Charter yacht safety codes

21 January 2015 • Written by Paolo Moretti, RINA
Helicopters make fantastic tenders, but they come with a host of safety issues.

Pleasure vessels in commercial service (i.e. commercial yachts) need to comply with stricter rules than yachts that are only used privately. Private yachts are defined as being used solely for the recreational purposes of their owners and guests, while commercial yachts are intended to carry passengers and are therefore subjected to the stricter safety requirements, akin to those applied to commercial passenger vessels.

The rules for the commercial use of pleasure vessels were developed during the 1990s and the relevant safety rules are therefore quite recent. Unlike commercial shipping rules and regulations, which are often introduced after major incidents or tragedies at sea, yacht rules were drawn up with the specific aim of satisfying industry needs and expectations.

Commercial yacht registration has been a key driver of the booming yachting market over the last decade. While introducing a stricter set of rules and regulations, commercial registration enables yacht owners to profit from the chartering activity of their boats and to take advantage of all the other fiscal benefits derived from their commercial operation.

The majority of flag administrations require yachts to be certified in accordance with their own specific safety codes. Although there are a number of different codes presently in force, some common definitions and a similar approach apply:

New ships are usually obliged to adhere strictly to the rules.

Existing boats can be granted dispensations or ‘equivalencies’, sometimes referred to as ‘grandfathering’.

The stringency of the safety requirements decreases when the limits of navigation are reduced and their operating conditions limited.

Safety requirements increase when the yacht has a gross tonnage greater than 500GT (corresponding to a full displacement motor yacht of approximately 45m to 50m LOA and upwards).

The safety codes apply to all vessels of 24m or over in load line length.

The safety codes are usually restricted to yachts having a gross tonnage less than 3,000GT (corresponding to a motor yacht of 85 to 90m LOA).

Yachts are certified to carry a maximum of 12 passengers.

Main requirements of safety codes

The Large Commercial Yacht Code (LY2), developed by the British Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to replace the former Code of Practice for the Safety of Large Commercial Sailing and Motor Vessels (LY1) published in 1997, is undoubtedly the most popular of these codes. It was the first to be developed and serves as a technical reference for the whole yachting industry. This code is applied by the Red Ensign Group Flags (UK, Cayman Islands, Isle of Man, Bermuda, Gibraltar, BVI, etc.).

Some definitions used in the LY2 Code include the following:

‘New vessel’ means a yacht whose keel was laid (or, for composite vessels, the construction lay-up was started) on or after 16 December 1998.

‘Short Range Yacht’ means an existing vessel under 500GT or a new vessel under 300GT that is restricted to operating in forecast or actual wind of up to Beaufort Force 4, and within 60 nautical miles of a safe haven.

‘Safe haven’ means a harbour or shelter of any kind which affords entry, subject to prudence in the weather conditions prevailing, and protection from the force of the weather.

The LY2 Code is based on the International Standard Conventions (SOLAS, MARPOL, Load Line, etc.) which are adapted/tailored, by means of equivalent regulations, to the yachting industry.

Some examples of the main technical features of the code include:

Hull and machinery

Requirements for the construction and strength of the yacht are delegated to the rules of the recognised class societies.

The structural drawings and scantlings are approved, and a class surveyor inspects the new build certifying that hull and superstructures are built in compliance with the approved plans.

For machinery and electrical aspects, the code mainly defers to the class rules, which have more stringent requirements if the vessel has a gross tonnage of more than 500GT.

Water-tightness and stability

All yachts must comply with intact stability requirements. Furthermore, damaged stability criteria should be met for all yachts, except Short Range Yachts.

This means that watertight bulkheads are arranged to guarantee that any minor damage to the ship’s hull resulting in the free flooding of any one compartment will not cause the loss of the vessel. This is why vessels are subdivided into watertight compartments bounded by divisions, without any openings except for approved watertight doors.

Weather-tight and freeboard

Owners and designers are often concerned by unaesthetic solutions like the height of external doors, coamings, the fitting of deadlights on port lights, restrictions in the size of windows, height of bulwarks and gangways.

These safety features are necessary to prevent water entering the yacht through accidental damage or simply due to green water. In addition, attention is paid to the safe operation of personnel on the exposed decks. In particular:

A freeboard is assigned in compliance with the Load Line Convention, and properly marked at each side of the hull with a permanent disk of contrasting colour (the so-called Plimsoll Eye). This corresponds to the deepest loading condition of the vessel and is directly connected to hull strength, intact and damage stability requirements.

