Hull types on narrowboats have remained largely unchanged over the past 200 years
All new narrowboats must be compliant to the Recreational Craft Directive
Sailaway narrowboats are also covered by the RCD

Recreational Craft Directive… Explained

What is the Recreational Craft Directive?

The RCD as it is commonly known, is a European Directive which sets minimum requirements for boats manufactured, sold and used across the European Union. It has applied since June 1998 to all boats between 2.5 and 24 metres long, with few exceptions such as canoes. The RCD is enforced in the UK by Trading Standards.

What is the Purpose of the RCD?

It sets minimum standards for canal boat builders from electrical installations to the positioning and marking of CE hull plates.

Areas such as design, strength, handling and stability are all covered. It must be remembered that these are standards for all boats and ships of which narrowboats form a relatively small percentage. There are four categories of craft covered by the RCD and canal and river craft fall into Category C and D, which means builders can self certify. Never-the-less all narrow boat builders have to observe the regulations.

UK Management of the RCD

In the UK, the British Marine Federation (BMF) represents businesses in the marine industry and provides information, support and assistance on the RCD. The CBA (Canal Boat Builders Association) is the affiliated BMF member organisation that represents narrow boat builders here in the UK.

Does the Recreational Craft Directive Apply to You?

If you are privately building a narrowboat for resale within 5 years, you too are subject to ensuring the boat conforms to the RCD. After 4 years the narrow boat becomes subject to regulation under the BSS.

The RCD is under constant review. What applies today may well not apply tomorrow. For canal boat builders this is an issue as they have to be aware of the latest developments and changes to regulation.

Ask the Experts, there are no Guesses or Compromises…

If you are interested in finding out more about the RCD, whether for building your own narrowboat for personal pleasure or resale please use the links below.

Click here for The British Marine Federation

Click here for information on the BMF Recreation Craft Directive

Click here for the Canal Boat Builders Association

Recreational Craft Directive… Buying A New Or Used Boat?

It is essential if you are buying a new narrowboat or a used narrowboat (that was not already in use in the EU on June 16th 1998) you understand the requirements of the RCD. If a narrowboat does not comply it may be impossible to use, insure or sell. You need to look out for the following:

  • A builders plate – makers details and technical information
  • A CE mark
  • A Watercraft Identification Number (or previously CIN or HIN) – it is carried in two places on the boat; one should be hidden for security.
  • An owners manual with information needed to use and maintain the boat safety
  • A declaration of conformity (DoC)

CE marking is complex and a number of strict criteria have to be adhered to. Importantly the CE plate will have a hull identification number which is then registered with the Canal and River Trust for licensing purposes.

Recreational Craft Directive… Sailaways or Self Builds?

RCD is not only applicable to narrow boat builders, but also to anyone buying a sailaway narrow boat or completing a self build. There are special requirements for these type of boats.

New Regulations January 2017

As of 18th January 2017 canal boat builders will not be able to issue Annex lll(a) Declaration of Conformities for part-completed craft. A narrow boat sailaway must be sold CE marked with a full DofC. Canal boat shells sold to a professional boat builder for completion have to carry an Annex lll DofC. Further details of the changes can be found in the following section.


An eligible boat can only be exempt from the RCD requirements if its classed as a ‘home build’. This is a hull or sailaway that is completed by an individual who then keeps it for their private use for a minimum of 5 years (from when the boat is first used on the water). However, the narrowboat would still require a BSS certificate.

If you are buying a used self build narrow boat, you must ask for proof of the 5 year ownership including BSS certificates, licences, mooring invoices etc.

Recreational Craft Directive

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Advance tickets can be ordered by phone and online until 12midday on Friday 17 May 2024. If you are planning to purchase advance tickets, we recommend that you do so well before this deadline to allow time for postal delivery.
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