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Understanding Yacht Classifications – Definitions, Explanations, and Regulations

yacht classification

Yacht classifications, also known as classification societies or class societies, are an important part of maritime safety. These classifications dictate the design, construction and ongoing maintenance of large commercial vessels and yachts.

The classifications provide highly detailed and technical standards that cover the yacht’s hull, its engines, and key safety systems.  The application of common safety requirements to personal vessels like yachts is something relatively new, so the procedures are constantly evolving. Typically, it is dependant on the service and the flag of the yacht.

Standard Yacht Types

Before discussing the different types of yacht classifications, it’s important to understand the different yacht types. Yachts are typically segmented based on the overall length and how many passengers they can accommodate. The standard yacht classification types are large yachts or luxury sailing yachts, commercial yachts, and private yachts.

Large Yachts

Large yachts, also known as luxury yachts, is the largest classification type for yachts. A large yacht has a load line length equal to or over 24m or about 80 feet. Just about every flag administrations have adopted safety codes for large yachts. Therefore, this is the only yacht definition having a universal meaning in the international regulatory framework of yachts.

Commercial Yachts

Commercial yachts are ones that are used for commercial use, whether it be sport or charter. These ships do not transport or carry any cargo and carry no more than 12 passengers.

All flag states require that commercial yachts are certified in accordance with a specific large yacht safety code. The most widely used safety code is the MCA Large Commercial Yacht Code (LY2) published in 2004.

Private Yachts

Private yachts are typical pleasure vessels used for the recreational and leisure purpose of its owner and his guests.  In some cases, they are also known as cruising yachts.

What Is A Classification Society?

Classification societies are organizations that set the rules that govern the construction, maintenance, and operation of yachts and vessels. Currently, there are 13 members of the International Association of Classification Societies. Classification societies were first started when insurance underwriters at Lloyd’s of London set standards for the ships that they would ensure.

As a result, Lloyd’s Register of Shipping (LR) was the original classification society. While many of the 13 members do not classify yachts, they cover everything from container ships to supertankers.

The main class societies involved in yachting are the American Bureau of Shipping, Bureau Veritas, Det Norske Veritas, Germanischer Lloyd, Lloyd’s Register, and RINA.

What Is A Flag State?

A vessel’s flag state is the jurisdiction or nationality under whose laws the vessel is registered or licensed. The flag state has the authority and responsibility to create regulations for vessels registered under its flag. These typically involve those relating to the inspection, certification, and issuance of safety and pollution prevention documents for a vessel.

Different flag administrations may perform inspections on the safety aspects of yachts using their own inspectors or use classification societies or other recognized organizations to perform these inspections.

The main flag authorities in the yachting industry are the UK-MCA, Cayman Islands, Isle of Man, Malta, the Marshall Islands, Italy, and Luxembourg.

What Is The Classification Process

The first step of classification involves the assessment of a yacht’s designs and regular inspections during the construction or conversion of a yacht. Once it is confirmed that all standards have been met, a certificate of classification is issued.

The certificate details the standards met, the intended use for the vessel, and whether the vessel should be used only in sheltered waters. The certificate is evidence that a yacht meets industry standards but isn’t necessarily a guarantee of seaworthiness.

Maintaining classification is achieved through regular surveys. These surveys, also known as ‘special’ surveys, typically take place every five years. These surveys assess things like the thickness of the hull, possible fractures, and other potential damage. They also consider the condition of electrical systems, machinery, and equipment.

Mandatory Classification Certificates

There are a variety of different classification certificates. The number and type of the mandatory certificates for a given ship will depend on its size.

International Tonnage Certificate
This expresses the internal volumes of the yacht in gross tons. Unlike displacement tonnage, this does not quantify the weight of a vessel.

Large Yacht Code Certificate
This certificate covers navigational and signaling equipment, life-saving appliances, fire protection, means of escape, and manning and crew accommodation.

Class Certificate
This mainly deals with the yacht’s hull, machinery, electrical equipment, and outfitting.

International Load Line Certificate
This certificate covers the weather-tightness of the yacht.

Safety Radio Certificate
This certificate only applies if gross tonnage exceeds 300GT. It covers radio communication and distress installations.

MARPOL Annex I Certificate
This certificate only applies if gross tonnage exceeds 400GT and covers the disposal of oil and bilge water.

MARPOL Annex IV Certificate
This certificate only applies if gross tonnage exceeds 400GT or the yacht is certified to carry more than 15 people and covers the disposal of sewage from ships.

This certificate covers the disposal of rubbish and applies to all ships.

This is applicable if gross tonnage exceeds 400GT as well as to all main and auxiliary engines with a power exceeding 130kW. It concerns the emissions from main and auxiliary engines (NOx and SOx).

Safety Construction and Safety Equipment
These cover machinery, electrical parts, life-saving and navigational equipment for yachts with a gross tonnage above 500GT.

International Safety Management Certificate
This only applies to yachts with a gross tonnage greater than 500GT. A certified management company is requested to carry out this service, preparing operational manuals, procedures for drills, and taking care of the maintenance of the yacht and its installations.

International Ship and Port Security Certificate
This only applies to yachts and ships with a gross tonnage greater than 500GT and covers the anti-piracy certification. A certified management company is requested to provide ashore assistance and establish onboard procedures and operational manuals.

Keeping Your Yacht Up To Classification

Tess Electrical has years of experience in maintaining yachts and commercial vessels. We deal with vessels 125’ and above, which have more complex systems dictated by Classification, Flag State and Insurance requirements. Even if vessels are not classed, we can still maintain them to those standards.

Give us a call or send us an email to speak with one of our experienced marine engineers about developing a maintenance strategy for your yacht today.


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