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Standards Societies

Standards and Certification

Throughout this website I reference the American Boat and Yacht Council standards (ABYC), Underwriters Laboratories (UL), The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), The International Standards Organization (ISO), and others. All but ISO are overseen by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Even though this site is primarily about United States Coast Guard regulations, any person entering the marine business, building, designing or repairing boats, should be aware of these organizations. 

For many years these organizations have been setting standards for not only boats, but for our homes, automobiles, aircraft, and household appliances. Instead of government regulation many industries decided it was better to voluntarily determine and use industry established standards for safety. If they did not, Congress would step in and pass laws regulating them. All of them use members of the industry and public to man committees.  Each committee deals with a specific subject. Usually the people on these committees are the top experts on the subject.  Standards are proposed, voted on by committee members, reviewed by a board of technical advisors and then published for review and comment by all the members of the particular society.  Necessary changes are made, if any, and then voted on. Eventually the standard is published and made available to anyone who wishes to have a copy. They are not free. Usually there is a fee that covers the costs of publishing the standard.  Members are usually given a discount. Now with the internet, most of these are available to members on-line.

Many of these societies also offer education and certification opportunities.  After taking a course, and an exam, a technician can be certified by the society to have met a specific standard of knowledge in their technical expertise. For those who wish to, and think they have the knowledge, the course can be waived and the exam taken.

ABYC: Established in the 50's as the Yacht Safety Bureau , the ABYC standards are used by most of the marine industry in the USA, Canada and many other countries, and were heavily referenced by the International Standards Organization (ISO) when developing their own standards for recreational boats.  ABYC is a member of ISO and represents the US on recreational boat standards.

UL:  Although based in the US, UL is a global organization and has been around for over 120 years. Look at the appliances in your home or the power tools in your shop. Almost every one of them will have a UL label.  This means that UL has actually tested this product (not the individual tool you hold) against specific standards. If it passes, it gets the label.  UL has a marine division for marine products such as life jackets, flame arrestors, starter motors, blowers, etc. and they will have a UL Marine label.  Almost all electrical products used on boats will have been tested by UL. UL 1426 is the universally accepted standard for marine wire. The manufacturers of the products pay UL to test their product.

SAE:  Established in 1905, the SAE is actually an international organization recognized by almost all countries as the experts in setting automotive standards. But they do not limit themselves to cars and trucks.  They have marine standards, primarily for fuel and electrical systems on boats.

NFPA: Established in 1915, NFPA is involved with preventing fires, and primarily deals with shore side issues. However, they have marine standards for electrical,  fuel and ventilation systems, fire extinguishers, flame arrestors, electrical systems at marinas, and other issues where fire safety is involved.

ISO:  The International Standards Organization (Actually the International Organization for Standardization) is the international body for setting standards for everything from soup to nuts.  They have a division that deals specifically with recreational boats. There are many committees involved with this. The US is a member. ABYC was designated by the US Coast Guard as the US representative on the recreational boat committees.  When necessary a Coast Guard member will sit on the committees as well. Outside of the US, most countries accept ISO as their national standards. European Union (EU) standards are all based on ISO. The Recreational Craft Directive, the EU standard for recreational boats, is taken directly from ISO.

ANSI: American National Standards Institute:  A quasi government organization that oversees all standards societies in the US, and foreign societies that do business in the US.  ABYC, UL, NFPA, SAE are all recognized members of ANSI.

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