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Disclaimer:   I am not a spokesperson for the US Coast Guard or ABYC. For an official interpretation of regulations or standards you must contact the US Coast Guard or other organization referenced..   More.....

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, or equipment for 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 felt 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 who volunteer to staff committees. Members are not paid and generally pay their own expenses, although some may be reimbursed by their employer.  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 selected by the members, 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 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. Some ABYC standards are referenced in the United States Code (USC) and The Code Of Federal Regulations (CFR), and in effect have the force of law. The most recent example is ABYC Standard A-33, Emergency Engine Cutoff Switches (Kill Switches), which was referenced in Title 43 USC 4312 and is now required on motorboats with propulsion developing more than 115 lb. (about 3 HP) of thrust.

ABYC also offers classes in various standards leading to industry certification in the subject. An example is Certification of Marine Electricians. They also offer courses that do not involve certification. 

ABYC standards are used by the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) to certify the boats manufactured by their members.  Their members produce approximately 80% of the boats made in the USA. Staff from these manufacturers attend annual seminars to learn the standards and how to comply with them.


Underwriters Laboratory (UL)
Underwriters Laboratory.  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. Some of the UL Marine standards such UL 1500, the standard for ignition protection, are now being administered by ABYC.

SAE:  Established in 1905, the Society of Automotive Engineers 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 safety and 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. The hallmark of the NFPA is the
National Electrical Code.

The NEC is the US standard for all electrical systems. It is not a Federal law, but it has been adopted by most states and municipalities as the standard for safe electrical practices. NFPA publishes many other safety standards, in particular
NFPA 302 Fire Protection Standard for Pleasure and Commercial Motor Craft which deals primarily with fuel, electrical and ventilation.

NMEA: The National Marine Electronics Association:  They establish and publish standards for networked marine electronic equipment and it's installation on recreational boats. They work with government agencies that regulate this industry to influence legislation and regulations. Their most significant achievement is the standard known as
NMEA 2000 Standard for Serial-Data Networking of Marine Electronic Devices

Solar America Board For Codes and Standards (Solar ABCS)

A collaborative effort funded by the U.S. Department of Energy that dedicates experts to transforming solar markets by improving building codes, utility interconnection procedures, and product standards, reliability, and safety, and is part of its overall strategy to reduce barriers to the adoption of solar technologies and to stimulate market growth.

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.

Standards Testing Laboratories

Underwriters Laboratory Inc. (UL)
Tests and certifies products to it's own and to Federal standards.

Immana Laboratory:
An independent privately owned facility that tests and certifies marine products.

Southwest Research Institute (SwRI):
A laboratory that does research and testing for many things. They have been heavily involved with research and testing for the EPA and USCG, for environmental standards. 2016 All rights reserved. Revised 03/11/2019

American Boat And Yacht Council  Boat Design Net  Wooden Boat Foundation
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