IMO Guidelines for the Security of Pleasure Craft

Guidance from the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

The security threat posed by vessels that fall outside the scope of the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS Code) and SOLAS chapter XI-2, including pleasure craft, was deemed to be significant enough for the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to undertake a study and make recommendations to enhance security. 

Pleasure craft users are asked to be vigilant regarding both the security of their own vessel, to prevent it being used without authorisation and the activities of other craft in their vicinity, reporting any suspicious activity to the authorities.

Advice for pleasure craft is included within the IMO MSC.1/Circ.1283 as follows:

Appendix D

Guidelines for Pleasure Craft


These Guidelines apply to pleasure craft. Pleasure craft, recreational vessels, and leisure craft (hereinafter referred to as pleasure craft) are vessels which are not subject to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and do not routinely engage in commercial activities such as carrying cargo or passengers for hire. This class of vessels might also encompass vessels being used as residences provided the vessel maintains a means of propulsion.

The International Maritime Organization does not define the term pleasure craft in the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972 (COLREGs). Each Member State will have its own definition and may apply these Guidelines as appropriate.

The pleasure craft sector is generally less regulated than SOLAS Convention and ISPS-regulated vessels, and where regulations do exist they are mainly focused on safety. However, pleasure craft frequently use the same waters as other vessels and while the vast majority of pleasure craft are operated by legitimate, law-abiding owners and operators, they may be used for criminal objectives and terrorism.

The Guidelines are intended to provide information and best practice guidance to operators of pleasure craft. However, pleasure craft owners and operators should remember that the overall safety and security of the vessel, crew, and passengers is their responsibility. Prudent mariners are proactive in preventing incidents, planning in advance how best to respond to an incident, and ensuring that all passengers and crew members know their roles.

The Guidelines are not mandatory and are not intended to form the basis for a mandatory instrument.


The primary focuses of this appendix are pleasure craft operating in waters where they might interact with or operate in close proximity to vessels or facilities subject to SOLAS chapter XI-2 and the ISPS Code; and also those pleasure craft engaged in international voyages. However, where appropriate, Member States, based on their assessed levels of threat and risk, may consider broader implementation as many pleasure craft are highly mobile, both via land and connecting waterways.

General security guidelines

The best security is preventative security. Pleasure craft owners and operators are encouraged to consider their security relevant to their intended area of operations and when passage planning to ensure that all on board are aware of their roles and responsibilities. Pleasure craft owners and operators should be familiar with any particular directions that exist for an intended port or destination. This information is available in nautical almanacs, notices to mariners and from harbour authority and administration websites.

Pleasure craft should be checked by their owners or operators at regular intervals, to ensure that nothing has been placed aboard or removed while the vessel has been unattended. In the event that something suspicious is found, the appropriate local authorities should be notified promptly. Pleasure craft operators should not, under any circumstances, directly handle suspicious packages or objects but should follow any instructions from notified authorities with respect to evacuation of the vessel and the area around it.

Where possible, external doors, hatches and storage areas should be locked and windows secured when a pleasure craft will be left unattended. If a vessel is to be left unattended for sometime, it is recommended that steps be taken to prevent theft or unauthorized use, and that the vessel is moored securely in compliance with local rules or regulations. Such security steps could include:

  • Ignition switches should be locked.

  • Consider fitting a small craft alarm system, possibly with an autodial facility to alert an operator to any unauthorized movement, or the activation of a variety of on board security sensors, via Cell Phone or e-mail. The alarm system could also be integrated with smoke and fire sensors for a complete vessel protection system.

  • Consider securing high value items such as televisions, DVDs, etc., so that they are out of sight and in lockable compartments.

  • Never leave anything valuable on display. Valuables that can be removed should betaken home not put in cupboards.

  • Consider using steering locks if practical.

  • Mark all your equipment where possible with your details using approved property marking equipment.

  • Consider etching the hull identification number onto windows and hatches.

  • When you leave your vessel, always take the ignition key with you.

  • Consideration should be given to installing a hidden device to shut off the fuel line, or to the installation of an engine immobilizer.

  • Outboard motors should be secured with a strong case-hardened steel chain padlock and hardened steel chain or some form of proprietary locking bar.

  • In some cases it may be possible to cover the boat as far as the design allows and to then secure the cover.

Pleasure craft owners should photograph their vessel and equipment and mark it accordingly. This will assist authorities in returning equipment if it is stolen. All serial numbers on all individually identifiable parts of the boat and equipment should also be recorded and stored in a safe place on and off the vessel.

Where Radio Frequency Identification Tag (RFID) anti-theft systems are available, they should be given strong consideration. Not only do such systems have the potential to reduce theft risk, but they also have been shown to increase recovery rates and in some instances to reduce insurance fees.

Higher risk environments

Pleasure craft operators should carefully scrutinize their intended route and ports of call prior to a voyage. If the voyage will include areas of heightened security concern, where terrorism and criminal activities including piracy and armed robbery are a major threat, careful consideration should be given to possible alternative routeings. Where safe and secure routes are not practicable, transits should be accomplished in the presence of other vessels, as expeditiously as possible, and prior notification made to the maritime authorities for the area whose advice should be followed. A rigorous contact schedule should be maintained, preferably via satellite or mobile telephone or similar system which cannot be used to locate the vessel via radio direction finding.

Contingency measures for security alerts

Prior to operating in high risk environments, pleasure craft owners and operators should establish procedures for dealing with emergency navigational, health and safety, and security alerts and incidents. It is recommended that all crew be briefed fully on their roles and responsibilities prior to the voyage and that plans and procedures be rehearsed. A list of emergency actions should be posted in conspicuous places, such as near radios. Such lists should include contact information for appropriate port authority, police, coast guard and emergency services.

Owners and operators should consider designating one crew member as responsible for all aspects of the security on the vessel. Some companies now offer courses specifically tailored for blue-water yachtsmen.

Prevention of stowaways

As outlined previously, checking or searching a pleasure craft carefully prior to getting underway is both a safety and security best practice. This is especially true in areas of heightened risk; when extra care should be taken in searching places on the vessel where a stowaway might hide, such as lazarettes, sail lockers, etc. Under these circumstances and if possible, the search should be conducted by two crew members. In the event that a stowaway is found, this will reduce the risk of the stowaway attacking or overpowering the searcher. As with finding a suspicious package or object, direct engagement is discouraged and appropriate authorities should be notified immediately.