CE Design Categories

3 September 2019 | | Reading time 4 minutes

CE marking of recreational craft isn’t something new, the first directive on the subject having been issued back in 1996. Since then, the legislation has evolved, including a new facelift for the text in 2016. This gives an opportunity to review regulations that impose a number of rules on boat builders and that inform boaters about the nature of their boat.


Anyone under the age of thirty will be too young to remember, but before 1996, French administration regulated compulsory on-board safety equipment in six categories of progressively increasing distance from the coast. The size of the boat determined in which category it could sail. With monohulls, for example, they needed to measure at least 10 meters (33’) in length to qualify for being in the first category.

The European contribution:

From this point of view, Europe considerably changed the situation, with the first directive of June 1996. Rather than telling the yachtsman, “You must equip yourself thus in order to consider sailing X number of miles”, the text defines design categories. From 1996 onwards, any shipyard (European or non-European) that places a new boat on the market must contact a notified body (authorized to evaluate the design of boats) to define, according to its characteristics, the type of sailing for which it is designed. The size criterion is taken into account, particularly in the calculation of the STIX (stability index), but it is not the only one (structure, reserve buoyancy, water ingress depths, etc. are also studied). So this is all important information for any buyer. It’s then up to him or her, according to their flag, to equip themselves with safety equipment.

The design categories, classified from A to D, were established according to meteorological criteria with maximum wind strengths and wave heights. And they were also called “Ocean”, “offshore”, “inshore”, “inland or sheltered coastal waters”.

It was precisely these names that troubled boaters, often leading to confusion with the categories of distance from shore.

On January 18th 2016, at the instigation of the Federation of Nautical Industries, the drafting of the A/B/C/D reference system was changed, abandoning the designations and limiting itself to defining maximum meteorological conditions whose outlines are specified.


Here is the table

Category       Maximum sustained wind      Gusts             Max. significant wave height

A                     Force 9 / 47 knots                61 knots         10 meters

B                     Force 8 / 40 knots                52 knots         8 meters

C                     Force 6 / 27 knots                35 knots         4 meters

D                     Force 4/ 16 knots                 23 knots         0.5 meters


Do not confuse design category and mandatory equipment requirements:

On the builder’s plate, in addition to the H.I.N. (Hull Identification Number), the design category is indicated, together with the maximum number of passengers on board.

So that’s the boater informed. It remains up to the captain to properly equip his boat, depending on the type of sailing he or she intends to undertake, subject to complying with the regulations in force in his country.  It should be noted that since 2008 in France, categories 1 to 6 have been simplified and equipment requirements have been largely reviewed, due to technical progress, particularly in electronics and position fixing.  Division 240 (France’s legislation which sets out equipment requirements, and whose new official text is available on the website of the relevant government department) now sets a minimum of four groups of equipment requirement, depending on whether you sail less than 3 miles, 2 to 6 miles, 6 to 60 miles or more than 60 miles from shelter.

There is therefore nothing to prevent, in theory, a boat in Design Category B, for example, from considering offshore navigation if it is equipped to the minimum requirements.

The responsible captain must simply be aware of the limits of the boat’s use for which it was designed and built.