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Safety Standards and regulations for sailboats.

Safety Standards and regulations for sailboats.

So, what about sailboats?  Every other type of boat seems to be covered by some standard.  Is there one for sailboats?  The answer is not simple. It's both a yes and a no.


There are no specific US Coast Guard Safety Standards for recreational sailboats. They are required to have a Hull Identification Number (HIN) as are all recreational boats in the US, Canada and countries that use ISO.

Sailboats are excepted (that is they are an exception) from the Code Of Federal Regulations for Safe Loading, Flotation, and labeling for capacity and horsepower ratings.

However, what if you sell a boat that is used as both sail, and manually or outboard propelled?  Many boat builders sell small boats that can be configured either way and come either as a row/power dinghy or with a sail package.  When sold as a dinghy without the sail package, they are required to meet all of the above and have a capacity label, but when a sailboat they are not. What most builders do is simply give them all a capacity label and install flotation.  There is no rule that says you cannot put flotation in a sailboat or have a capacity label on a sailboat. A capacity label on a sailboat should not say US Coast Guard at the top, but exceptions have been made so that small builders do not have to keep duplicate inventories of labels. Call The US Coast Guard about this. 202-372-1077  or FAX 202-372-1908.

If a sailboat has an inboard gasoline engine, such as the Atomic 4, then it must comply with the fuel system, electrical system and ventilation system requirements. If the boats has installed navigation lights, the lights must be certified and comply with the regulations.  If it has to comply with the above then it must have a Certification label

But if the boat has an outboard engine, and a portable fuel tank, or a diesel engine, the fuel, electrical and ventilation regulations do not apply, unless the portable tank is in an enclosed (not open to the atmosphere) compartment.  If it is, then the compartment must be ventilated. 

If the boat has a battery that is in an enclosed compartment, then that compartment must also be ventilated.

On the other hand, the American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) does have specific standards for sailboats.

ABYCH-5 Boat Load Capacity section 5.6.5 specifies maximum weight capacity and maximum persons capacity for monohull sailboats under 26 Feet in length.

ABYC H-24 Gasoline Fuel Systems and ABYC H-33 Diesel Fuel Systems also applies to sailboats

ABYC E-11 Electrical Systems Applies to sail boats.

There are many other ABYC standards that apply equally to power and sail boats.  The best thing to do is contact ABYC and ask if they have a standard for a specific system rather than a boat type.

How about Canada?  Canada's Standard For Small Vessels TP1332 has specific sections which apply to sailboats.  You need to consult with their office to determine which parts apply. Canadian Office of Boating Safety.

ISO has standards that specifically apply to sailboats such as
ISO 12217-2 Small craft -- Stability and buoyancy assessment and categorization -- Part 2: Sailing boats of hull length greater than or equal to 6 m.

Beyond this there are classification societies that have specific construction standards for sailboats, particularly racing sailboats.  The American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) has standards for pleasure boats. See Ike's List for other classification societies.  The International Sailing Federation sets most of the rules for racing sailboats throughout the world. See World Sailing

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Beyond the rules:

There is no law that says you can't go beyond the basic requirements. As I said above, you can put flotation and a capacity label on a sailboat if you want to.  Many manufacturers of sailing dinghies do just that. 

I recently went to a seminar on capsize and self rescue of small and medium sized sailboats.  It was very informative. Flotation is one way to help recover a small sailboat from a capsize. The flotation reduces the amount of water swampng the boat and assists the occupants with getting it upright. It also reduces the amount of water you have to bail out of the boat.

Other things can also help. A line attached to the side of the boat that the occupants can pull on to right the boat is a big help.  Making sure the centerboard or dagger board does not fall back into the boat is crucial. It needs to stay extended so the persons can pull down on it or even stand on it to right the boat.

Some boats that have open transoms are essentially self bailing when they are upright and moving forward. Others have small drains built in that dump the water when the boats is moving forward. 

The idea here is to give a lot of thought to the design of the boat.  Design it in a way that will make it easier to recover from a capsize. 

Copyright 2010 All rights reserved. Revised 12/26/2020


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