Chapter 2 - Check your vessel

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The first step towards running a safe operation is having a safe vessel. This chapter presents the safety requirements for vessels, because once you own a vessel, you are responsible for making sure it meets all safety requirements every time it is used.

The principal construction requirements are explained in this chapter. It also explains the labels that builders, rebuilders, importers and resellers must put on vessels as their declaration that it complies with Canadian construction requirements. If you are buying a new vessel, this chapter will tell you what to look for and what it means. If you are buying a used vessel, consider hiring a marine surveyor to assess its condition and suitability, and to confirm that it meets the requirements for its intended use.

Construction Requirements

The Small Vessel Regulations (Part 7) require that vessels meet the construction requirements that were in effect when the vessel was built, when it was imported into Canada, or when it was converted to commercial use — whichever comes later.

These requirements are set out in the Small Vessel Regulations and the Construction Standards for Small Vessels ( TP 1332). The construction requirements are the minimum requirements for safety that must be met by anyone designing or building a vessel for personal use or for sale.Vessel importers must also make sure that the vessels they import meet these same standards.

If your vessel was built, imported, or converted to commercial use:

  • on or after April 29, 2010, when the new Small Vessel Regulations came into force, it must meet the non-pleasure craft construction requirements of the Small Vessel Regulations and the 2010 edition of the Construction Standards for Small Vessels ( TP 1332).
  • before April 29, 2010, it must meet the non-pleasure craft requirements of the 2004 edition of the Construction Standards for Small Vessels ( TP 1332), or, as applicable, the alternatives set out for vessels built before April 2005 in the Small Vessel Regulations.

Consolidated Construction Requirements

Sections of the Small Vessel Regulations related to construction have been included in information boxes in the Construction Standards for Small Vessels so that you can find all the construction requirements for small commercial vessels and pleasure craft in one place.

Built-In Safety

The construction requirements establish minimum requirements for safety. Anyone building a vessel that is or can be fitted with a propulsion engine or an auxiliary engine or fitted with a fuel-burning appliance, whether for personal use or for sale, must build it to the construction requirements. This is true whether you are building the vessel for yourself or for someone else. Likewise, vessel importers must verify that the vessels they import meet the same requirements.

The Small Vessel Regulations require the builder or the importer of a vessel for use in Canada to submit a Declaration of Conformity to Transport Canada and attach a compliance notice to the vessel unless:

  • it has been built or imported for personal use; or
  • it is an open vessel of traditional construction that is not mass-produced and can only be fitted with an outboard engine.

Compliance Notices

From April 29, 2011, a compliance notice must be attached to all new small commercial vessels. The builder, manufacturer, rebuilder or importer of the vessel must also prepare a Declaration of Conformity and give a copy of this declaration to the first owner of the vessel.

Compliance notices are a statement by the builder or importer declaring that the vessel met the construction requirements as they read on the date of construction, manufacture, rebuilding or importation of the vessel. The compliance notice will indicate the vessel model, the builder or importer, the category of construction requirements and the design limitations, such as the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) design category for stability.

There are three vessel categories for compliance notices (see Table 2-1):

  • not more than 6 metres long;
  • more than 6 metres long – pleasure craft; and
  • more than 6 metres long – non-pleasure vessels.

For vessels that are not more than 6 metres long, the construction requirements are the same for both pleasure craft and non-pleasure vessels. Compliance notices for vessels not more than 6 metres long will indicate recommended safe limits for maximum capacity in kilograms and number of persons and, if it is designed for an outboard motor, the maximum power.

For vessels more than 6 metres long, the requirements for pleasure craft and non-pleasure vessels are not the same.Be aware that if you intend to use a vessel that is more than 6 metres long that was built to the pleasure craft requirements, it may have to meet additional construction requirements before you can use it commercially. Depending on the type and the use of the vessel, these may include such things as a stability assessment, bilge pumping arrangements and additional fire safety equipment. Consider hiring a marine surveyor to see if your boat complies with the non-pleasure vessel requirements and determine any required modifications you must make, if you are not sure. Remember, when you put it in operation, you, as the owner, are responsible for making sure your vessel meets all regulatory requirements.

