Recreational Craft Directive (RCD) Consultancy

Our useful guide explains the history of the Recreational Craft Directive, what is covered by the scope of the directive and what to look out for.  


The original RCD, 94/25/EC came into force on 16 June 1996 and became mandatory from 15 June 1998.  In 2003 this was amended by Directive 2003/44/EC, which introduced new noise and exhaust emission requirements.

The current directive 2013/53/EU, known as the Recreational Craft Directive II, became mandatory on 18 January 2017 following a one year transition period, replacing directives 94/25/EC and 2003/44/EC.  The Directive has been implemented into UK law with effect from 3 August 2017 by way of the Recreational Craft Regulations 2017.

The main reason for the revision of the Directive was to introduce stricter exhaust limits.  This tightening up of the limits aims to help improve the environment, especially in marinas and coastal areas.

RCD II also introduced a significant number of changes to the Essential Requirements, greater clarity of the responsibilities of those who supply watercraft and more stringent requirements relating to notified bodies that perform conformity assessment.


The products covered by the Regulations are as follows:

  • Recreational craft and partly completed recreational craft which are watercraft excluding personal watercraft intended for sports and leisure purposes of hull length from 2.5m to 24m regardless of the means of propulsion.
  • Personal watercraft (e.g. jet skis) and partly completed personal watercraft, which are watercraft for sports and leisure purposes of less than 4m in hull length which use a propulsion engine having a water jet pump as its primary source of propulsion and designed to be operated by a person or persons sitting, standing or kneeling on, rather than within the confines of the hull.
  • Components of watercraft listed in Schedule 2 of the Regulations.
  • Propulsion engines.

There are a number of exclusions from the Regulations including:

  • Watercraft intended solely for racing.
  • Canoes and kayaks designed to be propelled solely by human power.
  • Submersibles e.g. submarines.
  • Aircushion vehicles e.g. hovercraft.
  • Amphibious vehicles.

Recreational craft meeting one or more of the following criteria are exempt from the RCD:

  • Built in the EEA prior to 16 June 1998.
  • In use in the EEA prior to 16 June 1998.
  • Visiting the EEA for reasons of tourism or in transit (time scales are undefined).

What to look out for

Watercraft Identification Number (WIN)

Previously known under RCD I as the ‘hull’ and then ‘craft’ identification number (HIN and CIN respectively), the WIN provides the country code of the manufacturer, unique code of the manufacturer, unique serial number, month and year of production and model year.  The 14 character WIN  is found in two places; one is visible, usually on or near the transom on the starboard side, whilst the second is marked in a hidden part of the vessel, known only to the manufacturer as a security check.

Builder’s Plate

Recreational craft must be ‘CE Marked’ by way of a Builder’s Plate, which is usually fixed at the helm console or in the cockpit area. The plate will provide the following information:

  • Manufacturer’s name.
  • Manufacturer’s contact address.
  • CE mark.
  • Design category.
  • The manufacturer’s maximum recommended load.
  • The number people the boat is designed to carry when underway.
  • In the case of post construction assessment, the contact details of the notified body which has carried out the conformity assessment are included in place of those of the manufacturer and the words ‘post-construction assessment’ are also included.

Owner’s Manual

All RCD compliant craft must be supplied with an Owner’s Manual.  The content of the Owner’s Manual is defined by ISO 10240 with additional content dictated as applicable in the harmonised standards for each of the essential safety requirements.  This must provide the minimum required content information necessary for safe use of the product drawing particular attention to set up, maintenance, regular operation, prevention of risks and risk management.

In the case of post construction assessments it may be necessary to write a supplement to the Owner’s manual to cover the necessary details.

RCD Declaration of Conformity (DoC)

A vessel must be provided with a Declaration of Conformity at the time of being placed onto the market or put into service in the EU.  This is usually 2-3 pages in length and details the vessel particulars, design category, assessment type and Notified Body completing the assessment.  This also includes the WIN number, which must match the one marked on the yacht.  The essential safety requirements are then listed with a tick box list and details of all standards that have been complied with and any alternative means of assessment that have been applied.

