The future RCD 2013/53/EU


On 28th December 2013, a new edition the European Recreational Craft Directive (RCD) was published by the European Commission. There was an update of RCD, back in 2006, but this is different. It is not an update. It is a whole new Directive that repeals the previous version.

Why? Was the old Directive broken?

The answer is that it was broken, in many ways.  The old Directive suffered from a lot of misinterpretation: both innocent and intentional. While a lack of clarity is frustrating for boat builders and importers, it is worse for the authorities. They find it difficult to enforce the law when it is unclear. This was a problem across the entire range of EU product law and there was growing frustration with the lack of harmony. So the EU Commission issued the “New Legislative Framework” in 2008. This was a comprehensive shake-up that primarily gives the authorities a greater mandate for enforcement. This goes hand in hand with the requirement that all product legislation be updated with greater clarity.

So the new Directive provides a lot of definitions. Believe it or not, the old Directive, which applies to “boats”, didn’t define what a boat is. You may think you know what a boat is but there have been many arguments about it. Is the JetLev in the scope of RCD? The EU Member State governments can’t agree on that one. The new Directive has a neat solution to dealing with this, which we shall reveal in a moment. First we need:

The Headlines

The new Directive is to be known as: “2013/53/EU, repealing Directive 94/25/EC”

The Directive will come into force on 20th January 2014 but cannot be used until all the member states have adopted it into their national law. That must be done by 18th January 2016.  So this is the earliest date the new Directive may be used.  There is then a transition period of 1 year, during which either Directive may be used.  From 18th January 2017, the old Directive will cease to exist and the new Directive must be applied.


So back to the issue of scope: what “boats” must comply? The first point of interest is that the Directive now applies to “watercraft” which is the new all-inclusive term for “recreational craft” and personal watercraft (ie jetskis). What is the definition of a “watercraft”. Well it is a “recreational craft”!  So we are in a loop where one defines the other and the word “boat” does not appear.  An amusing consequence is that the unique ID number that used to be a Hull ID Number (HIN), and then became a Craft ID Number (CIN)” is to become a “WIN”.

Modifications from the current Directive

Leaving aside the clarifications of definitions and of procedure, the physical differences required of the boat itself are not that many.

  • The means of re-boarding must now be deployable by a person in the water.
  • All heads must be connected directly to holding tanks. (No Y-valve in-between).
  • Electric propulsion must be separated from all other electrical circuits.
  • Engine exhaust emissions are brought in-line with US requirements.

I think we all welcome these changes and any clarification can only be helpful.

Post Construction Assessment

Where the new Directive does become more complex and contentious is with regards to Post Construction Assessment (PCA).  PCA is the procedure that must be followed where the CE marking is not executed by the manufacturer (or his formally authorised representative).  Note that it is nothing to do with new or used.  Even a brand new, unused boat must go through PCA if the European importer is seeking the CE mark.

So what are the big changes to PCA?  Most importantly, there is a change in who may use PCA.  The Commission did not like companies buying boats in USA, putting them through PCA and selling them in EU for profit.  While we might call this “business”, the Commission called it “cheating” (their word).  So now they have introduced the concept of a “private importer”. Only a private importer may apply for PCA. A Private importer is someone who, “in the course of a non-commercial activity” imports a boat “with the intention of putting it into service for his own use;”

While a “private importer” must apply for the CE mark, the Directive also states that all “economic operators intervening in the supply and distribution chain should take appropriate measures to ensure that products … comply with the relevant legislation”.  So now there is no debating the issue: brokers do carry some responsibility for RCD compliance.

Another change in PCA is that we Notified Bodies (the certifiers) can no-longer write the compliance documents for boats going through PCA.  (There is a perceived conflict of interest where a certifier approves the documents that it created).  So this means the cost of PCA will increase as the applicant must now hire a consultancy to write the documentation as well as hiring the Notified Body to check it.

Stability Assessment

8 days before publishing the new Directive, the Commission also published an update of RCD’s most critical standard:  ISO12217 on stability and buoyancy (parts 1 and 3 only. Part 2, for sailboats was pusblished in March 2014).  These standards may be used now but are riddled with errors and are difficult if not impossible to use until a corrigendum is published in lat May or June 2014.

The challenge with writing standards is creating a document that handles the many variations of design. The first edition of this standard was very simple and with each subsequent edition, it has become increasingly complicated. In its defence, each update has acknowledged more special features. In this latest edition, we have new sections for motor-multihulls and motor sailors. It also has a fantastically complicated section on “recess size”. This is attempting to answer the question of how open a cockpit has to be before it can be considered a deck rather than a recess? Ultimately this provides a means of justifying flush sills on the main deck since sills: a feature that has caused a great deal of disharmony in the past.

While recognition of these design features is welcome, the task of demonstrating compliance has become notably more complex. Much more calculation, rather than physical testing, is now required.


The new directive and the latest standards provide for a clearer and more detailed legislative framework and new design fashions can be better accommodated.  On the negative side, the work required to demonstrate compliance has greatly increased.  CE marking is going to get more expensive and authorities now have the tools to enforce it more vigorously. What is more, everyone involved in the supply of a boat to EU waters is now implicated in the list of responsibilities.  The industry has 2 years to wake-up and take the CE mark seriously!

More information

The Commission’s narrative about the new Directive

The full text of the new Directive (2013/53/EU)

Contact HPi

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