Regulations and Licences

> French boat safety equipment regulations <

Skippering a Pleasure Craft

Skippers of British Registered boats – motor or sail – do not require an International Certificate of Competence (ICC) when sailing in French coastal waters (unless you charter or use a French registered boat). However, if as a visitor (not defined) you are planning to use the French canals and rivers, the boat’s skipper must have an ICC certificate endorsed for Inland Waters (having passed the CEVNI exam). Paradoxically, hire boat skippers (i.e the most inexperienced) need no qualifications at all (merely some very limited tuition) and this is another reason why hire boats should be treated with caution by more seasoned boaters, especially those piloting their own craft.

The ICC Certificate

UK nationals and residents can take a course for the ICC at Royal Yachting Association (RYA) recognised sea schools and training centres. The ICC can also be awarded on production of an appropriate RYA certificate. ICC forms are available from the RYA in the United Kingdom, via the Website, or from RYA recognised sea schools that test for the ICC. The application form must be completed and submitted with a passport photograph and copies of practical course completion certificates if applicable. An ICC is valid for 5 years. The UK (RYA) ICC has six categories. When an ICC certificate is issued, only the categories for which competence has been proven will be validated. The categories include sail, power and inland – it is therefore possible to hold an ICC sailing certificate also validated for inland use through the CEVNI endorsement.

Update 2011 – the RYA is now able to certify for non-UK nationals, provided they would have been unable to do so in the home country.

The CEVNI Endorsement

CEVNI is the code governing navigation on the interconnected European inland waterways and is the basis of the various countries’ own regulations. Signs, rules and procdures for navigating the European inland waterways are all included within the CEVNI code and in the same way as pleasure craft on coastal waters are expected to abide by the COLREGS, pleasure craft on the inland waterways of Europe, which in places are heavily utilised by commercial traffic are expected to know and follow the CEVNI code. If you require an ICC endorsed for use on inland waters, you must learn the CEVNI code and sit the CEVNI test. The “RYA European waterways regulations (the CEVNI rules explained)” publication G17 provides the information you need to learn the code in a clear and concise way.

The CEVNI test is a short multiple choice paper – a sample paper is available and this can also be found at the back of the book. The training centre will, confirm successful completion of the test by signing the relevant section of the ICC application form – there is no separate certificate. Our own very highly recommended inland and coastal RYA, ICC and CEVNI training centre in the UK is at Bisham Abbey on the River Thames west of London – see www.bishamabbeysailing.co.uk

The French System (Permis Plaisance)

On 1 January 2008, a new system for French registered boats was introduced. The Recreational Permit (Permis Plaisance) is available for four different purposes, one each for sea and inland waters, each of which can be extended. Validity is ‘for life’. The inland water permits are:


(a) EI Eaux Intérieures permit – for boats up to 20 metres.

A QCM theory test of 25 questions is taken (four errors are allowed). Plus a minimum of three hours practical training must take place at a training centre. Practical training may begin before the theory test is taken, but a permit is only issued when the practical and theory tests are passed.

(b) GP Grande Plaisance Fluviale permit – for boats with no length restriction.

Basically the Eaux Interieures test, plus the candidate must be at least 18 years of age and have done a minimum of 9 hours practical training on a boat of at least 20 metres in length. The GP permit has replaced the former PP (peniche plaisance) licence that applied to boats over 15m.

Beyond the GP, taking passengers on board a peniche (i.e a hotel barge) requires a “Passager” licence which also involves serving time as deck crew. The prime sources for tuition and advice for larger craft (but also for ICC/CEVNI in France) are Tam and Di Murrell in Cambrai – see www.bargehandling.com

The Vignette

Actually travelling the French waterways obliges purchase of a vignette whose cost is calculated according to the size of boat (more accurately its surface area) and to the length of time the vignette is required for. For details, see the VNF Vignette page.


ATIS has provoked the latest regulatory scare-story for the French waterways. This is our interpretaion of the situation (i.e not to be taken as authoritative).

ATIS is an acronym for Automatic Transmission Identification System and it means that when a VHF radio is used, the user can automatically be identified. In that respect it is similar (but not the same) as the MMSI number produced by DSC enabled VHF sets. France, Germany, Holland and Belgium now require that ATIS be featured in any VHF transmission.

