Discs for road vehicles are being used to readily identify “coded” vessels.  It is intended, in time that the whole fleet of small “coded” vessels will be identified in this way. The currency of the discs will be indicated by the colour of the disc which will be changed each year.

6.2    Agency Administrative Listing of Coded Boats

To check if a vessel complies with one of the Codes of Practice please contact the Vessel Policy Branch by phone or by email at and mark the email subject as “Code Vessel Compliance Check”.

7    Protecting the Public

7.1    Enforcement by General Inspection

The Agency has developed a significant inspection resource across the country comprising trained inspectors and a fleet of patrol boats capable of interception at sea and the boarding of suspect vessels. The MCA had 8 new boats come into service from November 2002 to January 2003 and the possibility of expanding this fleet is currently under review.  Checks are conducted on the currency of code vessel survey and certification records, on the appropriateness of certification for actual use and that boats are being operation within the Area Operation Category for which the boat is certified.  Vessels can be served with an improvement notice or detained under the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Acts.

The Agency’s Business Plan commits the organisation to 500 inspections per year. The Agency’s inspection strategy is progressively being extended abroad to areas where UK boats are known to operate. The presence of the Agency’s inspectors helps to educate boat owners and ensure that less scrupulous operators are identified and dealt with in an appropriate manner.

In addition to confirming that authorised Certification Authorities are properly representing the Agency these General Inspections assure bon fide operators that their commitment to the Coded Vessel Scheme is well placed

7.2    Enforcement by Prosecution

In circumstances where inspection identifies illegal operations, the Agency’s Enforcement Branch will be notified and the Agency's enforcement policy will be followed. In the case of persistent and serious offenders, the enforcement branch takes the lead in preparing the casework for prosecution by the Crown Prosecution Service.

Courts hand down strict penalties for unlicensed operations. Documentation of prosecutions can be found on our website by clicking on the following link:

Anyone wishing to report the suspected illegal activity of a Small Commercial Vessel should contact the Vessel Policy Branch by phone or by e-mail to

Further information may be obtained from:
Vessel Policy Branch
Maritime and Coastguard Agency
Bay 2/30
Spring Place
105 Commercial Road
SO15 1EG

Tel: +44 (0)23 8032 9115
Fax: +44 (0)23 8032 9161