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Recreational Craft Directive (RCD)

The information on this page has not been updated to include changes resulting from the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020.

A guide to the UK Recreational Craft Regulations and the EU Recreational Craft Directive is being prepared and will be published as soon as possible.

If you are buying a boat or personal watercraft you will need to establish whether or not it should be RCD compliant. This is especially important if it does not have a builder’s plate/CE marking.

All watercraft built since 16 June 1998 and intended for sport and leisure use, may only be placed on the market or put into service within the European Union (EU) and European Economic Area (EEA) if it can be  demonstrated that they comply with the Essential Requirements specified in the Recreational Craft Directive (RCD). This is called conformity assessment.

Watercraft includes recreational craft and personal watercraft.

Scope of the RCD

Directive 2013/53/EU is intended to harmonise construction standards for watercraft, as well as regulate exhaust and noise emissions.

The RCD applies to the design and manufacture of watercraft between 2.5 and 24 metres in hull length whatever the means of propulsion; it does not cover operation. All watercraft within the scope of the Directive are assessed for compliance with the Essential Requirements and dependant on their design and construction, are allocated to one of four design categories based on wind force and significant wave height.

The presence of a CE mark is an indication that the watercraft conforms to the Essential Requirements and allows it to be sold anywhere in the EU. A watercraft built elsewhere in the world which is intended to be placed on the market or put into service in the Community must also comply with the Essential Requirements of the RCD.

Generally, the manufacturer is responsible for compliance of a product and its CE marking. However, all operators involved in the supply chain, including importers and distributors, have a duty to check the RCD status of a product and should not supply it within the EU or the EEA if there is any reason to doubt it is compliant.  Under certain circumstances the Directive places obligations on private importers which are the same as those of the manufacturer (Article 12).

Establishing RCD Compliance or Exemption

When buying a watercraft you should establish whether or not it needs to comply with the RCD.

A watercraft needs to comply with the RCD if it was/is:

  • first placed on the EEA market after 16 June 1998; or
  • put into service in the EEA after 16 June 1998 (whether manufactured in the EEA or  imported from outside the EEA); or
  • a home built boat placed on the market within five years of completion; or
  • imported from a third country without CE marking; or
  • a major craft conversion (e.g. an experimental or racing boat being reassessed for compliance with the RCD)

A boat does not need to comply with the RCD if it was/is:

  • built in the EEA prior to 16 June 1998; or
  • in use in the EEA prior to 16 June 1998; or 
  • only visiting the EEA for reasons of tourism or in transit (time scales are undefined); or
  • an exemption listed below.

A craft is exempted from the RCD if is one of the following:

  • watercraft intended solely for racing, including rowing racing boats and training rowing boats labelled as such by the manufacturer; or
  • canoe and kayak, gondola or pedalo designed to be propelled solely by human power; or
  • surfboards designed solely to be propelled by wind and to be operated by a person or persons standing; or
  • surfboards; or
  • original, and individual replica of a historical craft designed before 1950, built predominantly with the original materials and labelled as such by the manufacturer; or
  • experimental watercraft, provided it is not subsequently placed on the Community market; or
  • watercraft built for own use, provided it is not subsequently placed on the Community market during a period of five years; or
  • watercraft specifically intended to be crewed and to carry passengers for commercial purposes, regardless of the number of passengers; or
  • submersible; or
  • air cushion vehicle; or
  • hydrofoil; or
  • external combustion steam powered watercraft, fuelled by coal, coke, wood, oil or gas; or
  • amphibious vehicle, i.e. wheeled or track-laying motor vehicle, which is able to operate both on water and on solid land. 


The European Economic Area (EEA) allows the EEA EFTA States (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) to participate in the Internal Market on the basis of their application of Internal Market relevant acquis.

The exclusion for powered surfboards or similar powered craft does not exclude Personal Water Craft /Jet skis which became subject to the RDC as from 1 January 2006.

Recreational craft which are crewed and are used for sports and/or leisure purposes must be compliant with the Directive and do not fall within the exemption for 'Craft specifically intended to be crewed and to carry passengers for commercial purposes, regardless of the number of passengers'.

What to look out for

Identification Number

All RCD compliant boats are marked with a Watercraft Identification Number (WIN), (formerly a Craft Identification Number (CIN) and before that a Hull Identification number (HIN)) which provides the country code of the manufacturer, unique code of the manufacturer assigned by the national authority of the Member State, unique serial number, month and year of production and model year. 

Owner's Manual

All RCD compliant craft must be supplied with an Owner’s Manual. The Owner’s Manual must 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.

Builder's Plate

A Builder’s Plate must be affixed to all RCD compliant watercraft. The Builder’s Plate includes:

  • the CE Mark (a mark used to indicate product conformity for supply in the EU and the EEA)
  • the Manufacturer’s name and contact address,
  • the design category,
  • the manufacturer’s maximum recommended load
  • and the number people the boat is designed to carry when under way.

The CE marking must be in a ‘visible, legible and indelible form’.

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.  

