The Recreational Craft Directive - What to look out for when buying a used boat

Since June 1998 all recreational craft new to the European Economic Area (EEA) must meet the requirements of the EU Directive on Recreational Craft or RCD as it is often called.

These regulations apply the RCD to boats between 2.5 and 24m being used for sports and leisure purposes, personal water craft and have introduced environmental provisions about engine and noise emissions.

The Regulations apply equally to businesses and private individuals who place craft on the EEA market.
Anyone considering buying a used boat less than 5 years old or that has been imported from outside the EU should look out for these five items:

  • ? A Builders Plate  
  • ? A CE mark  
  • ? A Craft Identification Number  
  • ? An Owners Manual  
  • ? A Declaration of Conformity

​​What are these?

Every new boat sold or first used in the EU since 16 June 1998 must have a Builder’s Plate. This plate has the maker’s details and technical information such as the design category, maximum loading weight and engine power. It must also include the CE mark. It should be somewhere near the main steering position. 

The Craft Identification Number or CIN/HIN is unique to that craft. It is a code that identifies not only the builder but where and when the craft was built. One is found on or near the transom, starboard side, near the top. The other is hidden as a security check. 

Click here to validate your HIN

Used boats must come with enough instructions and other information to allow the new owner to use and maintain the boat, safely. This information is in the original Owner’s Manual, which had to be supplied when the boat was new. You should also have the manuals for any equipment fitted for the same reasons. All the manuals for the equipment fitted should also be given to the new owner.

The owner's manual must also contain an important legal document called a Declaration of Conformity. This document is issued and signed by the manufacturer, or his agent or the importer. It is part of the CE marking requirements and is one of the Documents that may be asked for and examined by any of the EEA Enforcement Authorities or when registering or insuring the vessel.

If a craft is being offered for sale without one of the five items you could have a problem if you buy it! 
BUT some craft do not need to be CE marked: 

  • ? Any recreational craft already in use in EEA waters before 16th June 1998.  
  • ? Any recreational craft under 2.5m or over 24m.  
  • ? Any recreational craft on the list of exemptions and, usually, labelled as such.  

However in certain circumstances a craft can lose the exemption if it is used as a recreational craft and will need to meet the requirements of the RCD. This is a complex area to give general advice on. Each case has to be examined and decisions made on an individual basis.
Some examples to be aware of: 

Used boats from countries outside the EEA 
Any boat, new or used, imported into the EEA since June 16 1998 is regarded as being a craft new to the EEA market. This means it has to meet all the requirements of the RCD before it can be used.

There is no exemption for importation for personal use. In particular check the paperwork of small sports cruiser/power boats very carefully.

For Personal Water Craft (PCW) the date is 1st January 2006.
Exempted craft changing their use 

When an exempted craft changes its use and becomes a recreational craft, it may lose its exemption and should be CE marked. 

For example, boats built intended purely for racing and labelled as such by the manufacturer are exempt. If, in the future, they are sold off as cruising boats. They become recreational craft and the full requirements of the RCD will apply. 

The regulations do not apply to any recreational craft that were in use before June 16th 1998, unless they undergo substantial changes that would effectively mean they are new craft.

The circumstances surrounding each individual craft will determine whether or not it should be CE marked.
Partially Complete Boats and Home Built/Completed 

To meet this exemption, these craft, sometimes known as ‘sail-aways’, must have been used as a recreational craft by the first owner/ builder/ completer for at least 5 years before being offered for sale.

This type of craft is commonly sold for use on inland waterway’s or as sea angling boats. The clock starts ticking from the first time it is used as a recreational craft on the water, not necessarily from when it is completed. 
Ask the owner for documentary proof that the non-CE marked home built or completed craft has been in use for 5 years. 
This proof could include inland-way waterways licences or mooring, launching and docking receipts. 

  • ? The enforcement authorities of any EEA Member State can take action to remove a non-compliant boat from their waters.  
  • ? Even if you are not responsible for the placing on the market, when the craft is discovered it could be suspended from being used until it is made compliant and ultimately, it could be ordered to be destroyed.  
  • ? Most non-compliant boats can be made to comply, through a Post construction Assessment (PCA) but there is a cost involved. It could be you that foots the bill.  
  • ? A non-compliant boat is not worth as much as a compliant one.  
  • ? Your insurance cover may be invalid.  
  • ? A non-compliant boat never gains compliance just because it has been used for some time.  
  • ? From the 1st January 2006, inboard petrol and diesel engines must have type approval and meet strict emissions and noise levels. It is unlikely that a used engine will be able to meet the requirements. 


  • ? The best advice is to look for the 5 items listed in the opening section above.  
  • ? If they are not present then ask why not.  
  • ? All new recreational craft must be comply with the Recreational Craft Regulations 1996.  

If the craft is not CE marked and does not fall into one the exemptions, you could risk a lot by buying it.

Used boats and RCD


Independent Marine Surveyors and Consultants