An ATIS number can be obtained on application to OFCOM (with the radio’s MMSI number) for a variation to a Ship’s Radio licence. The number is essentially the MMSI number, prefixed by 9. The radio then has to be modified. However, the UK currently does not allow ATIS to be used in UK waters, which rules out the use of an ATIS VHF there. See the Ofcom ATIS website

Somewhat of a pickle, but the whole situation boils down to that of traffic and usage. UK inland waterways see very little commercial traffic, and all traffic is small-scale and slow. There is no need for an ATIS system inland in the UK, so one is not authorised. Exactly the same situation applies on the vast majority (by kilometre) of the French waterways and as a consequence there is no enforcement there. The reverse is true on the larger ‘Grand Gabarit’ waterways in France – and also Holland, Germany and Belgium – where very large ships and barges travel and identification is naturally more crucial.

Our own informal ‘interpretive’ key points are these:

  • ATIS is only applicable if you have a DSC VHF set and use it. Some latest DSC sets have the option of switching ATIS off or on.
  • VHF is not compulsory for craft under 15-20m (but is obviously advisable).
  • Within the vast majority of French waterways using VHF is completely uneccessary. No hire boat is fitted with a VHF set!
  • On the Grand Gabarit waterways (the Liaison Dunkerque-Escaut, River Seine, River Rhone, River Saone, etc.) keeping a radio watch on Ch10 to be forewarned of approaching ships is not only a good idea but one extremely unlikely to provoke a problem. Similarly, using proper VHF procedure to call up and advise Grand Gabarit eclusiers of one’s own (plaisancier – pleasure craft) approach and to (politely) seek their instructions is also almost certainly safe and very sensible.
  • The Port Autonome require the use of VHF throughout (and within) Paris.
  • Travelling the large northern French and (especially) Low Countries and German ship canals merits the use of serious VHF equipment, including ATIS.
  • Interferring with the safe and regular passage of larger vessels, trying to overtake inappropriately or enter ecluses ahead of commercial vessels, mis-using VHF communications, not wearing life-jackets in larger ecluses . . in short behaving in an irresponsible and unseamanlike manner, is likely to provoke close scrutiny by those in authority, as indeed it deserves to.


ATIS should not be confused with AIS – Automatic Identification System – which is an automatic tracking system used on ships and by vessel traffic services (VTS) for identifying and locating vessels by electronically exchanging data with other nearby ships and AIS Base stations. AIS information supplements marine radar, which continues to be the primary method of collision avoidance for water transport.

The EC Recreational Craft Directive – RCD

This requirement applies to pleasure boats between 2.5m and 24m in length. Directive 94/25/EC specifies construction and design criteria and all craft built after June 1998 have to comply. Directive 2003/44/EC amends that so as to include engine exhaust and noise aspects (plus some other changes) and applies to all engines and craft built during or after 2006.  On the EC linked pages the “Directive and Comments to the Directive combined” documents provide useful and understandable guides. A Declaration of Conformity (to the RCD) is required to be provided by the vessel’s builder and/or the engine’s manufacturer. See here for the format for this Declaration. For Category D craft (inland waterways) the Declaration can be completed and signed by the builder/manufacturer alone (i.e not using a notified certification body). There have been a number of clarifications and exemptionsto the Emissions Directive, details of which can be found on Michael Clark’s valuable website (the link).

TRIWV – EU Directive on Technical Requirements for Inland Waterways Vessels

See separate page of information for boats over 20m length here.

Other EU Legislation applying to Pleasure Boating

Michael Clark has produced an excellent and seemingly exhaustive series of tables of legislative citations with links to the original EU documents (foot of the page). These are divided into:

  1. Introduction/Context
  2. Craft
  3. Crew
  4. Environmental
  5. Equipment
  6. General
  7. Infrastructure
  8. Taxation

As we have noted elsewhere, in many instances the practical impact of this legislation on ordinary plaisanciers, travelling the lesser waterways is minimal to non-existent. Perhaps this will change, but like the situation with ATIS VHF, travelling more ‘commercial’ waterways, piloting boats bigger than 15m in length, having passengers or guests aboard, etc. does demand taking these matters seriously and rightly so. Owners of barge sized boats should consider joining the DBA, which is an active organisation providing advice and representing interests.