Codes of practice and standards for safely operating and navigating passenger ships, catamarans and hovercrafts.
A wide range of international regulations ensure the safe operation of passenger ships. There are also specific codes of practice for small passenger vessels operating in UK inland waters and for other passenger ships operating in UK waters.
In addition to the legislation for passenger ships there are also regulations controlling the operation of roll-on/roll-off passenger ships and high-speed vessels such as catamarans and hovercrafts.
This guide discusses the construction, maintenance and operational standards for passenger ships.
Passenger ships codes of practice
There is an exceptionally wide range of regulations and standards covering passenger ship construction and operation. Many of these are incorporated in Conventions of the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
The most significant IMO Conventions in relation to passenger ships are the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and Load Lines Conventions. Each of these is regularly reviewed and - where necessary - updated. All UK-registered passenger ships operating internationally must comply with their terms. Read detailed information about the IMO’s work on passenger ships on the IMO website.
For ships operating solely in UK waters - and for small passenger vessels operating in UK inland waterways - there are separate codes of practice. For a comprehensive list of UK categorised waters, download Merchant Shipping Notice (MSN) 1837 (M) Amendment 2 - Categorisation of Waters (PDF, 203KB).
These codes incorporate guidance on complying with the various regulations concerning the construction and safe operation of passenger vessels operating only in UK waters.
They provide standards mainly for safety issues but also comprehensive guidance on vessel construction. They also cover the installation and operation of machinery and equipment including navigation, radio and safety systems.
There is a special code of practice for high-speed craft such as catamarans. For more information, read the guide to standards for the construction and maintenance of high-speed craft.
Construction standards for passenger ships
UK-registered passenger ships on international voyages must be built in accordance with the 1998 Passenger Ship Construction Regulations. These regulations establish a series of standards, which cover issues ranging from stability to steering gear.
Passenger ships are normally classified according to the types of voyage that they undertake and there are separate standards for different classes of ship. For a detailed explanation see Vessel classification and certification.
For passenger ships operating solely within UK waters, the construction standards are incorporated into the codes of practice. These cover a similar range of issues with a specific emphasis on safety.
Here are some links to information relating to the amendments made by the Merchant Shipping (Safety Standards for Passenger Ships on Domestic Voyages) (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2022 (SI 2022/1269) (“Grandfather Rights” Regulations): https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/updates-to-standards-for-older-domestic-passenger-ships-construction-and-equipment-useful-links
Maintenance standards for passenger ships
Appropriate maintenance of equipment and machinery used on passenger vessels, including safety equipment and services, is controlled through legislation. Maintenance issues are reviewed as part of the regular surveys UK-registered ships are subject to.
In addition, the MCA has the right to inspect maintenance logs and take relevant action if equipment is not adequately maintained.
Operational standards for passenger ships
The operation of passenger vessels is subject to a wide range of regulations, which cover issues such as safety management, radio and navigational installations and training.
Passenger ships are also covered by merchant vessel codes of practice, and by performance standards for radio equipment, navigation systems, the Global Maritime Distress Safety System and marine equipment.
Requirements for ro-ro passenger ships
Roll-on/roll-off (ro-ro) vessels are designed to carry wheeled vehicles and equipment and are widely used for short-sea ferry operations for both passenger cars and heavy-goods traffic. They are covered by passenger and merchant shipping regulations and codes of practice.
Some ro-ro vessels are high-speed craft such as catamarans, and for these vessels specific regulations apply. For more information on this you can see the guide on standards for the construction and maintenance of high-speed craft.
There are specific considerations which need to be considered for the stability of ro-ro ships and for the safety of passengers and crew members moving about on vehicle decks.
You can download MSN 1790 (M) Stability Requirements for Ro-Ro Passenger Ships (PDF, 2.13MB) to be read in conjunction with Amendment 1 (PDF 288KB).
Requirements for passenger ships operating solely in UK categorised waters
Passenger vessels that operate solely in UK waters - and small passenger vessels on inland waterways - are subject to separate codes of practice covering construction, operation, maintenance and safety standards.
The codes explain how to comply with regulations, including those related to navigation, radio and safety systems.
You can also download MSN 1823 (M) Safety Code for Passenger Ships Operating Solely in UK Categorised Waters (PDF, 2.49MB) and MSN 1823 Edition 2, Amendment 1 (PDF 14.86MB) (which is applicable to ships built on or after 1 January 2018)
For a comprehensive list of UK categorised waters, download Merchant Shipping Notice (MSN) 1837 (M) Amendment 2 - Categorisation of Waters (PDF, 203KB).
Download MSN 1790 (M) Stability Requirements for Ro-Ro Passenger Ships (PDF, 2.13MB) to be read in conjunction with Amendment 1 (PDF 288KB).