Licensing of boats and watercraft in Ireland
Recreational boats in Ireland are regulated in different ways depending on their size and what they are used for. The use of safety equipment is governed by different laws for commercial, fishing and private vessels. Age restrictions apply to the use of certain mechanically propelled pleasure craft such as jet-skis and the consumption of alcohol or drugs while using these craft is also restricted. Sailing is governed by the Irish Sailing Association, which offers details of courses in sailing around Ireland. If a person owns a boat and wishes to install radio equipment on it, he or she must apply for a licence and may have to sit a radio operation examination.
Safety regulations governing the use of boats are specific to different kinds of vessel. Every shipping vessel, regardless of size, must carry lifejackets/personal flotation devices for each person on board.
Everyone on board a vessel of less than 23 feet (7.0 metres) in length must wear a lifejacket/personal flotation device.
Passenger ships licensed to carry more than 12 people
Under the Merchant Shipping Act 1992, passenger ships that are licensed to carry more than 12 people are required to pass an annual safety inspection carried out by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.
The use of safety equipment on fishing boats is regulated by the Fishing Vessel (Personal Flotation Devices) Regulations, 2001. The Regulations state that a lifejacket or personal flotation device must be provided for every crew member on any fishing vessel registered and licensed in Ireland. The crew members must wear a lifejacket or personal flotation device at all times when on an exposed deck or at all times on open vessels that do not have internal accommodation. This applies equally whether the boat is at sea, in harbour or coming to and from moorings. Each lifejacket or personal flotation device should be marked with the initials "CE" to show that it complies with a 1996 EU Directive on marine safety equipment standards or is marked with the mark of conformity in the form of the symbol set out in the 1996 Directive on marine equipment.
Under the Merchant Shipping Act 1992, as amended by the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) Act 2000, a pleasure craft is defined as any vessel in private ownership used wholly or mainly for sport and recreation purposes. It also covers private vessels that are hired out by third parties, provided that the vessel will be operated only by the hirers and will not require a crew to operate it.
Mechanically Propelled Pleasure Craft
The use of safety equipment on any mechanically-propelled pleasure craft is covered by the Pleasure Craft (Personal Flotation Devices and Operation) (Safety) Regulations 2005. This includes motorboats, powerboats, fast powerboats (those than can travel at a speed of 17 knots) and personal watercraft, commonly referred to as jet skis.
Under the 2005 Regulations, every motorboat and powerboat (other than personal watercraft) must have a lifejacket or personal flotation device for every person on board, regardless of the size of the pleasure craft. Anyone using a personal watercraft or jet ski must wear a lifejacket or personal flotation device at all times. Anyone being towed behind a motorboat or powerboat must also wear a lifejacket or personal flotation device at all times.
Certain age restrictions apply to the use of lifejackets or personal flotation device on mechanically propelled pleasure craft. All persons under 16 years of age must wear a lifejacket at all times on all pleasure craft.
Certain age restrictions on the use of mechanically propelled pleasure craft also apply. Under the Regulations, it is illegal for anyone under the age of 16 to operate or control a fast powerboat or a jet ski. For persons under 12, it is illegal to operate or control any mechanically propelled pleasure craft with an engine more powerful than 3.7 kilowatts.
The consumption of alcohol or drugs on board is also restricted by the regulations. Persons operating all pleasure craft must not consume alcohol or drugs and any person on board any mechanically propelled pleasure craft may only consume alcohol or drugs in a manner that does not affect safety or cause a disturbance to the person in control of the craft.
If an offence is committed under these regulations, an on-the-spot fine of €150 may be imposed or the offence may be prosecuted in the District Court.
Water sports and recreational boating training
The Irish Sailing Association (ISA) is the national governing body representing sailing, windsurfing, power boating and personal watercraft in Ireland. It advises on all aspects of boating safety and has a network of teaching establishments that offer training for all leisure craft in Ireland. This training includes courses in how to operate dinghies, keelboats, catamarans, powerboats, personal watercraft or jet skis and windsurf boards. There are also courses offered in how to become a sea-based or shore-based 'Yachtmaster'.
