1 March 2024

Understanding the
Merchant Shipping Order

By Quinton Hall Marine Business Development Manager

The Merchant Shipping (Watercraft) Order 2023 is a recent law in the UK that governs the safe operation of personal watercraft and other powered recreational vessels. Its primary goal is to prevent hazardous and careless use of watercraft, which can endanger human lives and the environment.

Key points about this order:

  1. Effective Dates: The order was enacted on January 16, 2023, and it came into force on March 31, 2023.
  2. Definition of Watercraft: The law defines a watercraft as any type of vessel capable of self-propulsion, used, navigated, or situated wholly or partly in water. This definition now includes powerboats, RIBs, tenders, sailing dinghies, and keel boats equipped with or carrying a motor.
  3. Optional Registration: Owners of watercraft have the option to register their vessels as small ships under Part III of the UK Ship Register. While registration is not mandatory, it provides proof of ownership, nationality, and legal status for the watercraft.
  4. Safety Prioritization: RYA (Royal Yachting Association) Director of External Affairs, Mel Hide said ‘The RYA welcomes the intent of the new legislation, safe enjoyable boating remains our top priority and the new Merchant Shipping (Watercraft) Order will be an important part of safety on the water. We look forward to working with the Department for Transport and supporting them with the on-going development of legislation to maintain the current high safety standards.’
  5. Enforcement and Penalties: The law empowers the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and other enforcement authorities to prosecute individuals who operate watercraft in a dangerous or negligent manner. Penalties for such offenses can range from fines to imprisonment.


In summary, this new law enhances safety standards on the water and holds accountable those who disregard safe practices while operating watercraft.

For further information about the order, click here.

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