Boat licences and safety regulations
Recreational boats in Ireland are regulated in different ways depending on their size and what they are used for. This page describes how to get a boat licence and whether you need one, and covers the rules governing safety equipment and radios on boats.
Passenger Boat Licence
A passenger boat is a boat that can carry up to 12 passengers. Passenger boats need to get a Passenger Boat Licence. Smaller vessels that can carry up to 3 passengers may not need a licence, see the Passenger Boat Regulations for more information and exemptions.
A Passenger Boat Licence (including the passenger boat survey) costs €144. Licences are valid for 2 years. The cost of renewal is €29. When you renew your licence, you also need a renewal survey.
To apply for a Passenger Boat Licence you must complete a survey application form. See 'Where to apply' for more information.
You do not need a licence if you are sailing your boat on an inland waterway. However, you may need to register your boat and get a permit on certain inland waterways, if your boat is over a certain size.
Passenger ship certificate
Passenger ships are vessels that can carry more than 12 passengers. Passenger ships are required to get a Passenger Ship Certificate before they can operate.
When you apply for this certificate, you will also need a Passenger Ship Survey. The fee for a Passenger Ship Survey is based on the vessel’s tonnage or number of passengers. This is set out by the Merchant Shipping (Fees) Regulations 2010. Passenger Ship Certificates are valid for 1 year. When you renew the certificate, you must also carry out a renewal survey.
To apply for a passenger ship certificate you must complete a survey application form. See ‘Where to apply’ below for more information.
Safety rules for boats
All boats, regardless of size, must carry lifejackets (or personal flotation devices) for everyone on board.
All passengers on board a boat or watercraft of less than 23 feet (7 metres) in length must wear a lifejacket (or personal flotation device).
If your passenger ship is licensed to carry more than 12 people, it must pass an annual safety inspection carried out by the Department of Transport.
Safety rules for pleasure crafts
Pleasure craft include motorboats, powerboats, fast powerboats and jet skis.
Every motorboat and powerboat (other than personal watercraft such as jet skis) must have a suitable lifejacket for every person on board.
A suitable lifejacket is defined in the regulations as:
- Sufficient to give a person using it a positive buoyancy in waters which are likely to be encountered where the vessel on which it is required to be used.
- Appropriate to the body weight of the person who is to wear it.
- Marked with the initials “CE”.
Anyone using a jet ski must wear a lifejacket at all times. Anyone being towed behind a motorboat or powerboat must also wear a lifejacket at all times.
Anyone under 16 years old, must wear a lifejacket at all times on all pleasure craft. You must be 16 or over to operate or control a fast powerboat or a jet ski.
Anyone under 12 years old, cannot operate or control any mechanically propelled pleasure craft with an engine more powerful than 3.7 kilowatts.
If you are operating any type of pleasure craft, you must not consume alcohol or drugs.
If you are a passenger on board any mechanically propelled pleasure craft, you 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.
The above rules are set out by the Pleasure Craft (Personal Flotation Devices and Operation) (Safety) Regulations 2005 as amended by Pleasure Craft (Personal Flotation Devices and Operation) (Safety) (Amendment) Regulations 2012 (S.I. No. 349 of 2012) and further amended by S.I. 400 of 2018.
If you commit an offence under these regulations, you will receive a fine of €150.
Safety rules for fishing boats
The use of safety equipment on fishing boats is regulated by the Fishing Vessel (Personal Flotation Devices) Regulations, 2001 as amended by S.I. No. 401 of 2018.
Under these regulations, 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". You can get more information on lifejackets and personal floatation devices on the Health and Safety Authority website.
The Department of Transport is responsible for issuing radio licences for boats. The licence lasts for the lifetime of the vessel and costs €100.
Merchant ships: Under the Merchant Shipping (Radio) Rules 1992, every passenger ship or cargo ship of 300 Gross Tons or above is required to carry 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 carry 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 radio communications 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 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.
Radio licence regulation
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 the application form.
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 are available from the Maritime Safety Directorate in the Department of Transport.
You do not need a licence if you are sailing your boat on an inland waterway, but some waterways require you to be registered and/or to have a permit if your boat is over a certain size.
Waterways Ireland is responsible for the enforcement of the rules applying to the waterways under its remit.
Certification and training
The Department of Transport 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.
Seafarers.ie provides maritime education and training in Ireland.
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'.
The Irish Sailing Association provides information on all ISA-approved courses run by sailing clubs, sailing schools and watersport centres around the country.
Where to apply
To apply for a boat license or ship certificate, send your survey application form and fee to the Mercantile Marine Office.
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.