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This guidance is designed to assist with the interpretation and application of the revised Code of Practice for the Safety of Small Fishing Vessels of less than 15m Length Overall.

1. Introduction

The aim of the Code of Practice for the Safety of Small Fishing Vessels of less than 15m Length Overall is to improve safety in the fishing industry and raise safety awareness among all involved parties.

This additional guidance has been produced to assist all those involved with the construction, operation and maintenance of small fishing vessels less than 15m in length, in adhering to the code so they can maintain sufficient safety measures and promote an overall culture of safety.

It has been created in response to queries received by MCA Surveyors and the Fishing team.

2. Transitional Periods

All vessels must be in full compliance with the code by 6 September 2023. Transitional arrangements, as detailed in Section 1.3 of the Code of Practice, will end on 5 September 2023. All vessels, regardless of whether they were inspected for their 5-year Certificate by the MCA during the Transitional Period, will be expected to comply with the code from 6 September 2023.

Vessels that are inspected in the 90 days prior to the end of Transitional Arrangements will have 90 days from the date of inspection to provide proof that the vessel is in full compliance with the Code.

Vessels which have recently been issued a certificate valid until 2024/25 will also need to be in full compliance with the Code of Practice. This includes vessels which may have been inspected before 6 September 2021. It is not planned to carry out checks on these vessels until renewal date.

2.1 Phase-in Periods

The two-year phase-in period is not affected by a change of ownership that occurs during that period. The phase-in period still ends on 5 September 2023 and the new owner inherits the phase-in requirements, even if they were not aware of a problem at point of purchase. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that owners conduct their own due diligence when buying used vessels, as inherited problems are the responsibility of the new owner.

The requirements for strength and construction, as outlined in Section 2.3.1, are that they are efficient in service (fit for purpose) for an existing vessel. Copies of older Construction Standards are available from the MCA if you need to identify what the vessel was constructed to. If you are not sure, look to consider this with the Marine Office Surveyor.

3. In-water/Out-water Inspections

It is better to get both parts of the inspection – the In-Water Inspection and the Out-of-Water Inspection – completed as soon as possible, and in as few visits are possible. The order the inspections take place in can be reversed, but the vessel will not be given a Certificate until the In-Water Inspection has been completed.

All vessels require an In-Water Inspection. If a vessel is beach-launched, then the owner may need to take the vessel to sheltered water for In-Water Inspection and the Stability test. Normal risk assessments will apply, and the MCA provides guidance on presenting the vessel for inspection in the form used by owners to apply for the inspection (MSF5100).

On completion of the In-Water inspection and Stability verification the vessel may be issued a one-year short-term certificate until the anniversary date. The Out-of-Water inspection must be completed before this date to allow a full-term Certificate to be issued. You can have the Out-of-Water inspection during the three-month period before renewal.

If the Marine Office becomes aware of a vessel still operating after the one-year certificate has expired, then the vessel can be detained.

Out-of-Water inspections that were conducted prior to 6 September 2021 may still be credited, but this is decided on a case-by-case basis. It will depend on the extent of the Out-of-Water inspection, and you would need to confirm that this was as per the new Code, and the date that it was carried out on.

There is no charge for the first In-Water and Out-of-Water visits. These are free inspections unless the MCA needs to revisit due to vessel deficiencies or circumstances that are within the owner’s control. If the inspection could not take place, for example, if there was no safe access to the vessel, then these visits are chargeable to £147 per hour.

Further details on In-Water and Out-of-Water inspections can be found in Section 3.8 of MSIS27 Chapter 1, Annex 1.

4. Stability

The Stability test performed for vessels other than those requiring an Approved Stability Book will depend on the hull of your vessel. The Heel Test is for multi-hulled vessels, and the Roll Test is the first choice for single hull vessels – there is no lower vessel size limit. There may be instances where the bilge keel of a vessel can affect the result of the Roll Test. In those instances, a Heel Test may also be necessary.

The purpose of the Roll Test is to assess the impact of changes of weight to a vessel such as modifications or growth over time. The test is intended to be done with the person (or equivalent) on board at the time, and in the depart port condition, so the MCA expect to see that the vessel has enough to bring itself back up with a speedy response – even those vessels of a smaller size (e.g., 4/5m). MCA expect Wolfson guidance to be available as well and that will form part of the discussion. If the MCA are still seeing that the vessel is in the danger zone given the freeboard and likely heel, then MCA must take all that information into account when deciding the acceptability of the vessel going to sea, or any limitations placed on its operation.