Importation of vessels into the EU by private individuals

The import of recreational craft and personal watercraft from third countries to the Union by natural or legal persons established within the Union is a specific feature of the recreational craft sector. Directive 94/25/EC contained a small number of provisions which apply or could be deemed as applying to private importers as regards post construction assessment. Article 12 of Directive 2013/53/EU clarifies the obligations of private importers which in principle are harmonised with those of manufacturers, with some exceptions related to the non-commercial nature of a private importers activity.

Article 3(17) of Directive 2013/53/EU now defines a private importer as any natural or legal person established within the Union who imports in the course of a non-commercial activity a product from a third country into the Union with the intention of putting it into service for his own use. The concept of private importer that did not exist under the old Recreational Craft Directive.

Article 12 provides the detailed list of the private importer’s obligations. In short it makes it quite clear that if a manufacturer does not fulfil the responsibilities for the conformity of the product with the Directive, a private importer, before putting the product into service, shall ensure that it does by applying the applicable conformity assessment procedure set out in Article 19(2).

Article 19(2) of Directive 2013/53/EU makes it clear that a private importer shall apply the post construction assessment procedure referred to in Article 23 before putting into service a product that falls within its scope if the manufacturer has not carried out the conformity assessment for the product concerned.

The RYA strongly recommends that private importers buy products for which the original manufacturer has fulfilled his responsibilities for the conformity of the product in accordance with Article 7 of the Directive. Not only will this save time and possibly a lot of money, it guarantees that it will be a safe and compliant product.

In the long term this new obligation should limit the number of “grey” vessels on the market whilst ensuring the responsible person has a legal responsibility to ensure compliance.

Modification of second hand boats

The have been some changes to the rules applicable to craft that undergo a Major Craft Conversion, together with a better definition of what this actually means. The scope of the Directive 2013/53/EU now specifically applies to any watercraft that is subject to Major Craft Conversion (Article 2.1(f)). Major Craft Conversion is defined in Article 3(7) of the Directive and means: 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.

Article 19(3) of Directive 2013/53/EU places a responsibility on anyone undertaking a Major Craft Modification and states that:  Any person placing on the market or putting into service a propulsion engine or a watercraft after a major modification or conversion thereof, or any person changing the intended purpose of a watercraft not covered by this Directive in a way that it falls under its scope, shall apply the procedure referred to in Article 23 before placing the product on the market or putting it into service.

Article 23 sets out the equivalent conformity assessment based on post-construction assessment (Module PCA) which is provided in Annex V of Directive 2013/53/EU.

What does this mean?

This means that any CE marked vessel* that undergoes a Major Craft Conversion must undergo a Module PCA assessment before being placed back on the market or put into service (whichever is the earlier). The legal responsibility for this is placed on the person who is placing the vessel back on the market or putting it back into service after the Major Craft Conversion has been carried out.

The RYA would advise anyone considering converting a watercraft within the meaning of Major Craft Conversion to as a minimum to ensure that they are aware of their responsibilities under the Directive with reference to “Major Craft Conversion”.

We would also advise all those who carry out work, all repairs, equipment/system modifications and upgrades on CE marked watercraft to ensure they are carried out to existing standards and make owners aware of their responsibilities under the new directive.

*Vessels certified to:
Directive 94/25/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 June 1994 as amended by Directive 2003/44/EC; or
Directive 2013/53/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 November 2013 on recreational craft and personal watercraft and repealing Directive 94/25/EC.

Post construction assessment

If the boat does not have a builder’s plate/CE marking you will need to establish whether or not it should be RCD compliant. If it should be RCD compliant then you will need a Post Construction Assessment carried out. The legal requirement for this is set out in Article 19 of the Directive and the procedure is laid down in Annex V.

If the boat is exempt from the RCD then you should get documentary evidence to prove this in case you are asked for such proof at a later date.

A boat which is not exempt from the RCD, but which is not CE marked for whatever reason – such as a boat which was manufactured outside the EEA which is being imported into the EEA (which is not only visiting the EEA for reasons of tourism or in transit) – will need a post construction assessment (which may result in significant modifications) in order for the boat to be certified RCD compliant.

A post construction assessment for a non-compliant vessel which is imported from a third country can only be applied for by private importers. A post construction assessment can be arranged through a Notified Body.

Details of Notified Bodies are listed on the EU Commission website. (In the left hand menu select 'Country' , then choose 'United Kingdom', the in the dropdown list choose '2013/53/EU Recreational Craft and Watercraft' to see a list of Notified Bodies for the RCD in the UK).


The first Recreational Craft Directive 94/25/EC which was amended by Directive 2003/44/EC ceased to apply on 18 January 2017. Directive 2013/53/EU, came into force on 18 January 2016 and following a year's transition period has entirely replaced Directives 94/25/EC and 2003/44/EC.

The current RCD, Directive 2013/53/EU is sometimes referred to as RCD2 or WCD to differentiate it from its predecessors.

Directive 2013/53/EU introduced a significant number of changes to the Essential Requirements, stricter exhaust emissions, greater clarity of the responsibilities of those who supply watercraft, a more comprehensive section on definitions and more stringent requirements relating to notified bodies that perform conformity assessment. The scope of the Directive remains unchanged.

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