Modification of Existing Vessels

Under RCD II there is clearer guidance on the rules relating to modification and conversion of existing vessel and states that “a conversion of a watercraft which changes the means of propulsion of the watercraft, involves a major engine modification, or alters the watercraft to such an extent that it may not meet the applicable essential safety and environmental requirements laid down in this Directive.”

It is the legal responsibility of the person that places a vessel back on the market or into service after a major craft modification or conversion to apply the Post Construction Assessment (PCA) conformity procedure before doing so.

Obligations of Manufacturers, Authorised Representatives, Importers, Distributors and Private Importers

The obligations of each party involved in the process of placing watercraft on the market or into service in the EU are summarised in this guide


A. Essential Requirements For The Design And Construction Of Recreational Craft

  1. Watercraft Design Categories
Design Category Wind force (Beaufort scale) Significant wave height

(H 1/3, metres)

A – `Ocean’ exceeding 8 exceeding 4
B – `Offshore’ up to, and including, 8 up to, and including, 4
C – `Inshore’ up to, and including, 6 up to, and including, 2
D – `Sheltered waters’ up to, and including, 4 up to, and including, 0.3



  1. General Requirements

2.1. Watercraft Identification

Each craft shall be marked with an identification number including the following information:

  • Manufacturer’s code.
  • Country of manufacture.
  • Unique serial number.
  • Year of production.
  • Model year.

2.2. Watercraft Builder’s Plate

Each craft shall carry a permanently affixed plate mounted separately from the boat hull identification number, containing the following information:

  • Manufacturer’s name.
  • CE marking.
  • Boat design category according to section 1.
  • Manufacturer’s maximum recommended load excluding weight of the contents of the fixed tanks when full.
  • Number of persons recommended by the manufacturer for which the boat was designed to carry when under way.

2.3. Protection From Falling Overboard And Means Of Reboarding

Depending on the design category, craft shall be designed to minimise the risks of falling overboard and to facilitate reboarding.

2.4. Visibility From The Main Steering Position

For motor boats, the main steering position shall give the operator, under normal conditions of use (speed and load), good all-round visibility.

2.5. Owner’s Manual

Each product shall be provided with an owner’s manual in accordance with Article 7(7) and Article 9(4). That manual shall provide all the information necessary for safe use of the product drawing particular attention to set up, maintenance, regular operation, prevention of risks and risk management.

  1. Integrity And Structural Requirements

 3.1. Structure

The choice and combination of materials and its construction shall ensure that the craft is strong enough in all respects. Special attention shall be paid to the design category according to section 1, and the manufacturer’s maximum recommended load in accordance with section 3.6.

3.2. Stability and freeboard

The craft shall have sufficient stability and freeboard considering its design category according to section 1 and the manufacturer’s maximum recommended load according to section 3.6.

3.3. Buoyancy and flotation

The watercraft shall be constructed to ensure that it has buoyancy characteristics appropriate to its design category, and the manufacturer’s maximum recommended load according to section 3.6. All habitable multihull craft shall be so designed as to have sufficient buoyancy to remain afloat in the inverted position.

Watercraft of less than six metres in length that are susceptible to swamping when used in their design category shall be provided with appropriate means of flotation in the swamped condition.

3.4. Openings in hull, deck and superstructure

Openings in hull, deck(s) and superstructure shall not impair the structural integrity of the craft or its weathertight integrity when closed.

Windows, portlights, doors and hatchcovers shall withstand the water pressure likely to be encountered in their specific position, as well as point loads applied by the weight of persons moving on deck.

Through hull fittings designed to allow water passage into the hull or out of the hull, below the waterline corresponding to the manufacturer’s maximum recommended load according to section 3.6, shall be fitted with shutoff means which shall be readily accessible.

3.5. Flooding

All watercraft shall be designed so as to minimize the risk of sinking. Particular attention should be paid where appropriate to:

  • Cockpits and wells, which should be self-draining or have other means of keeping water out of the boat.
  • Interior.
  • Ventilation fittings.
  • Removal of water by pumps or other means.

3.6. Manufacturer’s maximum recommended load

The manufacturer’s maximum recommended load (fuel, water, provisions, miscellaneous equipment and people (in kg)) for which the boat was designed shall be determined according to the design category, stability and freeboard (section 3.2) and buoyancy and flotation (section 3.3).

