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  • Writer's pictureTallulah

What is the Workboat Code?

At The Rothen Group (TRG), we use many different types of boat to undertake our work. We use them to transport equipment (known as plant) and materials to worksites and remove dredged material or arisings to be safely disposed of. Most boats in the UK are subject to something called the Workboat Code, a document produced by the UK government that applies to small workboats and pilot boats.


The Workboat Code is an Industry Working Group Technical Standard, or code of practice, concerning the safety of a range of boats, including work boats, small commercial vessels, and others, like canal boats used for work.


If the boat is a UK vessel, the code applies even outside the country. Vessels imported to the UK must abide by the code too. The workboat code applies differently on the sea to inland waterways and does not apply to all boats.

If a workboat is used for sport or pleasure, different codes apply. Workboat hire is not covered by the code. There is a separate code called The Hire Boat Code which discusses workboat rentals.


The Workboat Code is not law, and as such, can be waived by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency when necessary. They are most likely to adapt parts of the code to ensure the safety of small boats and any passengers or crew.


Primarily, the Workboat Code deals with safety and includes safety instructions about the boat itself, but also those aboard, whether passengers or crew. For example, medical care, especially when an injury is involved, can be a challenge on water. It is important to ensure that a medical kit is kept on board, and the Workboat Code gives instructions on how to know what that medical kit should contain. In the case of seagoing vessels, medical kits vary depending on how far from land the boat is expected to travel.


Fire safety can be a major issue on boats used on the waterways, as though there is plenty of water, there is likely no safe place that those aboard can evacuate to. Fire extinguishers must be kept close by the engine too, and there needs to be a method of stopping machinery like fuel pumps and fans that may make a fire worse.


Instructions regarding the vessel include calculating a boat’s displacement, which is particularly important in the case of wide beam boats. Also covered is the width allowable on the berth, which can affect narrow boats as well as wider boats.

Lighting for different boats is another safety requirement in many circumstances. The Workboat Code details what type and colour of light must be used, and where they must be placed. A cabin cruiser stern, for example, should have lights if it is seven metres long or more. The code goes into more detail about how these rules are adapted if the boat is in use, at anchor, or aground.


To prove they are up to code, vessels need to be examined and certified. When boats are for sale, whether privately owned traditional stern narrowboats or vessels in commercial settings, the certificate is automatically cancelled. The new owner must apply to the Certifying Authority to receive a new certificate. In the case of canal work boats for sale, for example, the code certificate would expire at the moment of sale, and whoever bought the boat would have to reapply.


When thinking about waterways safety, boats must be inspected according to a checklist, and a record of the inspection needs to be logged. This makes sure that a boat’s construction and current structural strength are at an acceptable standard.

All boats used by The Rothen Group (TRG) are kept to the highest safety standards. Whether the boats are used by employees of TRG or rented out to others, the entire fleet of boats, pontoons, and floating platforms are all regularly checked for safety issues, and kept well within recommended standards, including the Workboat Code.


For all your workboat needs, contact The Rothen Group.

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