Roll/Heel Tests are required every five years. There are no transitional arrangements for stability. Owners are recommended to conduct their own tests and if there are concerns, to discuss these with the MCA.

If the fishing vessel is unable to conduct the stability test at inspection due to reasons out of the owner’s control (i.e. weather, external factors on the hull which are unknown and affect the roll test) then a non-chargeable re-visit may be required.

If the vessel requires stability approval of existing stability data, then this will be chargeable. Approvals are conducted by the MCA Stability and Plan Approval Unit.

If the vessel fails the test, then the surveyor will discuss the next steps with you.

4.1 Wolfson Mark

The MCA do not insist on the Wolfson Mark. It was agreed with industry that it was more important that owners and skippers are aware of the stability of the vessel through the Wolfson vessel and loading arrangements.

However, the MCA do expect Wolfson guidance to be taken into account during the Roll Test and it will form part of the discussion.

4.2 Stability Books

New fishing vessels built after 6 September 2021 of less than 12m using certain types of fishing methods will now require a Stability Book approved by the MCA Stability Unit. This includes flag-in vessels and those using the Registration Survey joining the Register from 6 September 2021, if they use a fishing method detailed in the Code.

The Stability Unit will be able to provide standard fee for book approval.

If there are delays with your Stability Book approval you will need to liaise with the attending surveyor. Whether the vessel has had an Out-of-Water inspection or not will also be considered.

4.3 Performing Stability Tests

There is no intention to provide inclinometers for the purpose of Heel Tests, for example on a catamaran that is a creel boat with only a hauler. The angle of heel measurement will be down to whomever is presenting the heel test, this could be by inclinometer or water tube or pendulum. The angle of the heel should be related to that reasonably expected to be experienced during normal loading from the fishing gear. MGN503 provides some further guidance.

Under the Code, owners can perform their own Stability Tests using forms MSF1378, MSF1380 or MSN1382 and present verification to the Surveyor. Owners are advised to carry out their own tests so they can assess their own stability and, if they find issues, speak to the MCA in advance of any renewal inspection. Although owners can conduct their own tests to assess their stability, the MCA will require a test to be conducted at the In-Water inspection.

The MCA do not conduct the Offset Load, Heel or Roll Test (as applicable) at inspection. The test should be performed by the owner/skipper or representative, with the MCA witnessing.

If the boat is not alongside, for example it launches straight into an operational environment, you should discuss with the MCA in advance of the inspection how best the Stability Test can be achieved. The MCA are there to witness the Stability Test and this element cannot be ignored, so the text needs to achieved in one way or another. For example, for a 5m boat, instead of doing the Roll Test it could be possible to go straight to the Offset Load Test. This could be more achievable in non-calm waters. Alternatively, it could be a case of taking the boat to a place where the tests can be completed alongside.

The results of Heel Tests or Roll Tests should be maintained on board and updated at each Renewal Inspection, as stated in of the new Code of Practice. A Change of Owner Inspection is for the renewal of the Small Fishing Vessel Certificate (SFVC) and should include Stability Verification as stated in 3.4.5.

You can find advice on performing Heel, Roll, and Offset Load Tests in MSFs 1378, 1380 and 1382, as well as information for recoding the results. In addition, Chapter 3, Annexes 5, 6 and 7 of MSN1871 Amendment 2, and Chapter 3 of MSIS27 provides guidance on the appropriate stability test to be carried out for vessel type and age.

Instructional videos for performing Stability Tests have been recorded and will be available on the Home and Dry website soon. If there are any other places you would like to see these videos, please let us know by emailing fishing@mcga.gov.uk.

4.4 Stability Requirements for Freeboards

The Code sets out requirements for freeboard and the interpolation of them dependant on type and size of vessel.

Section 3.12 deals with freeboards for Existing Vessels (pre-2021) of less than 12m AND vessels of 12 to less than 15m (pre 23/10/17 as brought in under MSN 1871 Amendment 1).

