Codes of practice and standards for constructing, maintaining and operating fishing vessels
The construction, maintenance and operation of fishing vessels is controlled by national and international regulations and legislation. These form the basis of the classification, certification and inspection of fishing vessels.
This guide outlines the standards and regulations applying to fishing vessels. It also covers sources of additional information for owners, operators and crew.
Fishing Vessels: Codes of Practice
The standards for the construction and maintenance of fishing vessels vary according to the vessel’s overall length.
There are separate standards for fishing vessels, covering fishing vessels of the following length:
- up to 15 metres overall length
- from 15 overall length to 24 metres registered length
- over 24 metres registered length
Vessels under 24 metres registered length
Vessels of less than 24 metres are covered by codes of practice, set out in the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) documents, Merchant Shipping Notice (MSN) 1871 (F) and MSN 1872 (F).
Vessels over 24 metres registered length
The code of practice for fishing vessels over 24 metres in length were published in 2017. The code MSN 1873 and regulations cover fishing vessel design and construction - as well as maintenance, safety and emergency procedures. They form the basis for surveys of new vessels, and of the periodic surveys of all fishing vessels over 15 metres length.
Vessels under 15 metres overall length
Fishing vessels under 15 metres are not subject to statutory surveys, but the MCA will inspect them periodically to ensure they are seaworthy, equipped to a safe standard, and that they comply with the relevant code.
Construction standards for fishing vessels
If your fishing vessels are registered in the UK, or operating in UK waters, they are required by law to be seaworthy and equipped to a safe standard. Specific construction standards cover the physical structure of the vessel - including deckhouses and superstructures - and machinery and equipment.
The Sea Fish Industry Authority (Seafish) has established construction standards for fishing vessels of up to 15 metres overall length, and of 15 to less than 24 metres. All new vessels must meet these standards.
Vessels up to 15 metres overall length
If you want to register a vessel of up to 15 metres on the UK register, you must demonstrate its seaworthiness and safety. If your vessels were built after 16 July 2007, they must conform to the Seafish Construction Standards.
If your vessels were built before 16 July 2007, you must prove they are seaworthy by getting your vessel surveyed by an Authorised Surveyor against the Seafish Construction and Outfit Standards. The Authorised Surveyor will provide a report to the MCA who will decide whether your vessel can be registered or not.
After registration, you will need to arrange a MCA inspection of safety equipment and crew qualifications. This inspection must be repeated every five years, along with annual self certification. For more information, see the guide fishing vessel classification, registration and inspection.
Details of Seafish survey fees can be obtained by contacting Seafish Marine Services on 01472 252 300 or by emailing email@example.com.
Vessels 15 to 24 metres overall length
Medium-sized fishing vessels must meet the construction requirements in the code of practice for fishing vessels of 15 to 24 metres.
New vessels in this size range must also conform to the Seafish Construction Standards.
These vessels must be surveyed by Seafish against their Construction Standards, then undergo an MCA survey under the code of practice MSN 1872. The vessel should be resurveyed after five years to renew its Fishing Vessel Certificate, and also undergo a mid-term inspection. Owners must also complete an annual self-certification. For more information, see the guide to fishing vessel classification, registration and inspection.
Vessels over 24 metres
The construction of larger fishing vessels is governed by The Code of Practice for the Construction and Safe Operation of Fishing Vessels of 24m Registered Length and Over.
Fishing vessels over 24 metres must be surveyed annually by UK-authorised Classification Societies, to ensure compliance with the regulations. The Classification Society will carry out a full survey every five years, to ensure the vessel remains in class.
The five Classification Societies are:
- American Bureau of Shipping
- Bureau Veritas
- Det Norske Veritas Germanischer Lloyd
- Lloyds Register of Shipping
- Registro Italiano Navale
The MCA will survey the vessel for its International Fishing Vessel Certificate when the owner wishes to place it on the UK Register, and at intervals of four years afterwards. The MCA will also carry out an intermediate survey, 21 to 27 months after the certificate was issued. For more information, see the guide to fishing vessel classification, registration and inspection.
Maintenance standards for fishing vessels
Fishing vessel codes of practice emphasise the importance of regular maintenance of a high standard - particularly of safety equipment and systems. For vessels below 24 metres in length, this requirement forms part of the annual self-certification needed to maintain the Fishing Certificate.
The MCA inspects vessels of 15 to 24 metres overall length. Vessels over 24 metres have safety equipment and systems checked annually, and are also subject to more detailed statutory intermediate surveys. If safety equipment is not properly maintained, vessels may be detained and the owners prosecuted.
The MCA also provides guidance on specific problems, such as:
- premature failure of copper pipes in engine cooling water systems
- avoiding engine failure due to fuel contamination
- avoiding flooding by using suitable grades of stainless steel for pipe work
- bilge systems and additional/alternative equipment to help prevent flooding
- testing of emergency sources of electrical power
- maintenance of electrical equipment
- maintenance of portable fire extinguishers
- fire detection and alarm systems on fishing vessels
The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) publishes a range of leaflets, reports and DVDs on fishing safety [insert link here]
The condition of seawater pipework within a fishing vessel is an important factor in preventing flooding in a vessel.
Stainless steel seawater pipework can reduce pipework corrosion, but some grades of stainless steel are not suitable for marine use. For example, austenitic stainless steels (304/304L and 316/316L) may be at risk of chloride stress corrosion cracking when used with seawater or polluted water, possibly leading to fracture. One solution is to increase the nickel content (eg alloy 330, 904L) or to use a duplex or ferritic stainless steel, eg 329, 2205, 439, 26Cr 1 Mo.
You can contact the RNLI helpline on 0800 328 0600 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Operational standards for fishing vessels
Fishing vessel codes of practice and regulations provide guidance on best practice in areas such as:
- fire protection, including fire precautions and the deployment and use of fire-protection equipment
- protection of personnel, including risk assessments, accident prevention and securing of equipment
- life-saving equipment
- emergency procedures, including inspections and drills in relation to emergency procedures
You must ensure that all onboard equipment is of serviceable condition and regularly maintained. Equipment and maintenance schedules are inspected during statutory surveys of vessels over 15 metres in length.
The MCA will check these areas in smaller fishing vessels during normal inspections.
Seafish Marine Services
01472 252 300
0800 328 0600