South Africa has been blessed with beautiful shorelines and pleasant southern hemisphere weather for recreational activities. If you are to own a recreational vessel, you should be aware of these general regulations to own small recreational vessels, set by SAMSA.

What are Recreational Vessels?

Recreational vessels either refer to a boat specifically for recreational activities or sports activities.

Under SAMSA’s National Small Vessel Safety regulations, any vessel that is less than or equal to 9 meters and/or has an engine of 15hp or less is a small recreational vessel. In this case, certain rules and regulations apply to these vessels.

However, unlike commercial vessels, it is okay for recreational vessels just to have an ‘approved marking’. This ‘approved marking’ is similar to giving a car a license plate. In addition to that, these vessels will also need a ‘Certificate of Fitness’ from an authorised agency. This certificate has to be renewed every year.

The authorised agency here generally refers to a sporting body that has been approved and authorised by SAMSA to carry out such operations. If you want to get an approved marking for your vessel, you can directly reach out to such authorised agencies.

General Regulations for Small Recreational Vessels

  1. A small vessel of length 9 metres or less (sailing vessel) and having an engine of 15Hp (power-driven vessel) or less must have an ‘approved marking’ (i.e. a license plate) by an authorised agency.
  2. If your vessel is greater than 9 metres in length (sailing vessels) and/or has an engine of more than 15hp (power-driven vessels), then you will require a Small Vessel CoC (Certificate of Competence) under the regulations. In other words, get a Skipper’s License.

(Note that this license is only for Small Vessels. In South Africa, Small Vessel refers to any vessel that is less than 25 gross tonnes.)

  1. All vessels should obtain a Certificate of Fitness (CoF) annually from an agency authorized by SAMSA. This applies to small vessels of 9m or less in length (sailing) or less than or equal to a 15hp engine (power).
  2. Each vessel has to be equipped with the appropriate and relevant safety gear as per the vessel category and type.
  3. All vessels must have sufficient buoyancy. Here, ‘buoyancy’ refers to the ability of a vessel to float. All in-land small vessels should have a buoyancy of 30% and 60% for sea-going vessels.

Very Small Pleasure Vessels and the related Regulations

According to the Small Vessel Safety Regulations, the following vessels are considered to be ‘very small’. The smaller pleasure vessels such as kayaks, canoes, sailing dinghies, and other sailing vessels under 7 meters, rowing boats and other vessels powered by human power, power-driven vessels with an engine up to 15hp, jet skis, and other similar vessels.

Now, these vessels may be entirely exempt from the regulations or they may have special provisions. They are as followed:

Exceptional Regulations for Very Small Pleasure Vessels

  1. Vessels that are 3 metres or less shall not go to sea except if authorised by an authority and only in an area regulated by the authority. Even then, these vessels cannot go deeper than 1000m in the sea.

b-1. All jet skis feature an engine of 15hp or more. This means the vessel is eligible to comply with the annual CoF test. Furthermore, the skipper driving the vessel will require a skipper’s license of the appropriate category.

b-2. These vessels shall not be operated by anyone under 16 without any authorised supervision. The same applies to people who are learning how to drive the vessel. The designation of any jet ski less than 3 metres in length is always category R.

  1. Jet skis over 3 metres in length shall be treated as category R, E, or D vessels, according to the owner’s intention for using the vessel.
  2. As mentioned earlier, vessels less than 9m in length (sail) or having an engine of 15hp or less (power) do not require a certified skipper to drive such vessels. However, these vessels will need authorised markings regardless.
  3. Sailing dinghies and non-power vessels (rowing or sail vessels) that are less than 7m in length are exempt from the construction and design requirements (you can find more about it here.), colouring requirements, marking of the vessel, and carrying a CoF. However, they shall have sufficient buoyancy to make sure that the vessel safely stays afloat when completely swamped. The vessel is also required to carry safety equipment as per the regulations.


First of all, credits. These regulations were first published by SAMSA, tagged as the ‘General Requirements for Pleasure Vessels’ under the National Small Vessel Safety Regulations 2007.

We sea-going adventurers must understand and abide by these general regulations for owning and operating small recreational vessels. It is necessary if you want to enjoy the sea experience without any disturbance.

To familiarise yourself with the sea, we highly recommend you at least take the SAMSA Skippers license test, whatever category you may want to go for. But this way, you will at least have the knowledge to deal with uncertain situations that arise on the sea.

If you are looking for any assistance regarding the SAMSA skipper’s license or any RYA courses such as PB2 or Jet Ski, then feel free to contact us. Skipper Training SA is a certified and RYA-accredited marine training institution in Cape Town, South Africa. We deliver high-quality courses delivered by the industry veteran, Peter Daly.

For more information, please feel free to connect with us.


General Regulations for Small Recreational Vessels

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