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The revision of the REG CODE for large yachts


The merchant shipping sector is ruled by safety regulations developed since the beginning of the 20th Century and is familiar with international conventions such as SOLAS, MARPOL and Load Lines.

But the application of common safety requirements to pleasure vessels is something relatively new – a continuous work in progress– and is very much dependant on the service and the flag of the yacht.

International Regulatory Framework

For a pleasure yacht to be legally engaged in trade and considered a commercial yacht, the vessel must be surveyed and certified to numerous international and national regulations.

These rules cover a spectrum of topics for safety, environmental protection, and security. Applicability is based upon a combination of the yacht’s length, tonnage, and the number of personnel on board.

As well known, the majority of international regulations are established by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a specialized agency of the United Nations. Its 170 member states and 3 associate members are the body behind nearly all technical standards and legal rules for safety at sea and prevention of pollution by ships.

Compliance procedures for Large Yachts

Through a series of inspections, plan reviews, surveys, and audits, the Flag State ensures that a yacht meets the requirements of the applicable regulation. For example, for yachts registered under the British flag, the MCA – Maritime and Coastguard Agency is the Flag Administration for the United Kingdom and its dependencies.

In some cases, the Flag State delegates its enforcement authority, or a portion thereof, to a RO – Recognized Organization, most commonly a classification society. Classification, as a completely private service performed by these societies, consists of the issuing of rules for the safety of vessels, and performing inspections to ensure that these rules are being applied.

The main purpose is to protect vessels as a piece of property. The rules apply principally to the structural strength of the hull and the reliability of its essential machinery and equipment. The owner uses the certificate issued by the classification society as an assurance of technical soundness and as a tool for obtaining insurance at a reasonable cost.

Port State Control (PSC)
On the local level, sovereign and other self-governing nations have the right to control any activities within their own borders, including those of visiting yachts. Authority and control over foreign-flagged vessels in a country’s ports, used to verify compliance with the requirements of the applicable maritime conventions, is called PSC – Port State Control.

PSC may enforce its own unique, and sometimes unilateral, regulations.

An example can be seen in the United States and its requirement for an Advanced Notice of Arrival: this is not an international regulation and is specific to vessels entering and/or departing U.S. waters.

Large Yacht Code

For those yachts that operate in Europe, they will be familiar with the Paris MOU inspection scheme. The majority of rules outlined in SOLAS are designed for yachts of 500 gross tons or greater.

For yachts, these rules can be difficult to meet full compliance as the regulations in SOLAS are predominantly written for internationally trading merchant ships. The major yachting Flag States have recognized that yachts in commercial use for sport or pleasure do not fall naturally into a single class, and certain prescribed merchant ship safety standards have been found to be incompatible with the intended use, scope of operations, or safety needs particular to such yachts.

Because of this, the United Kingdom (MCA) published the first set of rules for yachts over 24m. Known as the Large Yacht Code, this publication uses SOLAS as a basis for safety, but provides certain equivalencies and exemptions for yachts.

The MCA first produced a Code of Practice for the Safety of Large Commercial Sailing and Motor Vessels, or ‘LY1’, in 1997. It provided unique and internationally recognised safety standards for construction, operation and manning of large yachts.

After following amendments trough LY2 and LY3, finally the collaboration between members of the British Shipping Registers REG – Red Ensign Group (which includes the UK, the Crown Dependencies and the UK Overseas Territories) and the industry as a whole has led to the creation of a new yacht code.

The REG Yacht Code, which was launched on 13 November 2017 at the Global Superyacht Forum in Amsterdam, has taken into account all the expertise gained across almost 2 decades of regulating the large yacht sector since the Code of Practice for the Safety of Large Commercial Sailing and Motor Vessels, or LY1, was published in 1997.

In November 2017, the Red Ensign Group published the new ‘REG Yacht Code’, which will replace the REG’s existing codes: the Large Yacht Code (LY3) and the Passenger Yacht Code (PYC). In its new format, the Code is made up of 2 parts with common annexes such as for over-side working systems, sailing vessels and helicoptor landing areas.

It will keep the familiar format of the existing REG codes while being more dynamic to industry change and development.

Currently the REG Code has become the major standard within the yacht industry. It is used by the United Kingdom and its dependencies, plus other major yachting flags (while some flags have created their own National yacht codes, like Malta, Marshal Islands, Bahamas).

REG Yacht Code under the spotlight in Amsterdam

Technical experts from across the Red Ensign Group have been engaging with industry on the REG Yacht Code.

The 2022 Industry Working Group Meeting held in Amsterdam discussed the future amendments to the existing text of the REG Yacht Code (including the SOLAS 2020 amendments): these amendments are now intended for inclusion in the next revision of the Code, which will affect keels laid on or after 1 January 2024.

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