High-speed craft: construction and maintenance standards

Operational codes of practice, construction and maintenance standards for cargo or passenger high-speed craft and Ro-Ro.


High-speed craft is a special category of sea-going vessels that includes hovercraft, catamarans and hydrofoils. The construction and operation of commercial high-speed craft is generally subject to similar legislation to that controlling other merchant shipping.

However, because of the specific issues created by their speed of travel, there are both additional and substitute regulations that take account of the operation of these craft, whether used for cargo or passengers.

This guide explains about operational codes of practice, construction and maintenance standards and discusses the specific issue of high-speed roll-on/roll-off craft.

High-Speed Craft Code

The International code of safety for high-speed craft was developed originally by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which prepares the majority of regulations and standards concerning the operation of both cargo and passenger vessels operating on international voyages. The code provides comprehensive guidance on the correct equipment and methods of operation and maintenance for high-speed craft.

A new chapter of the IMO’s Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention came into force in 1996, making the code mandatory for all high-speed craft built on or after 1 January 1996. The code is regularly updated to take account of technological developments for high-speed craft.

The code has been adopted into UK maritime law, most recently through the Merchant Shipping (High Speed Craft) Regulations 2004.

Construction standards for high-speed craft

The International Code of Safety for High-Speed Craft establishes detailed standards for construction of high-speed craft. These cover:

  • structural considerations
  • crew and passenger accommodation
  • steering and control
  • safety, life-saving and emergency equipment
  • propulsion systems and machinery
  • electrical, radio and navigational equipment
  • stabilisation

These standards are the basis on which ship surveys are conducted and on which operational certificates are issued.

Many high-speed craft suffer from problems of control in following and quartering seas, prompting the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to conduct research into the issue.

You can download Marine guidance note (MGN) 327 (M) high-speed craft dynamic stability in following and quartering seas - design guidance.

Maintenance and operational standards for high-speed craft

The International Code of Safety for High-Speed Craft provides extensive guidelines on maintenance of the vessel, including preventative inspection, routine maintenance and modifications. The code also includes procedures for recording and reporting maintenance.

Maintenance is a core issue in periodic inspections of the vessel. As an owner, if you fail to observe correct maintenance procedures this could lead to legal action against you.

The code also gives detailed instructions for the correct operation of your high-speed vessels, including documentation, training, safety and emergency instructions.

There are additional instructions for cargo and passenger craft, particularly for training and emergency procedures.

Requirements for Ro-Ro high-speed craft

High-speed roll-on/roll-off (Ro-Ro) vessels such as catamarans and hydrofoil craft are subject to the general requirements of the International Code of Safety for High-Speed Craft. However, they are also covered by specific regulations, particularly in relation to passenger and crew safety. There are specific references in the code to stability and buoyancy issues.

Ro-Ro vessels are also covered by the damage stability requirements of the SOLAS Convention, while vessels operating on international voyages in northwest Europe and the Baltic must comply with the ‘Stockholm agreement’. Both of these lay down requirements for the stability of Ro-Ro vessels in the event of damage causing water to flood vehicle decks.

Proving the seaworthiness of your high-speed craft

All high-speed craft are subject to the 2001 Merchant Shipping (Mandatory Surveys for Ro-Ro Ferry and High Speed Passenger Craft) Regulations. These require that all vessels have an initial survey and a renewal survey after no more than 5 years and additional surveys as required, such as after substantial repairs take place.

Inspections are also required of individual equipment such as safety systems, radios and navigational systems - some of which require more frequent surveys.

Published 18 September 2012