Pleasure Vessels and the UK Merchant Shipping Regulations

1 January 2019 brought a renewed importance for boat owners to be aware of the definition of a Pleasure Vessel.

It has long been the case that the Merchant Shipping Regulations have defined commercial use of a vessel as any use of a vessel outside the definition of a Pleasure Vessel, but there has, in reality, been little enforcement in terms of occasional use outside the scope of the Pleasure Vessel definition.

Pleasure Vessel according to The Merchant Shipping (Vessels in Commercial Use for Sport or Pleasure) Regulations 1998 (SI1998/2771) means:-

(a) any vessel which at the time it is being used is:


(aa) in the case of a vessel wholly owned by an individual or individuals, used only for the sport or pleasure of the owner or the immediate family or friends of the owner; or

(bb) in the case of a vessel owned by a body corporate, used only for sport or pleasure and on which the persons on board are employees or officers of the body corporate, or their immediate family or friends; and

(ii) on a voyage or excursion which is one for which the owner does not receive money for or in connection with operating the vessel or carrying any person, other than as a contribution to the direct expenses of the operation of the vessel incurred during the voyage or excursion; or

(b) any vessel wholly owned by or on behalf of a members' club formed for the purpose of sport or pleasure which, at the time it is being used, is used only for the sport or pleasure of members of that club or their immediate family, and for the use of which any charges levied are paid into club funds and applied for the general use of the club; and

(c) in the case of any vessel referred to in paragraphs (a) or (b) above no other payments are made by or on behalf of users of the vessel, other than by the owner.

Whenever you are using a boat you should consider whether its use fits within this definition. If it doesn’t, and the boat isn’t ‘Certified’ in accordance with the Merchant Shipping Regulations or to an alternative Code of Practice you may be breaking the law.

On 1 January 2019 a new framework was introduced to facilitate compliance with the Merchant Shipping Legislation where a vessel, which is normally used within the definition of a pleasure vessel, is temporarily being used outside that definition (i.e. commercially). 

The Code of Practice for Intended Pleasure Vessels in Temporary Commercial Use at Sea (IPV Code), provides an additional possibility for compliance.  It has been introduced to provide a proportionate and appropriate level of safety for vessels temporarily used outside the definition of a Pleasure Vessel without affecting the construction of the vessel or putting the operator under undue burdens.

The IPV Code provides a self-certification mechanism which, subject to certain conditions (detailed in the Code) being met disapplies the relevant Merchant Shipping Regulations in the circumstances specified in the Code.

Part 1 of the Code deals with vessels used by vessel Owners, Manufacturers, brokers, surveyors, repairers, Delivery Companies or Equipment Service Providers contracted for business purposes. For the Code to be applicable the business purpose must relate to sale, repair, post-production/post-repair/mid-survey sea trials, equipment sea trials, customer sea trials, or vessel delivery outside the definition of a pleasure vessel.

Part 2 of the Code is applicable to vessels which are in temporary commercial use at sea on a single-voyage basis as a Race Support Boat for the purpose of Race Support Activities at sea affiliated to the National Governing Body of the Sport.

In many cases these activities may be within the scope of the definition of a Pleasure Vessel, but if not, or if your boat is being used outside the definition of a Pleasure Vessel for any other reason e.g. charter, you need to ascertain if any action is necessary for that use to be legal under the Merchant Shipping Regulations.

The IPV Code will in many instances make this easier, but it may not always apply. The simple message is be aware of the definition of a Pleasure Vessel; if the use of a vessel is outside the definition of a Pleasure Vessel for it to be used legally certification to the IPV Code, an alternative Code of Practice or the Merchant Shipping Regulations is required.

Official documents: IPV Code, MGN 597, MGN 598

Related page

RYA introduction to the IPV Code