3.7. Liferaft stowage

All craft of categories A and B, and craft of categories C and D longer than six metres shall be provided with one or more stowage points for a liferaft(s) large enough to hold the number of persons the boat was designed to carry as recommended by the manufacturer. Life raft stowage point(s) shall be readily accessible at all times.

3.8. Escape

All habitable multihull recreational craft susceptible of inversion shall be provided with viable means of escape in the event of inversion. Where there is a means of escape provided for use in the inverted position, it shall not compromise the structure (point 3.1), the stability (point 3.2) or buoyancy (point 3.3) whether the recreational craft is upright or inverted.

Every habitable recreational craft shall be provided with viable means of escape in the event of fire.

3.9. Anchoring, mooring and towing

All watercraft, taking into account their design category and their characteristics
shall be fitted with one or more strong points or other means capable of safely accepting anchoring, mooring and towing loads.

  1. Handling Characteristics

The manufacturer shall ensure that the handling characteristics of the watercraft are satisfactory with the most powerful propulsion engine for which the watercraft is designed and constructed. For all propulsion engines, the maximum rated engine power shall be declared in the owner’s manual.

  1. Installation Requirements

 5.1. Engines and engine compartments

5.1.1. Inboard engine

All inboard mounted engines shall be placed within an enclosure separated from living quarters and installed so as to minimize the risk of fires or spread of fires as well as hazards from toxic fumes, heat, noise or vibrations in the living quarters.


Engine parts and accessories that require frequent inspection and/or servicing shall be readily accessible.

The insulating materials inside engine spaces shall be non-combustible.

5.1.2. Ventilation

The engine compartment shall be ventilated. The dangerous ingress of water into the engine compartment through all inlets must be prevented.

5.1.3. Exposed parts

Unless the engine is protected by a cover or its own enclosure, exposed moving or hot parts of the engine that could cause personal injury shall be effectively shielded.

5.1.4. Outboard engines starting

All boats with outboard engines shall have a device to prevent starting the engine in gear, except:

  • When the engine produces less than 500 newtons (N) of static thrust.
  • When the engine has a throttle limiting device to limit thrust to 500 N at the time of starting the engine.

5.1.5. Personal watercraft running without driver

Personal watercraft shall be designed either with an automatic engine cut-off or with an automatic device to provide reduced speed, circular, forward movement when the driver dismounts deliberately or falls overboard.

5.1.6.  Tiller-controlled outboard propulsion engines

Tiller-controlled outboard propulsion engines shall be equipped with an emergency stopping device which can be linked to the helmsman.

5.2. Fuel system

5.2.1. General

The filling, storage, venting and fuel-supply arrangements and installations shall be designed and installed so as to minimize the risk of fire and explosion.

5.2.2. Fuel tanks

Fuel tanks, lines and hoses shall be secured and separated or protected from any source of significant heat. The material the tanks are made of and their method of construction shall be according to their capacity and the type of fuel.

All tank spaces shall be ventilated.

Petrol fuel shall be kept in tanks which do not form part of the hull and are:

  • Insulated from the engine compartment and from all other source of ignition.
  • Separated from living quarters.

Diesel fuel may be kept in tanks that are integral with the hull.

5.3. Electrical system

Electrical systems shall be designed and installed so as to ensure proper operation of the watercraft under normal.

conditions of use and shall be such as to minimise risk of fire and electric shock.

All electrical circuits, except engine starting circuits supplied from batteries, shall remain safe when exposed to overload.

Electric propulsion circuits shall not interact with other circuits in such a way that either would fail to operate as intended.

Ventilation shall be provided to prevent the accumulation of explosive gases which might be emitted from batteries. Batteries shall be firmly secured and protected from ingress of water.

5.4. Steering system

5.4.1. General

Steering systems shall be designed, constructed and installed in order to allow the transmission of steering loads under foreseeable operating conditions.

5.4.2. Emergency arrangements

Every sailing recreational craft and single-propulsion engine non-sailing recreational craft with remote-controlled.

rudder steering systems shall be provided with emergency means of steering the recreational craft at reduced speed.