Getting Professional Help

Don't know all the safety requirements? Not sure you can properly assess a vessel's condition?

Think about having your vessel surveyed. A good survey carried out by a competent professional will:

  • establish, as far as can be determined without taking the vessel apart, any areas that do not meet regulatory requirements;
  • indicate the vessel's overall condition; and
  • identify problems and potential problems so that you can take appropriate action.

Marine surveyors (and marine consultants) can be found in the Yellow Pages or on the Internet, however the areas and level of expertise can vary from one surveyor to another. Before hiring someone, check the individual's knowledge of small commercial vessel requirements, ask about their experience, and get references. Associations of marine surveyors that accredit their members may be a good place to start looking.


Table 2-1: Compliance Notice Information by Category
  Vessel Type
Pleasure Craft Non-Pleasure Vessels
6 m
Compliance Notice for Pleasure Craft Compliance Notice for Non-Pleasure Vessels
• contains a statement of compliance with the construction requirements for pleasure craft at the time of construction • contains a statement of compliance with the construction requirements for non-pleasure vessels at the time of construction and indicates that the vessel may be used for both pleasure and non-pleasure purposes
• may contain a statement of design limitations that may apply to the vessel • contains a statement of any design or environmental limitations (e.g. ISO design categories1) that may apply to the vessel
6 m

Generic Compliance Notice for both Pleasure Craft and Non-Pleasure Vessels

  • contains a statement of compliance with the construction requirements for small vessels at the time of construction;
  • contains recommended maximum safe limits2 of the vessel for load, number of persons and engine power (if outboard powered) and the circumstances in which any of the recommended safe limits may not apply; and
  • may contain a statement of design limitations that may apply to the vessel

Note: Construction requirements for pleasure craft and non-pleasure vessels less than or equal to 6 metres are now identical.

1. See ISO Design Categories, for an explanation of the ISO design categories.
2. Calculated according to the methods set out in the Construction Standards for Small Vessels.


Maintaining Your Vessel

You shouldn't have to be an expert in the construction requirements to run your operation. If you bought your vessel from a reputable source, it has the appropriate compliance notice and it has been well maintained without modifications, you should feel confident that it meets the construction requirements of the Small Vessel Regulations and Construction Standards for Small Vessels that apply to the type of vessel indicated on the label.

To keep your vessel in good condition:

  • check it regularly (see the sample maintenance schedule in Appendix 4, and the compliance checklist in Appendix 5);
  • follow the manufacturer's recommendations for maintenance; and
  • fix any problems you find according to the requirements.

Know More About Critical Safety Items

You must treat some hazards – loss of stability, explosion, fire and person overboard — with the respect they deserve. If you understand how the construction requirements reduce such risks, you will be less likely to do something that may increase them.

Loss of Stability

Stability is the characteristic of a vessel that helps it stay upright. A recent amendment to the Small Vessel Regulations requires the owner and operator of a commercial vessel to "ensure that the vessel has adequate stability to safely carry out its intended operations."

If your vessel is more than 6 metres long and was built to the non-pleasure craft requirements after April 1, 2005, the builder was required to assess its stability using the ISO stability standard for small vessels or another acceptable standard. If the manufacturer cannot give you the information, you should hire a consultant to assess the vessel's stability. If the vessel was built before April 1, 2005, refer to Ship Safety Bulletin 07/2006: Guidance for Assessing Intact Stability and Buoyancy of Existing Small Non-pleasure Vessels for acceptable assessment methods.

Is your vessel stable? That depends on what you use it for.

Only you can be sure of that. Stability assessments by a manufacturer assume a typical operation. For example, if your vessel was assessed to the standard ISO 12217, but you use it to tow or lift heavy objects, or carry loads in a way not taken into account in the assessment, you will need an additional assessment that includes these factors.