Section 3.12.3 and 3.12.4 defines restrictions for open vessels and for decked vessels a minimum freeboard 300mm (unrestricted) and 200mm (restricted).

Section 3.12.5 points towards Annex 8 for minimum levels set.

Annex 8 states: for decked vessels that the requirements (within the Annex) are for NEW VESSELS (2021). Existing vessels that already comply with these requirements must also continue to maintain their vessel in accordance with these requirements. It has been interpreted to mean that existing vessels with freeboards more than those stated (but not below 200mm or 300mm (with restriction)) can continue to do so – without interpolation.

Annex 8 states: for open vessels that the requirements (within the Annex) are for NEW VESSELS (2021). Existing vessels that already comply with these requirements must also continue to maintain their vessel in accordance with these requirements. It has been interpreted to mean that existing vessels with clear height at side more than that stated (400mm) can continue to do so – without interpolation.

Where a vessel can be shown to be operating safely but doesn’t comply with the above then 3.12.6 may be helpful: Vessels which are accepted by MCA but do not meet the minimum freeboard or positive clear height at side requirements must meet any requirements stipulated by MCA at all times and will be measured at each renewal inspection.

5. Certification

The Certificate of Registry will remain a five-year Certificate.

The MMO require a vessel to be registered before they issue a licence. To do this, the RSS would need to see the Small Fishing Vessel Certificate and the MMO would expect to see evidence of registration

The MCA are aware of the potential delays that may be involved between In and Out-of-Water Inspections due to boats coming out of the water over winter, and the gap when MCA can complete the inspection process that will allow a certificate to be issued.

Marine offices will communicate with RSS to let them know that the reason a vessel does not have a certificate is because they have not completed the process. The instructions define that when the owner has come forward to actively engage with the process, vessels should not be de-registered because of an element that has been missed out.

It is also important to be aware that you can have an inspection five months before the Certificate expires.

5.1 Transitional arrangements for certification

Vessels under 15m which are not New 2021 vessels have transitional arrangements under the new Code. These apply depending on the age of the vessel and the applicable sections are set out at the start of each chapter.

Vessels inspected after 6th Sept 2021 must have an In-Water inspection, stability and Out-of-Water inspection as part of renewal. On completion of the In-Water inspection and stability, the vessel is issued a Small Fishing Vessel Certificate (SFVC) for 1 year from anniversary date of renewal. The owner has until the 1-year SFVC expires to complete the out of water. After 1 year, if the Out-of-Water inspection has not been completed and the vessel is continuing to operate, it can be issued with a Detention Notice. If the Out-of-Water inspection has been completed satisfactorily then MCA will issue a SFVC for remainder of the 5 year term from the original anniversary date.

Deficient items that have transitional arrangements (phase in) period applied to them until 5 September 2023, will be recorded by MCA. Owners are expected to provide proof to MCA by 5 September 2023 that the deficiencies are rectified. Failure to do so may lead to the vessel being detained.

If the requirement is not subject to a transitional arrangement, then normal deficiency requirements apply.

5.2 Effects of Covid-19 on certification

New vessels inspected one year ago that were issued a one-year certificate due to Covid-19 restrictions would be expected to have expiry date of the full-term certificate during 2025, as the vessel was first inspected under the previous Code. Therefore, it would need its first Out-of-Water inspection by 2025 plus 1 year, if necessary.

Stability requirements for an existing vessel would apply.

5.3 Remote and hard-to-reach vessels

Vessels in remote and hard-to-reach areas will still have the option of being issued a short-term certificate.

The use of this allowance is strictly limited to vessels in remote and hard-to-reach areas. In some cases, the owner may be asked to declare their stability status. In these instances, the owner will need to perform a stability test without a Surveyor present and send in their results.

There are owners’ forms for Roll/Heel/Offset Load tests in the annexes of the Code for this purpose specifically, which contain instructions and a way of recording results.

5.4 Seafish Construction Standards

For a copy of the Seafish Construction Standards please email fishing@mcga.gov.uk. Please include the year of build of your vessel so that the MCA can supply a copy of the standards relevant to your vessel.

