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Understanding the benefits of yacht classification

2 Minute Read

Classification Societies are non-governmental member organisations that establish and apply technical standards related to the design, build and survey of maritime vessels.  They address maritime safety and environmental protection and ensure their consistent application.

The members of the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS), each have a unique set of rules and classification notations.

Five of the main class societies involved in yachting are:

  • American Bureau of Shipping
  • Bureau Veritas
  • Germanischer Lloyd
  • Lloyd’s Register of Shipping
  • RINA

In defining the role of class in yachting, it also helps to define vessels:

Private Yacht: A pleasure vessel solely used for the recreational and leisure purpose of its owner and his guests.

Commercial Yachts: A motor or sailing vessel in commercial use (i.e. charter) for sport and pleasure, carrying no cargo and not more than 12 passengers.

Large Yachts: A large yacht is a pleasure vessel with a load line length equal to or over 24m. Almost all the flag administrations have adopted safety codes dedicated to large yachts and this is, therefore, the only definition having a universal meaning in the international regulatory framework of yachts.

The classification of a yacht does not absolve the Interested Party from compliance with any requirements issued by Administrations and any other applicable international and national regulations for the safety of life at sea and protection of the marine environment such as SOLAS, ILLC, MARPOL, ILO or IMO.

Why does class matter?

While classification is not mandatory, building and maintaining a yacht in class is the only evidence that the boat has been designed, constructed and operated in compliance with appropriate technical standards.  It's therefore highly desirable, especially in relation to flag administration, insurance, yacht charter and resale purposes.

Obtaining insurance for the yacht will prove to be both easier and cheaper, when the insurance provider knows that the vessel is constructed and equipped in accordance with the established rules of a recognised classification society.

Classification Societies, on behalf of the flag administration, focus on a vessel’s conformity to the regulations that pertain to the construction, arrangement and working order of machinery and equipment. The rules of a classification society are highly detailed, covering the strength and integrity of a vessel’s hull, the reliability and functionality of its propulsion and steering systems, power generation, but excludes all aesthetic or operational elements.  

A yacht that has been designed and built to the appropriate Rules of a Society may apply for a Certificate of Class from that Society or for a periodical survey (generally required every 5 years) meant for the Renewal of Class Certificate. Class Societies have often developed two separate sets of Rules for Commercial and Private Yachts. They can be applied to New Construction as well as Existing Yachts.

A yacht may be maintained in class provided that, in the opinion of the Society concerned, it remains in compliance with the relevant Rules, as ascertained by a periodic or non-periodic survey(s). A yacht either meets the relevant Class Society’s Rules or it does not. As a consequence, it is either “in” or “out” of “Class”.

However, it's important to mention that a classification certificate should not be construed as a warranty of safety, fitness for purpose or seaworthiness of the ship. It is an attestation only that the vessel is in compliance with the Rules that have been developed and published by the society issuing it.

Further, Classification Societies are not guarantors of safety of life or property at sea or the seaworthiness of a vessel because although the classification of a vessel is based on the understanding that the vessel is loaded, operated and maintained in a proper manner by competent and qualified personnel, the Society has no control over how a vessel is operated and maintained between the periodical surveys it conducts.

The appropriate Flag State and class is very important to the operation of the yacht, in particularly manning and safety requirements.  It is important to seek advice on the correct flag for your circumstances and operation.  If you have any question about Flag administration or class, don't hesitate to get in touch by email:


Classification Societies - their key role (IACS) 


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