The owner and operator are responsible for ensuring that "the vessel has adequate stability to safely carry out its intended operations."1

If a vessel not more than 6 metres long can be swamped, it must carry flotation material so that it will not sink. Make sure this material is kept in good condition so that it works when you need it.

1. Small Vessel Regulations, Part 6 and Part 7.

How much cargo you carry and where and how you store it all affect your vessel's stability. So will taking on water. That is why watertight integrity and the pumping and bailing system are also critical safety items.

If you use your vessel for towing or pushing, refer to section 520 of the Small Vessel Regulations in addition to the information contained in this guide.

Watertight Integrity

Most people understand that you have to keep water out of the hull, but many accident reports point out where simple steps to prevent this from happening were not taken. The construction requirements call for doors, hatches, windows and port lights of marine construction so that they provide a level of watertightness when secured.

Other ways you can prevent downflooding (water coming into the hull) are to:

  • Check and service closure systems and seals regularly to make sure that they keep water out.
  • Train your crew to keep hatches, doors and other openings closed when underway.
  • Make sure that repairs to windows, port lights and skylights are done with safety glass or equivalent strength material.You can do this easily by demanding that repairs meet the standard ISO  12216 Small craft – Windows, portlights, hatches, deadlights and doors – Strength and watertightness requirements. If your vessel is more than 6 metres long and was built on or after April 1, 2005, it must meet this standard. For your protection, use only items certified to meet this standard.You can find, for example, a list of hatches, windows and doors that have been certified to meet the standard at Click on Boats and Components and select Certified Products, then Hatches, Windows, Doors. If the component you want to install is not on the list, check with the manufacturer to see if it meets the standard.
  • Know which openings on your vessel – such as engine room vents – could let water in and take steps to prevent this from happening by being able to close them or by avoiding situations where this could occur.

Holes that go through the hull below the waterline must not decrease the structural strength of the hull and must have a valve or some other way of keeping water out, except for wet exhaust systems that do not require the fitting of such a closure. If it is in a fire-risk area, the closure system must be fire-resistant.You must make sure that fittings and piping of sufficient strength are used and you must also check them regularly and keep them in good condition.


Your vessel may be built with a well, a cockpit or a recess that may retain a certain quantity of water.These spaces may be fitted with drains or scuppers to shed water overboard. Be sure the drains or scuppers are always clear of any obstructions.

In cases where the well, cockpit or recess is not designed to shed water overboard, do not rely on your pumping arrangement to keep your vessel dry in adverse conditions.Stay out of conditions where water could come on board and accumulate. Head for the nearest port of refuge or shore that is safe to approach, if possible.

Pumping or Bailing System

Bilge pumping and systems that detect water levels are important safety features, especially for small vessels where water in the bilges can quickly lead to capsizing or sinking. You must have a way to pump or bail each watertight compartment in any operating condition.

To meet the construction requirements, vessels that are more than 6 metres long must have a way of pumping or bailing each watertight compartment unless the vessel cannot take on enough water for it to capsize or the compartment is sealed and not easy to access. Bilge spaces that cannot be seen easily from the vessel operating position must have a high bilge level alarm, and either an automatic bilge pump or a bilge pumping systemChapter 1. Pumps must have a capacity of at least 0.91 litres/second (865 US gallons / hr or 3,275 litres / hr ). Automatic bilge pumps must have a manual override switch and there must be an indicator at the helm to let you know when the pump is running. If your vessel has sleeping quarters, the high bilge level alarms must be loud enough to wake sleepers (84 decibels).

You must be able to access your bilge pump system and watertight compartments so you can service the system and manually pump or bail watertight compartments, if needed. Check that discharge pipes are arranged so that back-siphonage cannot occur – even in the event of trim or list – and that there are suitable strainers on the suction line from each compartment.

Refer to Chapters 5 and Chapter 8 to learn more about pumps and stability.