5.5. Gas system

Gas systems for domestic use shall be of the vapour-withdrawal type and shall be designed and installed so as to avoid leaks and the risk of explosion and be capable of being tested for leaks. Materials and components shall be suitable for the specific gas used to withstand the stresses and exposures found in the marine environment.

Each gas appliance intended by the manufacturer for the application for which it is used shall be so installed in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Each gas-consuming appliance must be supplied by a separate branch of the distribution system, and each appliance must be controlled by a separate closing device. Adequate ventilation must be provided to prevent hazards from leaks and products of combustion.

All watercraft with a permanently installed gas system shall be fitted with an enclosure to contain all gas cylinders. The enclosure shall be separated from the living quarters, accessible only from the outside and ventilated to the outside so that any escaping gas drains overboard.

In particular, any permanently installed gas system shall be tested after installation.

5.6. Fire protection

5.6.1. General

The type of equipment installed and the layout of the watercraft shall take account of the risk and spread of fire. Special attention shall be paid to the surroundings of open flame devices, hot areas or engines and auxiliary machines, oil and fuel overflows, uncovered oil and fuel pipes and routing of electrical wiring in particular away from heat sources and hot areas.

5.6.2. Fire-fighting equipment

Recreational craft shall be supplied with fire-fighting equipment appropriate to the fire hazard, or the position and capacity of fire-fighting equipment appropriate to the fire hazard shall be indicated. The craft shall not be put into service until the appropriate fire-fighting equipment is in place. Petrol engine compartments shall be protected by a fire extinguishing system that avoids the need to open the compartment in the event of fire. Where fitted, portable fire extinguishers shall be readily accessible and one shall be so positioned that it can easily be reached from the main steering position of the recreational craft.

5.7. Navigation lights

Where navigation lights, shapes and sound signals are fitted, they shall comply with the 1972 COLREG (The International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea) or CEVNI (European Code for Interior Navigations for inland waterways) Regulations as appropriate.

5.8. Discharge prevention and installations facilitating the delivery ashore of waste

Watercraft shall be constructed so as to prevent the accidental discharge of pollutants (oil, fuel, etc.) overboard.

Any toilet fitted in a recreational craft shall be connected solely to a holding tank system or water treatment system.

Recreational craft with installed holding tanks shall be fitted with a standard discharge connection to enable pipes of reception facilities to be connected with the recreational craft discharge pipeline.

In addition, any through-the-hull pipes for human waste shall be fitted with valves which are capable of being secured in the closed position.

  1. Essential Requirements For Exhaust Emissions From Propulsion Engines

Propulsion engines shall comply with the following essential requirements for exhaust emissions.

  1. Propulsion Engine Identification

1.1.Each engine shall be clearly marked with the following information:

  • Engine manufacturer’s name, registered trade name or registered trade mark and contact address; and, if applicable, the name and contact address of the person adapting the engine.
  • Engine type, engine family, if applicable.
  • A unique engine serial number.
  • CE marking, if required under Article 18.

1.2.The marks referred to in point 1.1 must be durable for the normal life of the engine and must be clearly legible and indelible. If labels or plates are used, they must be attached in such a manner that the fixing is durable for the normal life of the engine, and the labels/plates cannot be removed without destroying or defacing them.

1.3.These marks must be secured to an engine part necessary for normal engine operation and not normally requiring replacement during the engine life.

1.4.These marks must be located so as to be readily visible to the average person after the engine has been assembled with all the components necessary for engine operation.

  1. Exhaust Emission Requirements

Propulsion engines shall be designed, constructed and assembled so that when correctly installed and in normal use, emissions shall not exceed the limit values declared by the directive.

  1. Durability

The manufacturer of the engine shall supply engine installation and maintenance instructions, which if applied should mean that the engine in normal use will continue to comply with the limits set out in points 2.1 and 2.2 throughout the normal life of the engine and under normal conditions of use.

This information shall be obtained by the engine manufacturer by use of prior endurance testing, based on normal operating cycles, and by calculation of component fatigue so that the necessary maintenance instructions may be prepared by the manufacturer and issued with all new engines when first placed on the market.

