Recreational Craft Directive: meeting EU compliance

by Alasdair Reay, CEO, HPi Verification Services Ltd first published in Marine Technology Magazine, April 2017

On 18 January 2017, the new European Union (EU) Recreational Craft Directive becomes mandatory, affecting not only those designers and manufacturers who operate within Europe, but also international manufacturers and distributors wishing to trade to the European market. This makes understanding the requirements of the new Recreational Craft Directive relevant to those operating in Europe, as well as further afield.

Regulation in the marine industry is becoming increasingly stringent, and meeting the highest standards in safety and quality is key to maintaining a commercial advantage in a competitive market. The Recreational Craft Directive in particular is one example of a standard regulation that is evolving, with a view to improving the safety and quality of craft sold and operated within the EU.

The original Recreational Craft Directive was brought into force in 1998, and is applicable to craft built after 1998 of between 2.5 and 24 meters in hull length that are intended for sport and leisure use, regardless of the means of propulsion. The directive was later amended to widen both the scope of the craft affected by the regulation, for example to include personal watercraft such as jet skis, and also to increase the scale of the survey to now include exhaust and noise emissions. As technological advances drive the ever increasing use of new and innovative recreational craft designs, cutting edge vessels are entering the market that do not necessarily conform to a standard layout or design. Therefore ensuring that regulations are applicable to both traditional craft as well as groundbreaking new designs, is crucial to ensuring a consistent level of safety and quality is maintained across the entire industry. The regulations need to evolve to reflect the scope and breadth of the market today.

The directive was the first piece of legislation to regulate the EU boating industry, and was primarily brought in to bring a consistent minimum safety and quality requirement to the market. It covers the whole process of bringing the craft into operation in EU waters, from design through to manufacture, importing and purchasing. The Recreational Craft Directive also has brought together several smaller markets within the EU and enabling the creation of a single, much larger market for boats, personal watercraft, marine engines and components. In the coming years, it is expected that the industry will look to make this regulation increasingly widespread, creating harmonised global safety and quality standards that ensure a level playing field across the international marine industry.

The Recreational Craft Directive sets out a clear set of safety and quality standards which must be met before a craft can be certified. Without this certification the craft cannot be sold or operated within the EU, and this applies to all craft, fully or partially built, and constructed within or imported from without EU waters. The requirements of the directive, known as Essential Requirements (ER), cover all aspects of the design, manufacture and operation of the craft, including strength of construction, stability and handling, fuel handling systems and documentation. Both the vessel builder and the owner or importer, are legally responsible for ensuring that the craft is evaluated and is certified to have met the required standards, before the craft can be bought, sold or operated within the EU.

Following a detailed survey process, craft that comply with the Recreational Craft Directive are awarded a CE mark, as well as a Craft Identification Number (CIN). Under the previous directive there were four categories, A, B, C and D, which are based on the wind and wave conditions likely to be experienced in various environments covering ocean, offshore, coastal and sheltered waters.

One of the broader changes to come in with the new directive is that the categories will no longer be defined by these locations, reflecting the sentiment that the intention of the categories was to set design targets and not to restrict the usage of boats to particular waters. For example, the previous Recreational Craft Directive required all category A vessels to be largely self-sufficient. This has now been further clarified by the new directive to include the stipulation that this excludes abnormal conditions, such as violent weather including storms, hurricanes and tornados, as well as extreme sea conditions or rogue waves. These changes aim to properly define the intention of design categories, and so conforming with the up-to-date harmonised standards will ensure compliance with these requirements.

The new Recreational Craft Directive entered into force in January 2016, giving the industry a 12-month window to transition to the new directive before the requirements become mandatory. The new Recreational Craft Directive brings with it additional responsibilities which affect all parties within the supply chain, including manufacturers, importers, dealers and distributers, and certification bodies. The directive is entirely new and not simply an amendment of the previous regulation, and whilst the technical detail remains broadly the same, the new directive goes a long way to provide further clarification and detail to all aspects of the requirement, bringing a number of specific changes to address safety, quality and environmental impact.

With much of the technical detail consistent between the two directives, this serves to emphasise that the categories refer only to the operational parameters for wave and wind states for that particular design of craft, and not to restrict where it may be used. The new directive also looks to improve quality assurance and control of the boats entering the EU, thereby protecting the integrity of the market. Under the previous directive, commercial importers had the ability under the Post Construction Assessment (PCA) to bring used boats into the EU without the input of the manufacturer. The new Recreational Craft Directive eliminates this route to market, ensuring that only private importers may bring boats, for their own use, into EU waters using PCA.