ISO Design Categories

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has established four design categories for small craft: A, B, C and D. Assessment to the standard ISO 12217 determines a vessel's design category. The design category establishes the environmental operating limits for stability and buoyancy, as shown in Table 2-2, below. Find out your vessel's design category from the builder so you can operate with a better understanding of your vessel's stability limitations.

Table 2-2: ISO Design Category Environmental Limits
Design category Wind force
Beaufort scale (knots)
Wave height

* The significant wave height is the mean height of the highest one-third of the waves, which approximately corresponds to the wave height estimated by an experienced observer. Some waves will be double this height. (Not applicable to Design Category D, which uses maximum wave height.)

A exceeding 8 (54 knots) exceeding 4 m significant*
B up to, and including, 8 (41 knots) up to 4 m significant*
C up to, and including, 6 (33 knots) up to 2 m significant*
D up to, and including, 4 (25 knots) 0.5 maximum

To learn more about the ISO stability standards or vessel stability in general, visit the Vessel Stability web page on the Transport Canada Marine Safety website.


Using gasoline or compressed gases on board a vessel creates a risk of explosion. That is why Parts 6, 7 and 10 of the Small Vessel Regulations restrict the use and installation of fuel-burning systems and appliances such as stoves, cabin heaters and refrigerators. Read them and check your vessel to see if you comply. Make sure that you use only marine-rated equipment and that you have any work done by a technician qualified in marine installation.

Note: If you carry passengers on your vessel, installing systems and appliances that use gaseous fuel, liquefied petroleum gas, compressed natural gas or naptha is prohibited.

The danger is reduced by not allowing fumes to accumulate and by eliminating possible ignition sources. You must have a mechanical blower in any enclosed gasoline engine space, and you must run the blower for at least four minutes — more if that's what the manufacturer recommends — before starting the engine. Ignition-protected electrical parts must be used where there is a risk of explosions, so take care when making repairs. The Ship Safety Bulletin 03/2006: Automotive Parts Dangerous in a Marine Environment explains what can happen when repairs are made using non-marine parts.

Additional protection: If you have propane on board, a marine propane fume detector is a good way to be made aware of leaks and risk of explosion.

Fire Safety

An important requirement for fire fighting is that there is a way to put out a fire in enclosed engine spaces without needing to open the engine space access hatch or door.

For vessels that are no more than 6 metres long, a discharge port (hole, with a closure) that you can open to discharge a portable fire extinguisher into the engine space is required, unless the vessel is fitted with a fixed fire extinguishing system. You must make sure the hole is labelled to show that it is for fire fighting and keep a fire extinguisher to be used only for engine room fires nearby.The extinguisher must be large enough for the size of the space (at least 1.2 kg of carbon dioxide ( CO2) for each cubic metre of the space).

Vessels longer than 6 metres with engine spaces small enough to meet the requirement with a portable fire extinguisher weighing less than 23 kg and that can be completely discharged in the time period specified in the Small Vessel Regulations may also use the discharge port option. For example, for an engine space of a volume of 8 cubic metres, a typical 10 kg CO2 extinguisher weighing not more than 23 kg may be used.

All other vessels must have a fixed fire extinguishing system that is certified for marine use and has enough CO2 or other agent for the size of the engine space.

A detector that activates a remote audible and visible alarm at the operating position when the temperature either reaches a pre-set level or increases rapidly is required in the engine space on all vessels more than 6 metres long. On smaller vessels, a heat detector is required only if the presence of fire in the engine space cannot easily be noticed.

Smoke detectors are required in accommodation and service spaces of small commercial vessels. A fire alarm panel is required on all vessels that are more than 6 metres long. Requirements for the panel vary with the vessel length. On smaller vessels, independent detectors with a built-in alarm are permitted. On larger vessels, all detectors must be connected to the fire alarm panel. Refer to the Small Vessel Regulations and the Construction Standards for Small Vessels for detailed requirements.

