Five minute briefing - MCA Coding

Five minute briefing - MCA Coding and why and who it is important too in sailing, yachts and power boats

MCA codingWhy

  • To operate a boat for skippered or bareboat use usually for commercial gain.
  • To take people afloat who pay more than a reasonable contribution towards the trip.
  • To operate a workboat.

Pleasure or commercial?

When a boat is no longer deemed to be a‘pleasure vessel’, Merchant Shipping Regulations state that it shouldcomply with the certification, survey, safety and manning standards laiddown in the Codes of Practice Small Vessels in Commercial Use for Sportor Pleasure, Workboats and Pilot boats under 24m (known as MGN 280).

When does it apply?

The further a boat operates from a safe haven, the morerisk it is exposed to and the MCA have two definitions of waters;‘categorised waters’ and ‘at sea’. Categorised waters are areas ofsheltered water such as local harbours, lakes and rivers and areclassified by a letter A-D. In these waters local byelaws may apply asto the commercial running of the boat. At sea, is any waters beyondcategorised waters and the Area category is denoted by a number; 0-6 andin these waters MGN 280 applies.

What’s involved?

Boat stability isassessed, usually by calculation, a surveyor checks the boat isstructurally sound and is code compliant.

The boat requiresfitting out and equipping to the standards required in MGN 280. Theboat requires checks by the, skipper, owner, and every few years, asurveyor. A system to manage safety should be in place.

Unlessbareboat chartered, it requires a commercially endorsed skipper andpossibly another crewmember to be on board when it operatescommercially.

How do I go about it?

Contact an MCACertifying Authority such as the RYA. They will send the relevantinformation, forms and inform you of their fees.

The forms required are:
SCV1 Application for Examination
SS1 (Sail) or SMR (Inflatable) or SM1 (Motor) Application for Stability Category
SCV2 Compliance document

How far can I operate?

The distance you are allowed to operatedepends on the boats stability. The first stage of coding is to fill outan Application for Examination and an Application for StabilityCategory Allocation. These should be sent to the RYA. They are analysedand a Stability Category allocated. There are seven area categories:

  • Area Category 6 – To sea, within 3 miles from a nominated departure point(s) named in the certificate and never more than 3 miles from land, in favourable weather and daylight.
  •  Area Category 5 –To sea, within 20 miles from a nominated departure point named in the certificate in favourable weather and daylight.
  • Area Category 4 – Up to 20 miles from a safe haven, infavourable weather and in daylight.
  • Area Category 3 – Up to 20 miles from a safe haven.
  • Area Category 2 – Up to 60 miles from a safe haven.
  • Area Category 1 – Up to 150 miles from a safe haven.
  • Area Category 0 – Unrestricted service.

The area reflected in the Allocated Stability Category is the maximumdistance it can operate commercially. For instance, often a RIB will belucky to get Cat 3, whilst a yacht may get Cat 0, but an owner may onlychoose to operate and equip the boat for Cat 2 waters.

What about the equipment?

Once a Stability Category has beenallocated you will know how far you can use the boat. The equipment andmanning levels increase the further offshore the boat operates. Generalequipment and fit-out requirements stated in MGN 280 refer to allcommercial boats. There are also specific vessel requirements, such aspower or sail and vessels operating in higher categories require moreequipment and more stringent design. The SCV2 Document of Compliance isfilled in by you when equipping the boat.

Survey and certification

A Certifying Authority (CA) surveyor willarrange to inspect the boat using your SCV2. Following successfulsurvey, certificates are issued to the owner and copies of thecertification and code paperwork should be carried on-board.

Codecompliance certificates are valid for five years. Annual, intermediateand renewal surveys are required to keep the vessel compliant. By andlarge, annual surveys often check the vessel against its paperwork;intermediate surveys are physical checks on the equipment and conditionof the vessel, and renewals are a full inspection including out-of-waterinspection.

Safe operation

You require operating procedures to ensure that thevessel operates to within your guidelines and that safety andmaintenance checks are carried out frequently.


When a boat operates commercially it has a manning requirement andcertain certificates of competence are required to operate the boat.Certificates require to be commercially endorsed which entails a seasurvival certificate, medical and completion of the RYA PPR course.

More info:


Pleasure Craft regulations

Commercially endorsed craft


MCA Certifying Authority

MGN 280


Written for the RYA by: Simon Jinks - SeaRegs LLP