The normal life of the engine is as follows:

  • For CI engines: 480 hours of operation or 10 years, whichever occurs first;
  • For SI inboard or stern drive engines with or without integral exhaust:
    • for the engine category <373 kW: 480 hours of operation or 10 years, whichever occurs first.
    • for engines in the category 373 kW to 485 kW: 150 hours of operation or three years, whichever occurs first.
    • for the engine category >485 kW: 50 hours of operation or one year, whichever occurs first.
  • Personal watercraft engines: 350 hours of operation or five years, whichever occurs first;
  • Outboard engines: 350 hours of operation or 10 years, whichever occurs first
  1. Owner’s Manual

Each engine shall be provided with an owner’s manual in a language or languages which can be easily understood by consumers and other end-users, as determined by the Member State in which the engine is to be marketed.

The Owner’s manual shall:

  • Provide instructions for the installation and maintenance needed to assure the proper functioning of the engine to meet the requirements of paragraph 3, (Durability).
  • Specify the power of the engine when measured in accordance with the harmonised standard.
  1. Essential Requirements For Noise Emissions

Recreational craft with inboard or stern drive engines without integral exhaust, personal watercraft and outboard engines and stern drive engines with integral exhaust shall comply with the following essential requirements for noise emissions.

  1. Noise Emission Levels

1.1.Recreational craft with inboard or stern drive engines without integral exhaust, personal watercraft and outboard engines and stern drive engines with integral exhaust shall be designed, constructed and assembled so that noise emissions measured in accordance with tests defined in the harmonised standard shall not exceed the limit values set by the directive.

1.2As an alternative to sound measurement tests, recreational craft with inboard engine configuration or stern drive engine configuration, without integral exhaust, shall be deemed to comply with these noise requirements if they have a Froude number of 1.1 and a power displacement ration of 40 and where the engine and exhaust system are installed in accordance with the engine manufacturer’s specifications.

1.3“Froude number” shall be calculated by dividing the maximum boat speed V (m/s) by the square root of the waterline length lwl (m), multiplied by a given gravitational constant, (g = 9,8 m/s2).

“Power displacement ratio” shall be calculated by dividing the engine power P (kW) by the boat’s displacement D (t).

  1. Owner’s Manual

For recreational craft with inboard engine or stern engines with or without integral exhaust and personal watercraft, the Owner’s Manual required under Annex 1.A Section 2.5, shall include information necessary to maintain the craft and exhaust system in a condition that, insofar as is practicable, will ensure compliance with the specified noise limit values when in normal use.

For outboard engines, the Owner’s Manual required under Annex 1.B.4 shall provide instructions necessary to maintain the outboard engine in a condition, that insofar as is practicable, will ensure compliance with the specified noise limit values when in normal use.

  1. Durability

The provisions on the durability in Section 3 of Part B shall apply mutatis mutandis to the compliance with the requirements on noise emissions set out in Section 1 of this part.

How we can help

Our surveyors possess a wealth of knowledge regarding the RCD and assist importers and home builders in achieving conformity with the directive so that vessels may be put into service or placed on the market within the EU.

As Notified Body approved assessors, we are able to assist with new build compliance assessments to construct the technical file approval. We also conduct Post Construction Assessments on vessels imported into the EU and apply the CE mark to the vessel for legal use in the EU.

The depth and scope of inspections ranges depending on the type of vessel and category of assessment, but typically the process will involve an initial inspection to identify any non-conformities, which can then be addressed ahead of a final sign off inspection.

This process can be relatively fast, following our inspections and appraisal of the vessel, our paperwork is submitted to the Notified Body and typically the documentation is returned within 3-4 days.  We will also arrange for CIN and builder’s plates to be produced and affix them to the vessel if required.

With experience in all areas of small craft surveying, including expert witness investigation into the RCD compliance of new build vessels, assisting home builders to achieve compliance and inspection of new build vessels at factories across Europe and beyond, we are well placed to offer advice on any project.

Due to the unique nature of every project please contact our office to discuss the survey process and your specific requirements.

We are here to help

Get in touch

Please do not hesitate to contact our surveyors for further information or a quotation. Email us at [email protected] or call +44 (0)2380 659350