If you are planning on owning a small boat for any purpose in South Africa, you should be aware of Small Boat Regulations by SAMSA. These regulations are officially known as the National Small Vessel Safety Regulations of 2007. Let’s get to know the aspects you should be aware of.


National Small Vessel Safety Regulations of 2007

National Small Vessel Safety Regulations of 2007 comprises basic safety regulations and rules for small vessels in South Africa. This includes both inland and on-sea vessels. These regulations fall under The Merchant Shipping Act 57 of 1951 which controls and expands the Republic’s maritime interest within the South African maritime borders.

These regulations apply to commercial (licensed) vessels and recreational vessels. This includes inland water vessels of all types and on-sea vessels of the length of 24 meters or less and licensed vessels of the length of 14 meters or less. Furthermore, this applies to small vessels such as personal watercraft (jet skis).

However, these regulations do not apply to ‘Tenders’. Tenders are small vessels of length equal to or less than 4 meters. These vessels serve the purpose of short-distance transportations of people or cargo from ship to ship or ship to shore. They are not for financial benefits.

Let’s understand the important sections mentioned in the Merchant Shipping Regulations of 2007.

a) Getting approval for constructing your vessel. 

To build your own vessel, you will need the Authority’s permission. The Authority here refers to SAMSA, the government entity that is responsible for the maritime safety and interests of South Africa. This includes submitting duplicate details of the building plans of your vessel. Make sure your plans follow all the safety guidelines by SAMSA before you submit them. Note that you will have to notify the authorities each time you

  • commence building;
  • commence planking, plating or laminating;
  • completing the fitting of all underwater fittings such as rudder gear and propeller shafts;
  • launching the vessel for the first time;
  • undertaking trials

at least 7 days prior to each activity.

Subsequent to your plans’ approval, the Authority will also inspect your vessel. They will check your vessel for safety standards as mentioned in the documents you have submitted to the Authority. Note that these requirements also call for having life-saving equipment, fire-fighting equipment, radio and signal equipment onboard.

For technical information, please refer to the Part II of the National Small Vessel Safety Regulations of 2007.

a-1) Buoyancy of the Vessel

The buoyancy of the vessel refers to the force that acts against the weight of your vessel to keep your vessel afloat and stable on the water. Not only does the built-in buoyancy helps your vessel to stay afloat but it also helps in unwanted situations such as flooding of your vessel. Sufficient in-build buoyance may eliminate the need of having lifeboats on your vessel (therefore reducing the overall weight of your vessel as well).

Under the small boat regulations set by SAMSA, sea-going vessels of category B, C, D, and E and inland vessels (category R) are required to have sufficient in-built buoyancy. The survivors must be able to remain afloat with the vessel while awaiting their rescue. Built-in buoyance must be made out of approved foam or approved plastic bottles.

For more technical information on this matter, please refer to the SAMSA Marine Notice of 2012.

b) Crewing

The owner or the skipper handling the vessel must be properly licensed and should be of sound mind and health. It is also important to note that they should have the license of the appropriate category before handling certain categories of vessels. For example, a Category R license holder may not drive anything else other than category R vessels. Category C license holder may operate Category C, D, E, and R vessels, and so on.

Related: SAMSA Licence: Do I need one?

The skipper generally requires a Certificate of Confidence (CoC) if they are handling a pleasure vessel. Furthermore, as per the regulations of the Authority, you should hire an experienced crew. They should be familiar with the vessel and know what they are doing. Hence, the crewmembers must possess valid documents pertaining to their eligibility.

If you are under the age of 18, you cannot operate a small commercial vessel regardless of having a valid license. As for pleasure vessels, if you are under the age of 16, you will not be allowed to skipper; unless a valid and experienced adult skipper accompanies and supervises you.

For more information on the same, please refer to Part III of the National Small Vessel Safety Regulations 2007.

c) Registration and Numbering your vessel.

As per the small boat regulations by SAMSA, register and get a marking for your vessel as soon as possible. This applies to all kinds of inland water vessels and sea vessels of length 9m or above and engines above 15hp. However, sailing vessels of length less than 9m or powered vessels having an engine of 15hp or below do not require a marking.

Commercial vessels will require a Certificate of Fitness. If it is your vessel’s first inspection, the Authority will inspect your vessel as per the safety guidelines. Without a certificate of fitness, you may not be allowed to boat inland or on sea within the South African Maritime Zone. The CoF has to be renewed within 12 months of issuance.

For more information on how registration and numbering works, please visit Part IV of the National Small Vessel Safety Regulations 2007.

A list of approved markings by SAMSA.



These are the main regulations to focus on if you are planning to build a vessel and drive it. Of course, it does not end here. There are further regulations about licensing a vessel, getting a marking. Please refer to the National Small Vessel Safety Act of 2007 for complete information on the same. These small boat regulations set by SAMSA are strict, and you may face a heavy penalty for not complying with them.

Getting into these technicalities can be tricky for you. If you are looking for external assistance, we would be glad to assist you. Kindly contact us with your queries and we will do our best to help you.