Should I be Commercially Coded

A brief overview of if you should be commercially coded


  • 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 should comply with the certification, survey, safety and manning standards laid down in the Codes of Practice Small Vessels in Commercial Use for Sport or 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 more risk it is exposed to and the MCA have two definitions of waters; ‘categorised waters’ and ‘at sea’. Categorised waters are areas of sheltered water such as local harbours, lakes and rivers and are classified by a letter A-D. In these waters local byelaws may apply as to the commercial running of the boat. At sea, is any waters beyond categorised waters and the Area category is denoted by a number; 0-6 and in these waters MGN 280 applies.

What’s involved?

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

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

Unless bareboat chartered, it requires a commercially endorsed skipper and possibly another crewmember to be on board when it operates commercially.

How do I go about it?

Contact an MCA Certifying Authority such as the RYA. They will send the relevant information, forms and inform you of their fees.

How far can I operate?

The distance you are allowed to operate depends on the boats stability. The first stage of coding is to fill out an Application for Examination and an Application for Stability Category Allocation. These should be sent to the RYA. They are analysed and 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 maximum distance it can operate commercially. For instance, often a RIB will be lucky to get Cat 3, whilst a yacht may get Cat 0, but an owner may only choose to operate and equip the boat for Cat 2 waters.

What about the equipment?

Once a Stability Category has been allocated you will know how far you can use the boat. The equipment and manning levels increase the further offshore the boat operates. General equipment and fit-out requirements stated in MGN 280 refer to all commercial boats. There are also specific vessel requirements, such as power or sail and vessels operating in higher categories require more equipment and more stringent design. The SCV2 Document of Compliance is filled in by you when equipping the boat.

Survey and certification

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

Code compliance certificates are valid for five years. Annual, intermediate and renewal surveys are required to keep the vessel compliant. By and large, annual surveys often check the vessel against its paperwork; intermediate surveys are physical checks on the equipment and condition of the vessel, and renewals are a full inspection including out-of-water inspection.

Safe operation

You require operating procedures to ensure that the vessel operates to within your guidelines and that safety and maintenance checks are carried out frequently.


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

More info:


Written for the RYA by: Simon Jinks - SeaRegs LLP