A,B or C? Demystifying Boat Design Categories

Manufacturers of watercrafts such as yachts, play a crucial role in ensuring that products placed on the extended Single Market of the EEA are safe. They are responsible for checking that their products meet EU safety, health, and environmental protection requirements. It is the manufacturer’s responsibility to carry out the conformity assessment, set up the technical file, issue the EU declaration of conformity, and affix the CE marking to a product. Only then can this product be traded on the EEA market.

The text cited here is from Directive 2013/53/EU 

An important read before purchasing a new yacht.

Why all this Bureaucracy?

Conforming to the directive might be a huge and costly undertaking by a yard, but helps harmonise standards we all can navigate by. 

From 18 January 2017, companies - whether they are manufacturers, importers or distributors - are obliged to sell products compliant only with the "new" EU Directive on watercraft 2013/53/EU which officially applies in all 28 Member States (even though 4 countries have still not transposed the Directive into their national law), the European Economic Area (plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway), and Switzerland which applies this Directive voluntarily with some extra requirements. The transition period of one year (18 January 2016 - 17 January 2017), were companies were able to sell products that are compliant with either the "old" Directive 94/25/EC as amended by Directive 2003/44/EC or the "new" Directive 2013/53/EU is now over. 

Need for notified body?

Before proceeding with the conformity assessment procedure, it is important to determine whether the manufacturer, can assess the product by themselves or whether they have to involve a Notified Body.

For specific crafts built for inshore and sheltered water voyages which are manufactured in compliance with European Harmonised Standards which covers all relevant safety aspects, the manufacturer can carry out internal checks on the product and can then draw up and sign the EU Declaration of Conformity.

A Notified Body verifies the compliance of the product by conducting a conformity assessment. It also ensures that the technical documentation sufficiently supports product compliance. If the Notified Body is involved in the production control phase, its identification number will follow the CE marking.

Most yards will also see the use for a Notified Body as a marketing asset. 

What are design categories?

They are, in short, essential safety requirements for the design and construction of a watercraft.

Design Categories



Explanatory notes:

A. A recreational craft given design category A is considered to be designed for winds that may exceed wind force 8 (Beaufort scale) and significant wave height of 4 m and above but excluding abnormal conditions, such as storm, violent storm, hurricane, tornado and extreme sea conditions or rogue waves.

B. A recreational craft given design category B is considered to be designed for a wind force up to, and including, 8 and significant wave height up to, and including, 4 m.

C. A watercraft given design category C is considered to be designed for a wind force up to, and including, 6 and significant wave height up to, and including, 2 m.

D. A watercraft given design category D is considered to be designed for a wind force up to, and including, 4 and significant wave height up to, and including, 0,3 m, with occasional waves of 0,5 m maximum height.

Watercraft in each design category must be designed and constructed to withstand the parameters in respect of stability, buoyancy, and other relevant essential requirements listed in this Annex, and to have good handling characteristics.


2.1. Watercraft identification

Each craft shall be marked with an identification number including the following information:

(1) country code of the manufacturer,

(2) unique code of the manufacturer assigned by the national authority of the Member State,

(3) unique serial number,

(4) month and year of production,

(5) model year.                  

Detailed requirements for the identification number referred to in the first paragraph are set out in the relevant harmonised standard.

2.2 Watercraft builder’s plate

Each watercraft shall carry a permanently affixed plate mounted separately from the watercraft identification number, containing at least the following information:

(a) manufacturer’s name, registered trade name or registered trade mark, as well as contact address;

 (b) CE marking, as provided for in Article 18;

(c) watercraft design category in accordance with Section 1;

(d) manufacturer’s maximum recommended load derived from point 3.6 excluding the weight of the contents of the fixed tanks when full;

(e) number of persons recommended by the manufacturer for which the watercraft was designed.

In the case of post-construction assessment, the contact details and the requirements referred to in point (a) shall include those of the notified body which has carried out the conformity assessment.

2.3. Protection from falling overboard and means of reboarding

Watercraft shall be designed to minimise the risks of falling overboard and to facilitate reboarding. Means of reboarding shall be accessible to or deployable by a person in the water unaided.

2.4. Visibility from the main steering position

For recreational craft, the main steering position shall give the operator, under normal conditions of use (speed and load), good all-round visibility.

2.5. Owner’s manual

Each product shall be provided with an owner’s manual in accordance with Article 7(7) and Article 9(4). That manual shall provide all the information necessary for safe use of the product drawing particular attention to set up, maintenance, regular operation, prevention of risks and risk management.