In a number of investigations following incidents involving recreational craft that resulted in significant injuries or fatalities, it is sometimes found to be the case that the craft was in some way falling short of the safety standards set out by the Recreational Craft Directive. To address this, the new directive goes even further to improve safety in the marine industry. For example, under the new directive it is now mandatory that an emergency stop facility, such as a kill-switch or emergency stop chord, is fitted to all outboard engines. Without this safety facility, certification will not be granted and the craft cannot be sold or operated within the EU.

Additionally, the means of re-boarding a craft in the event of a crew member going overboard has been evaluated, and it is now a requirement that the crew member must be able to re-board the craft unaided from the water. The new directive also requires multihull vessels to be assessed as to whether or not it is vulnerable to inversion. Those that are deemed to be vulnerable are now required to have inversion escape hatches – improving the likelihood of a successful evacuation. A further safety measure improvement mandates the requirement for clear vision from the helm is to be extended to include sailing craft, thereby reducing the likelihood of accidental collisions.

In another measure to further improve safety, it is now a compulsory requirement that all electrical circuits, except engine starting circuits supplied from batteries, must remain safe when exposed to overload. To this end, electric propulsion circuits must considered separately from other circuits, and must not interact with any other system in such a way that either would fail to operate as intended. The separation of electric propulsion systems is a new requirement, and will minimise the risk of catastrophic and potentially dangerous electrical system failures.

Reflecting the global focus on limiting the environmental impact of any craft or vessel, from design through to operation, the new Recreational Craft Directive also addresses key factors such as emissions – including hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxides, and particulate matter – and sewage. In particular, the new directive further limits permissible emissions across all craft, and it has now become mandatory for all craft to have a holding tank for black water to prevent sewage pollution from being discharged into the water. The requirements of the new Recreational Craft Directive solidify the commitment of the EU Commission to reduce emissions and environmental impact across the entire breadth of activity within the EU.

As a result of a number of these changes, certification bodies now have a crucial role to play in educating the industry and ensuring that the relevant detailed information and advice is readily available in order to help prepare for the implementation of the new regulation. The new Recreational Craft Directive will require all notified bodies to be accredited across all countries within the EU and not just select nations, bringing a more uniform approach to certification and clarifying the responsibilities and requirements of everyone in the supply chain.

In general, the safety and environmental requirements of the new Recreational Craft Directive are far more stringent, and will go a long way to improve the safety of recreational activities across the marine industry, as well as further limit their impact on the environment.

With the new directive becoming mandatory on 18 January 2017, the marine industry has to ensure that their craft is compliant with the more stringent requirement of the new Recreational Craft Directive, that they fully understand what the changes are and how they apply to each individual craft. In order to manage this process effectively, designers, manufacturers and importers should arm themselves with as much information as possible and be proactive in their approach to compliance with the new Recreational Craft Directive, or else risk non-compliance and potential cost and schedule delays as a result further down the line.

As the requirements of the new Recreational Craft Directive are more stringent and detailed, the cost of compliance could easily become greatly increased. This process can be effectively managed however, with the support of knowledgeable and experienced notified bodies, who can provide detailed guidance to find the most cost-effective way to navigate the process over the next year. As an official Notified Body as recognised by the EU Commission, HPi Verification Services adopts a more thorough approach than just the standard checklist recording not only whether a craft is compliant, but also how it reaches the required standard. With this additional information readily to hand, everyone with a responsibility to ensure that craft are compliant can easily provide evidence to mitigate the risk of incurring additional costs or schedule delays. It is also to be noted that new software, to help manufacturers compile the mandatory documentation, will be launched at the Dusseldorf Boatshow in late January 2017 by the boating industry’s global trade association, ICOMIA.

Through several years of experience in assisting the process of obtaining the CE mark to demonstrate compliance with the Recreational Craft Directive, HPi VS has gained an in-depth and detailed knowledge of the requirements of the directive. When working with customers, our team has found that more often than not, knowing which questions to ask to begin the process is often one of the first and most challenging barriers to achieving compliance, especially when new to the region. This is where working with organisations that can offer step by step, accurate guidance gained over years of experience, can help companies to navigate the regulation and ensure that all of the necessary steps are in place whilst mitigating the risks of non-compliance. HPi VS has, therefore, worked closely with customers to ensure their craft not only meet the regulatory requirements but also remain competitive by exceeding industry standards, with the least impact on the operators.

The new Recreational Craft Directive provides the marine industry with a clearer and more detailed legislative framework. It goes further to future-proof the requirements of the regulation to accommodate new and innovative craft that push the boundaries of design and technology, as well as more traditional range of recreational craft.

As the global marine industry looks to adopt a harmonised set of standards that drive significant improvements in safety, quality and environmental standards, it becomes essential that everyone in the supply chain has an understanding of the requirements of the Recreational Craft Directive. Compliance can be easily navigated with the relevant information readily to hand, and experienced notified bodies can help the industry to improve operational standards and efficiencies, drive value through improved reputation, and help to improve relationships with customers and wider stakeholder networks.