Fire prevention tips

Most boat fires are the result of electrical problems, fuel leaks or vapours, unwatched portable heaters, improper engine exhaust installation and poor housekeeping. Follow these tipsChapter 2 to reduce the risk of fire on your vessel and to be ready if one does occur:

  • Inspect electrical and fuel systems regularly. Have a professional upgrade the wiring to meet the needs of your vessel.
  • Have any gaseous fuel system inspected at least once a year by a qualified technician.
  • Verify that all compartments are properly vented. Always use the mechanical ventilation for at least four minutes or as indicated by the vessel manufacturer before starting an engine.
  • Install a marine gasoline fume detector and a propane fuel detector, if applicable.
  • Always watch operating electrical equipment, including heaters. Heaters must be safely fixed in place.
  • Do not leave any combustible material in contact with the engine exhaust or any other hot surfaces.
  • Put oily rags in a metal container with a tight-fitting lid. Leaving oily rags wrapped up in a grocery bag is not safe. The chemicals will begin to break down the rags, causing heat and possibly a fire.
  • Follow proper refuelling procedures.
  • Know your escape routes.
  • Keep fire extinguishers near exits so that you don't trap yourself when you move to get one.
  • Service and replace fire extinguishers according to the manufacturer's recommendations, and know how to use them.

Falls: On and Overboard

Guardrails or some other way to prevent falls on and overboard are required for all vessels. Details are given in the Construction Standards for Small Vessels.

Building or Modifying a Vessel

Once a vessel is put into service, the vessel owner is responsible for making sure that it meets the legal requirements. If you are having a vessel built or modified:

  • demand that the work comply with the non-pleasure craft requirements of the Small Vessel Regulations; and
  • make sure the builder has experience in working with the regulations and the construction requirements.

Starting April 29, 2011, the builder of new vessels must provide you with a Declaration of Conformity, in addition to the compliance notice that must be attached to the vessel. The builder must also give Transport Canada a copy of the Declaration of Conformity and keep on file the technical documentation or information used, including the tests or calculations performed, to ensure compliance with the construction requirements.

If you are doing the work yourself, make sure you understand what the requirements are before you begin.

When you make a major modification, you must advise Transport Canada, who may ask you to supply plans or other technical information. Transport Canada may also request plans or other documentation to verify that a newly built or imported vessel complies with the construction requirements. These plans will usually be a general arrangement of the vessel;a diagram of the propulsion system;a machinery arrangement and the identification of the machinery, along with a description of the bilge pumping systems, fuel systems and fire fighting systems; and a one-line electrical diagram.

A "major modification" is defined as follows:

A modification or repair or a series of modifications or repairs that substantially changes the capacity or size of a vessel or the nature of a system on board a vessel, that affects its watertight integrity or its stability or, except in the case of the restoration of an antique wooden pleasure craft, that substantially increases its service life.Chapter 3

Whatever the age of the vessel, any major modifications must meet the construction requirements in place when the work began.

Special-Purpose Vessels and Vessels of Unusual Design

The Small Vessel Regulations may not be suitable for some operations due to vessel design or use. The Special-purpose Vessels Regulations currently apply only to commercial river rafting, but other operations may be added over time.

In some cases, a vessel's design may be so different that it would be unsafe for it to meet certain construction requirements. Examples include dynamically supported craft; submarines; wing-in-ground-effect vessels; and hydroplanes and other low-volume, high-powered vessels used exclusively for competitive racing.Such vessels can be built using practices and standards recognized by the marine industry as being suitable for that type of vessel – so long as it will produce at least the same level of safety as provided by the regulations.

Before you get a vessel of unusual design, check with a marine surveyor to make sure that its level of safety is acceptable before you approach Transport Canada with your proposal.

More Information

To consult your local Transport Canada Centre, see Appendix 2.

Visit the Small Vessels section of the Transport Canada Marine Safety website at


1. A bilge pumping system is required on vessels more than 12 metres in length. ^
2. Based on the Seattle Fire Department website (, with permission. ^
3. Small Vessel Regulations, Part 7. ^


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