3.1. Structure

The choice and combination of materials and its construction shall ensure that the watercraft is strong enough in all respects. Special attention shall be paid to the design category in accordance with Section 1, and the manufacturer’s maximum recommended load in accordance with point 3.6.

3.2. Stability and freeboard

The watercraft shall have sufficient stability and freeboard considering its design category in accordance with Section 1 and the manufacturer’s maximum recommended load in accordance with point 3.6.

3.3. Buoyancy and flotation

The watercraft shall be constructed as to ensure that it has buoyancy characteristics appropriate to its design category in accordance with Section 1 and the manufacturer’s maximum recommended load in accordance with point 3.6. All habitable multihull recreational craft susceptible of inversion shall have sufficient buoyancy to remain afloat in the inverted position.

Watercraft of less than 6 metres in length that are susceptible to swamping when used in their design category shall be provided with appropriate means of flotation in the swamped condition.

Yacht in the Oslo Fjord. Photo by Daniel Novello

Yacht in the Oslo Fjord. Photo by Daniel Novello

3.4. Openings in hull, deck and superstructure

Openings in hull, deck(s) and superstructure shall not impair the structural integrity of the watercraft or its weather tight integrity when closed.

Windows, port lights, doors and hatch covers shall withstand the water pressure likely to be encountered in their specific position, as well as point loads applied by the weight of persons moving on deck.

Through hull fittings designed to allow water passage into the hull or out of the hull, below the waterline corresponding to the manufacturer’s maximum recommended load in accordance with point 3.6, shall be fitted with a means of shutoff which shall be readily accessible.


All watercraft shall be designed so as to minimise the risk of sinking.

Where appropriate, particular attention shall be paid to:

(a) cockpits and wells, which should be self-draining or have other means of keeping water out of the watercraft interior;

(b) ventilation fittings;

(c) removal of water by pumps or other means.

3.6. Manufacturer’s maximum recommended load

The manufacturer’s maximum recommended load (fuel, water, provisions, miscellaneous equipment and people (in kilograms)) for which the watercraft was designed, shall be determined in accordance with the design category (Section 1), stability and freeboard (point 3.2) and buoyancy and flotation (point 3.3).

3.7. Life raft stowage

All recreational craft of design categories A and B, and recreational craft of design categories C and D longer than 6 metres shall be provided with one or more stowage points for a life raft (life rafts) large enough to hold the number of persons the recreational craft was designed to carry as recommended by the manufacturer. Life raft stowage point(s) shall be readily accessible at all times.

3.8. Escape

All habitable multihull recreational craft susceptible of inversion shall be provided with

viable means of escape in the event of inversion. Where there is a means of escape provided for use in the inverted position, it shall not compromise the structure (point 3.1), the stability (point 3.2) or buoyancy (point 3.3) whether the recreational craft is upright or inverted.

Every habitable recreational craft shall be provided with viable means of escape in the event of fire.

3.9.Anchoring, mooring and towing

All watercraft, taking into account their design category and their characteristics, shall be fitted with one or more strong points or other means capable of safely accepting anchoring, mooring and towing loads.


The manufacturer shall ensure that the handling characteristics of the watercraft are satisfactory with the most powerful propulsion engine for which the watercraft is designed and constructed. For all propulsion engines, the maximum rated engine power shall be declared in the owner’s manual.

The text above is from Directive 2013/53/EU An important read before purchasing a new yacht.

The good old times, or?

It would be impossible for a state to regulate personal behaviour onboard. Sailors who have tens of thousands of miles under their braces will often tell you that safety onboard is not so much about what kind of boat you sail, but how you sail it. -That safety onboard is a personal choice and that your attitude towards it will be the main contributor to success or failure.

Older yachts are not built according to directives from a economic and political union between 28 European countries that together cover much of the continent. Yet many of them have crossed oceans safely since the days of Joshua Slocum. However, there are not that many Joshua Slocums around anymore. Most sailors today are modern, full time family folk with limitations in both time and abilities. Therefore, a stringent directive which emphasizes undeviating conformity to rules, standards, or requirements in the business of boatbuilding, design and construction are welcomed by most. It makes it easier and ultimately safer for all of us. 

S&S Nautor Swan 40. Photo by Daniel Novello

S&S Nautor Swan 40. Photo by Daniel Novello

Though, many are happy that the lawmakers of the world did not prohibit the use of older yachts still sailing the worlds oceans. Imagine all the classic bluewater sailboats S&S Swans, The Westsails, The Hallberg Rassys or The Contessas if that was the case. We would sail anywhere in the world with those yachts tomorrow. That might not be the case with all of the modern production cruisers of today. CE approved or not.

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