Claims that simple boat modifications will invalidate RCD are "wide of the mark"

Fears that simple modifications to a boat may invalidate its compliance with the Recreational Craft Directive appear to be wide of the mark.

The panic began when Yachting World’s Elaine Bunting wrote in her blog that the EU had ruled that you could no longer modify your boat without voiding its RCD, which included the fitting of autopilots.

She was writing after reading a report about the sinking of an Irish yacht called Megawat in May 2005, in which Ireland’s Marine Casualty Investigation Board reproduces a letter from the European Commission suggesting that a product that “has been subject to important changes after it has been put into service” may qualify as a new product, and therefore require new RCD certification.

But the EC told MBM this afternoon that there had been no new ruling, and all the details concerning the above have been available online since 2000. The Commission also said that saying an autopilot could invalidate a boat’s RCD code was misleading.

“The Commission’s guidance can’t cover in detail all cases; modifications affecting compliance with the RCD’s essential requirements need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis,” the Commission speaker told MBM.

“But I don’t think that fitting an autopilot, if done properly and according to the manufacturer’s instructions, would be considered as a substantial modification to a CE marked boat, unless it would impact on the directive’s essential requirement concerning the steering system’s capability of transmitting the steering loads under foreseeable operating conditions.”

Confused? You’re not alone.

MBM also spoke to marine insurers Navigators & General, and the good news is that even if the RCD coding was invalidated by significant modifications, insurance policies would unlikely be affected.

“The main warranty that is relevant in this case is that the vessel should be in a ‘seaworthy condition’. If therefore, a minor modification was made that invalidated the RCD, but the craft remained in a seaworthy condition then the insurance would not be affected,” the firm’s Richard Coleman said.

Nevertheless, in most cases it is illegal to sell a boat in the EU that is not RCD compliant. So the upshot of all this is that if you’re a hardcore DIYer, and you are looking to sell your boat, it might be a good idea to have it checked out to see if it still complies with the RCD.