6. Freeboard

Vessels with less than 200mm freeboard are to be considered open vessels and the owner will need to bring the vessel in line with the open vessel standards. If they have freeing ports these should be closed, and deck or ‘sump & pump’ arrangements fitted instead. Such instances may be referred by the attending MCA Surveyor to the Consultant Fishing Vessel Surveyor for a case-by-case review.

If fitting sumps is problematic, for example due to an inboard engine, the vessel may be required to fit coamings of 300mm around hatches with a secure-closing arrangement of watertight flush deck hatches in place of raising freeing ports to the minimum level. They might also ensure that any other areas, such as a cuddy where water might accumulate, also have coamings of 300mm. Flaps fitted to the outside of the freeing ports may also be allowed but not as an alternative to the coaming and hatch arrangements.

Vessels with a design that makes compliance with freeing port requirements difficult, for example catamarans, should refer to Section 2.20 of the Code. “For Vessels under 12 m (RL), where, due to the nature of the vessel’s design this requirement cannot be met or would prove impractical in operation, alternative arrangements based on MSN1892 The Workboat Code section 6.3, or MCA Marine Survey Instructions to Surveyors 27 (MSIS 27) Fishing Vessel Instructions to Surveyors Chapter 2, 2.20 – 2.21, may be accepted on application to MCA. For sealed deck Vessels under 7 m (RL) in length or which operate no more than 20 miles from shore and at all times in favourable weather, a reduction in required freeing port area may be accepted on application to MCA”.

Decked vessels with less than 200mm freeboard are not acceptable and such vessels will either have to raise the freeboard, so they comply or be considered entirely as open vessels. Cases may need to be discussed with the Marine Office and the Consultant Fishing Vessel Surveyor.

7. Under 7m Fishing Vessels

Both In and Out-Of-Water Inspections can take place on the same day for fishing vessels of less than 7m. This also applies to vessels of 7m and over if the inspection can be carried out on the same day.

The MCA need to inspect In-Water to be able to issue the certificate. In very remote locations, the MCA may accept stability test results conducted by owners subject to conditions. The other reason for being In-Water is to witness drills and have a discussion about how to get back on board if someone goes into the water.

8. Machinery and Electrical

The MCA may open fuel and water tanks to conduct pressure testing, where deemed necessary. For more information, please see Annex 10 of MSN1871 Amendment 2.

8.1 Electrical

New vessels (2021) or vessels that update their electrical systems after the Code is introduced (installed from 6 September 2021) will need to conduct a meggar test every five years to comply with MGN628. This may not be necessary on small boats with very limited electrical equipment. Speak to your local Marine Office for further advice on whether you need to conduct tests.

8.2 Gas

Service records for gas heaters should be supplied by a Gas Safe Registered person. Please see Section 5.6 of the Code for more information and MGN312 for further guidance.

8.3 Machinery

Fishing vessels with Tier II engine over 130Kw operating in a non-ECA area are not permitted to go into an ECA area after 1 January 2021. For example, a vessel built with a Tier II engine for operation in Wales, after 1 January 2021, which then comes to Lowestoft under a new owner would not be allowed. New owners should do their due diligence.

Under Section 4.4. of the Code, propulsion requires a secondary means of starting. This is in line with MGN628 Chapter 8. See MSIS27 Chapter 4.4.2 for more information.

There should be no automatic starting of bilge pumps in machinery spaces. Use of absorbent socks leads to a fire hazard, these should only be used to soak up oil for cleaning purposes and are not meant to be left in-situ. Please refer to Section 4.10.3 of the Code for more information.

Indication of discharge should be outside of the protected space, ideally at the helm position. Please refer to Section 5.10.1 of the Code for details.

9. Publicising the Code

To help ensure all affected parties are aware of this Code of Practice, it will be publicised via several channels on a repeated basis.

Channels include, but are not limited to, Fishing News, social media (LinkedIn, Twitter), FISG, IFCAs, POs, Home and Dry, Approved Training Providers and The Safety Folder.

Visit the Home and Dry website for more information, where you can also access sea safety training, guidance, and technical expertise to make fishing safer

10. PFDs

In line with MGN588 paragraph 7.3, the MCA will accept 50N constant wear buoyancy as PFDs, however this needs to be supported by a risk assessment.

11. More Information

We will review this guidance on a regular basis and update with further information as required.

If you have a question about this Code of Practice or its application, please speak to your local Marine Office