Is Your Boat Legal?

All boats over 45ft in length are legally obliged to carry certain items of life-saving and fire-fighting equipment. But very few do.

Here’s something that is causing serious alarm in the boating world ? most motorboats and sailboats over 45ft in length are illegal unless fitted with serious fire-fighting and life-saving equipment. And that means almost all of them.

The recent prosecution of a motor boat owner in Weymouth for failing to comply with regulations regarding safety equipment has thrown the marine industry into a state of confusion. Rodney Shipley was prosecuted by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency not only for smacking his 50ft Birchwood into Portland Breakwater, but for failing to comply with life-saving equipment regulations. Mr Shipley was unaware of any legal requirements regarding life-saving equipment, but that didn’t stop the magistrates from fining him ‘2500 and making him pay a further ‘3500 in costs.

Basically, any motorboat (or sailing boat) 45ft or over becomes a Class XII vessel in the eyes of the Merchant Shipping Act and is therefore legally obliged to conform to certain life-saving and fire-fighting applicances regulations. This applies to private leisure craft, not just charter boats. The legislation is complicated and runs to 140 or so pages, but for any private pleasure craft 45ft and over built between 1985 and 1998 wanting to operate more than three miles offshore all year round, this is what you need to have on your boat (boats newer than 1998 have slightly more stringent requirements, but they’re not significantly different to what you see below):

Mandatory Safety Equipment for Leisure Craft over 13.7 metres (Length is calculated as LOA plus waterline length, divided by two)


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* Liferaft complying as a minimum to the DOT98UK standard (not available in shops, apparently) readily transferrable to either side of the boat and of sufficient size to carry every person on board.

* Lifejackets for all crew members conforming to EN 396 or EN 399, with lights.

* Two lifebuoys, one fitted with a self-activating light and smoke-float. The one with the light and smoke must be a 4kg item, the other can be 2.5 kg. Both must be durable, highly visible and marked with retro reflective tape (the full spec goes on a bit) and marked properly by an approved manufacturer.

* Buoyant throwing line at least 18 metres in length.

* 6 parachute flares.

* Posters located by life-saving appliances showing the operation of said equipment.

* A training manual (a file containing all the instruction leaflets accompanied by a sea survival guide).

* Maintenance manuals for all equipment.

* A copy of the Life Saving Signals SOLAS 1 poster at the steering position.


* A powered or hand-operated pump outside the engine room with a permanent sea connection and a fire hose with a nozzle of no less than 6mm producing a jet of water with a minimum reach of 6 metres which can be directed onto any part of the boat, as well as a spray nozzle.

* Two fire extinguishers, or fire buckets with suitable lanyards. The extinguishers should meet BS5423:1987 and be of a type approved by the MCA with the appropriate extinguishing material.

These regs apply to boats venturing more than 3 miles offshore and in the water between November and April. If you don’t fall into that category then the regs are slightly less stringent, but not by much. Full details of the regs, check out the MCA’s website, specifically:, or check out

This became law on October 29th, 1999 and yet the boat builders, the boat dealers, the press, the British Marine Federation or the Royal Yachting Association were aware that there were legal requirements governing safety and fire-fighting equipment.

The MCA do have the power to board your boat and issue a detention order if you don’t have the right kit on board, and that will prevent you using your boat until it is correctly equipped and a surveyor has “signed it off” as complying to the regs (and that will cost you at least ‘250).

For further details, see the August issue of MBY, on sale on July 4th.


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