EU legislation in the recreational craft sector helps ensure the European-wide harmonisation of essential health and safety requirements for products on the market.
The European Commission assists the sector through legislative and non-legislative activities. These include drafting proposals and guidance documents; managing legislation; leading the sectorial working parties in dealing with implementation issues, etc. It also promotes European standardisation and innovation.
Recreational Craft Directive
The Recreational Craft Directive (2013/53/EU) regulates the safety and environmental characteristics of boats with hull lengths between 2.5m and 24m and intended for sport or leisure use. It does so by setting design, construction, and emission requirements. The Directive excludes racing and commercial boats; simple boats like non-motorised canoes and kayaks; as well as special craft such as submersibles, air cushion vehicles, and hydrofoils.
The Directive 2013/53/EU repeals the Directive 94/25/EC and is applicable from 18 January 2016. Key aspects of the directive include:
Health and safety
The Directive calls for substantial safety requirements for the structure, stability, buoyancy, and flotation of recreational craft. It also regulates flooding and discharge prevention, steering, visibility, handling and anchoring, as well as the installation requirements on engine, gas, electrical, and fuel systems.
To protect health and the environment, the Directive introduces exhaust and noise emission limits for boats and/or their engines.
The Revised Directive (2013/53/EU) introduces stricter exhaust emission limits and modifies some of the existing safety requirements, such as protection from falling overboard, discharge prevention, buoyancy and means of escape for multi-hull boats. It adds provisions on electrical system installation and protection to reflect the increasing use of hybrid systems.
The Directive requires some administrative conformity, such as the affixing of a builders plate or the enclosing of a technical file, owner’s manual, and Declaration of Conformity.
In addition, responding to stakeholder needs for more stable and coherent regulation, the Commission adopted a 'new approach' legislative framework. This ensures legislation is reduced to fixing essential requirements, while technical detailed solutions are laid down in the setting of standards. This development is seen as 'innovation friendly'. The ongoing simplification and improved coherence through the new legislative framework (NLF) has been welcomed by stakeholders.
Improved market surveillance
Regulation (EC) No 765/2008 on accreditation and market surveillance is a first step towards enhancing activities and improving cooperation between national authorities.
The industry expects a further boost of activity from legislative and operative developments related to market surveillance. EU countries also play a role and are expected to continuously improve their national systems of market surveillance. The need to exchange real-time and accurate information is a key issue. It is vital to identify any possible breach of EU legislation in placing products on the market, which not only puts the health and safety of users at risk but also the fair and smooth operation of the economic operators.
The Joint Action on Harmonised Products 2018 (JAHARP18) was a 34-month EU-co-funded joint market surveillance project, started in November 2019 and completed in August 2022. Eleven market surveillance authorities (MSAs) from 9 EU countries cooperated to assess the safety of 30 recreational craft (inflatable craft or open rigid hull craft) against the Recreational Craft Directive’s essential requirements and the applicable harmonised standards. Inspections included checks on technical documentation and laboratory testing.
The JAHARP18 product activities generated policy feedback and recommendations to the national market surveillance authorities on the efficiency of market surveillance action, and to the European Commission, European standardisation organisations as well as conformity assessment bodies on the improvement of relevant harmonised standards. All of which should, in turn, help manufacturers improve their understanding of the regulatory requirements.
See the JAHARP18 Final Report
International aspects/global trade
Trade with non-EU countries is very important to the recreational craft sector.
The Commission aims to make market access to non-EU countries more favourable by promoting regulatory convergence. The Recreational Craft Directive is also relevant for EEA countries (Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein). Furthermore, Switzerland and Turkey have based their national legislations on the provisions of the EU Recreational Craft Directive.
Legal harmonisation in the sector has been taken into consideration as regards trans-Atlantic trade. The Commission has aligned exhaust emission limits with those of the USA and negotiates on simplifying processes to ensure that European boat manufacturers can trade their products easily.
The use of European harmonised standards by manufacturers presumes that they have complied with the essential health and safety requirements of EU legislation. Standardisation plays a key role in the operation of the EU Single Market. Standards provide specific technical solutions that can help designers and manufacturers reach the highest levels of health and safety for their products, according to current technical and economic feasibility ('state of the art').
Standards for the Recreational Craft Directive are developed by CEN and CENELEC based on a mandate from the Commission. Once standards have been adopted, their references are published by the Commission in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU). More on EU standards
The Annex I.A.2.1 of the Directive 2013/53/EU requires each watercraft to be marked with an identification number. To clarify the rule, the European Commission adopted the Implementing Regulation on procedures for watercraft identification on 3 January 2017.
Among others, the implementing act clarifies the terminology (such as country code, unique code of the manufacturer) and settles the procedures for assigning and administration of the unique code of the manufacturer. This includes the specification of national authorities eligible to assign the codes and the databases where the codes are registered.
The implementing act also specifies that other features of the watercraft identification number such as composition, placement and durability of the watercraft identification number shall be regulated by relevant harmonised standards.
The implementing act was published in the Official Journal of the European Union on 4 January 2017.
The rules embedded within the Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2017/1 are applicable from 24 January 2017.
The application guide to the Recreational Craft Directive provides guidance on the application of the essential health and safety requirements. The application guide related to Directive 2013/53/EU can be found below.
See the guidance document (Directive 2013/53/EU) (3 MB)
Review study on the exhaust emission, evaporative emission and watercraft design categories
The study aims to assess the technological and economic feasibility of further reducing exhaust emissions produced by recreational craft and introducing limits for evaporative emissions produced by recreational crafts’ fuel systems. It also evaluated the accuracy of the current watercraft design categories based on weather conditions and the impact of this categorisation on manufacturers and end-users.
Study on the competitiveness of the recreational boating sector
The main aim of this exercise is to identify the main factors influencing the sectorial competitive performance, to assess the effects of national and global regulatory measures on the sectorial competitiveness and to provide a strategic outlook for future developments of the recreational boating sector.
See the study on the competitiveness of the recreational boating sector (2 MB).
Commission reports to the European Parliament and the Council
Commission report on the application of Directive 2013/53/EU of 20 November 2013 on recreational craft and personal watercraft.
Commission report on technical feasibility to further reduce exhaust emissions, introduce evaporative emissions and modify watercraft design categories set out in Article 52 of the Directive 2013/53/EU.
List of conformity assessment bodies (NANDO)
See the list of conformity assessment bodies notified under Directive 2013/53/EU
Recreational craft sectoral group (RSG)
The Recreational craft sectoral group (RSG) assists in the uniform application and interpretation of the Recreational Craft Directive (RCD) by all Notified Bodies and other parties with valid interest.