Coaming height, construction and securing standards of weathertight external doors, hatchways, ventilators and air-pipes are a major concern in order to prevent water ingress into spaces below the weather deck. The stringency of the requirement will depend on the location aboard the vessel, maximum permitted navigation, and operational limitation. For instance, an access located in the forecastle deck is more dangerous than one in the wheelhouse deck; an access leading directly to the engine room is more critical than others. This is why, for example, the height of the coaming of an external door in the forward quarter length of a vessel is at least 60cm, while the same door is permitted to have only a 30cm coaming if the vessel is operated as a Short Range Yacht.

Bulwarks and/or guardrails on all accessible decks should be at least 1m high for the protection of crew and passengers.

Portlights fitted in the hull below the freeboard deck level shall have their lower edge at least 50cm or 2.5 per cent of the breadth of the vessel, whichever is the greater, above the all-seasons load line assigned to the vessel. In addition they shall be of the non-opening type, fitted with a deadlight capable of making the opening watertight in case of glazing breakage and never installed in machinery spaces.

The code prescribes that glazing materials, glazing thickness and fixing of windows are in accordance with recognised international standards. Some reduction in the thickness of the glazing can be granted to Short Range Yachts or to windows fitted with storm shutters, but in general windows shall not be installed below the freeboard deck level unless special considerations have been made with regard to the location, thickness of glazing, supporting structures and availability of strong protective covers. For vessels other than Short Range Yachts, storm shutters are required for all windows at the front and sides of the first tier and front windows of the second tier of superstructures, or weathertight deckhouses above the freeboard deck. If the glass thickness is 30 per cent more than the minimum required by international standards then storm shutters may be replaced by suitable blanking plates capable of sealing the window opening in case the glass fails.

ILO regulations can change with little notice, making new builds a risky process

Structural fire protection and means of escape

For vessels less than 500GT:

Structural fire protection in machinery spaces: deck and boundaries to be properly insulated in order to reach A-30 standard in unrestricted service and B-15 standard in short range navigation.

Fixed fire detection system in machinery spaces, control stations, service and accommodation spaces (smoke detectors and manual call points).

Upholstery composites and suspended textile materials used through the vessel shall be certified non-combustible in accordance with IMO FTP Code. Alternatively a sprinkler system or equivalent should be installed.

Two means of escape for each machinery and accommodation space.

For vessels with gross tonnage equal to or over 500GT:

Structural fire protection: the requirements are derived from the SOLAS passenger ship rules applicable to ships carrying less than 36 passengers. these apply to the subdivision in main fire vertical and horizontal zones, fire integrity of bulkheads and decks.

Fixed fire detection system in machinery spaces, control stations, service and accommodation spaces (smoke detectors and manual call points).

Automatic sprinkler system always fitted.

Two separate means of escape for each machinery and accommodation space.

Restriction on use of combustible materials.


Strict requirements are in place to outline the minimum standards for helicopter landing areas and associated facilities.

As a guide only, for use during a charter, a helipad must conform to full commercial requirements, which include among many other requirements, that the full outline of the aircraft – from tail rotor extremity to tip of the main rotor blades – must be able to fit above solid deck. Few yachts are able to meet this requirement.

Manning, personnel certification and accommodation

The code also deals with minimum safe manning and certification of competency of the officers. Furthermore the code covers the standard of accommodation in terms of general arrangement, lighting, sleeping accommodation, etc.

These areas will be affected by new ILO rules, which are expected to come into force in 2013/14 and will be compulsory for all commercial yachts exceeding 200GT.

Life-saving appliances

The requirements vary in accordance with the navigation, gross tonnage and length of the vessel.

Short range yachts are exempted from the requirement to provide a rescue boat. For vessels greater than 500GT a fully SOLAS approved rescue boat and dedicated crane are required.

Alternative arrangements to the carriage of lifeboats may be considered as indicated below:

Substitution of lifeboats by liferafts where the vessel complies with a SOLAS2 compartment subdivision standard; or

Substitution of lifeboats by a sufficient number of davit-launched liferafts, such that in the event of any one liferaft being lost or rendered unserviceable, sufficient aggregate capacity remains on either side of the vessel for all persons on board. Additionally one approved rescue boat should be provided on either side of the vessel.

It is highly advisable for owners to obtain compliance with the safety code at the new building stage. Many safety features such as engine room fire insulation, load line requirements and lifesaving appliances are very expensive and highly invasive if retrofitted on existing boats.

Gross tonnage and mandatory certification

Certifications required by tonnage

Originally published: February 2010. Since this article was published, LY2 has been replaced by the new LY3 code.

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