- Merchant ships: Under the Merchant Shipping (Radio) Rules 1992, every passenger ship or cargo ship of 300 Gross Tons or above is required to install a radio installation in compliance with the requirements of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS).
- Fishing vessels: Under the Merchant Shipping Fishing Vessel (Radio Installations) Regulations 1998, every registered fishing vessel must install a radio installation in compliance with the requirements of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS).
The radio installation must be capable of transmitting and receiving different types of radiocommunications such as distress alerts and messages, urgency and safety messages, meteorological information and public correspondence. In addition, the installation must be capable of transmitting and receiving locating signals.
The Maritime Radio Affairs Unit (MRAU), which is a unit within the Marine Survey Office of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, is responsible for the implementation of these Rules and Regulations and is responsible for surveying and inspecting radio installations and the issuing of Safety Radio Certificates.
The MRAU may also survey or inspect Foreign Registered vessels and in such cases, carries out these tasks in accordance with the standards of the Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Where a vessel is found to be contravention of any of the above Rules, Regulations and standards and the deficiency is deemed by a Radio Surveyor to have a potentially major impact on the safety of the vessel at sea, the Surveyor has the power to detain the vessel until such time as the deficiency is remedied.
The licensing of maritime radio systems is regulated by the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1926. Every ship that has a radio system installed must also carry a Ship Radio Licence.
While owners of recreational craft, e.g., yachts, sail cruisers, motor cruisers, etc., are not required to install a radio system, nevertheless if they opt to install a radio system on a voluntary basis, they must also carry a Ship Radio Licence on board.
Ship Radio Licences are issued by the MRAU. An applicant for a licence is required to submit the technical details of the radio equipment installed on the vessel. Download an application form for a ships radio licence here.
Every vessel that is equipped with radio equipment must also carry at least one qualified marine radio operator. The qualification(s) of the operator(s) depends on a number of factors, including the level of radio equipment installed and the trading area of the vessel. Details of Ships Radio Licence Training Course Providers (pdf) are available from the Maritime Safety Directorate in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.
Waterways Ireland is the agency responsible for the maintenance and development of inland navigable waterways in Ireland, mainly for recreational purposes. It is also responsible for the enforcement of the navigational rules or bye-laws applying to the waterways under its remit.
While a licence is not required to operate a boat on these waterways, if you own a boat, you may have to register it with Waterways Ireland or purchase a permit. There is no charge for registration and if you buy the boat second-hand, it may already be registered. The waterways for which registration or permits are required are :
- Shannon Navigation and Shannon-Erne Waterway: All boats with an engine more powerful than 11.2 kilowatts must be registered and display their registration number.
- Erne System: All boats with an engine more powerful than 7.5 kilowatts must be registered and display their registration number.
- Barrow Navigation, Grand Canal and Royal Canal: All boats require a permit which must be displayed. There are 3 types of permit – a 12-month Combined Mooring & Passage Permit, an additional 12-month Extended Mooring Permit and a 1-month Visitor Permit.
You can get more information on registration and permits on Waterways Ireland's website.
The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport is responsible for issuing radio licences. The licence last for the lifetime of the vessel and costs €100.
Inland waterway permits:
- Combined Mooring & Passage Permit - €126
- Extended Mooring Permit - €152
- Visitor Permit - free
Where to apply
The Irish Sailing Association's provides information on all ISA-approved courses run by sailing clubs, sailing schools and watersport centres around the country.
The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport provides information on different certificates required for operating certain marine radios, their syllabi or course content and a list of course providers and radio examiners around the country.
Waterways Ireland is responsible for the regulation and maintenance of inland waterways in both Ireland and Northern Ireland. Its headquarters is in Enniskillen, but you can also contact its Dublin office.