3. Safety at sea

You must follow international safety regulations if you’re using a boat at sea.

This means you must:

  • plan your voyage
  • carry a radar reflector
  • carry an illustrated table of the recognised life-saving signals
  • help other craft, if needed
  • use distress signals properly

You could be prosecuted if you’re involved in a boating accident and you haven’t followed the regulations.

Read the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s ‘Life saving signals’ leaflet for more information.

Preventing collisions

The regulations on preventing collisions say that you must:

  • fit navigation lights, shapes and sound-signalling devices on your boat
  • stay a safe distance away from other boats, and diving boats flying the blue-and-white ‘Alpha’ flag
  • be alert to other boats around you at all times

Read ‘The Merchant Shipping (Distress Signals and Prevention of Collisions) Regulations 1996’ for more information.

Safety equipment

If your boat is more than 13.7 metres long, you must carry:

  • lifejackets
  • liferafts
  • flares
  • fire extinguishers

The specific details of what you need to carry depends on the size of your boat and how far you’re travelling away from the coast.

See the regulations applicable to ‘pleasure vessels’.

Preventing pollution

You mustn’t drop oil or rubbish into the sea. If your boat is more than 12 metres long you must also display a notice on board explaining how to get rid of rubbish properly.

For more information, read the regulations for preventing pollution from ships.

Getting rid of old or damaged flares

You must follow the rules for getting rid of of out-of-date or damaged flares.

It’s an offence to:

  • put them in household rubbish, garden waste or public litter bins
  • dump them at sea
  • leave them anywhere a member of the public could find them
  • set them off

You should contact any of the following:

  • the place you bought them, if they offer a ‘take back’ scheme
  • some marinas - a small charge may apply
  • some liferaft service stations
  • some council recycling centres

You may also be able to dispose of them at a maritime rescue coordination centre (MRCC). You must book an appointment in advance.

If you own a commercial boat

If you own a small commercial boat you may also have to: