If you are a South African resident wanting a powerboat or similar vessel for commercial or recreational purposes, then you are required to obtain a SAMSA Skippers license. If you are an international tourist visiting South Africa, wanting to use a powerboat on your own, your RYA powerboat license (if you have any) will be considered valid. However, you will have to convert it to a SAMSA Skippers license sooner or later, especially if you are staying in South Africa for a longer period of time. So yes, you do require a SAMSA license in South Africa to handle powerboats.

Let’s understand more about the SAMSA License in South Africa.

Who or what is SAMSA in South Africa?

SAMSA is an acronym for South Africa Maritime Safety Authority. They are responsible for marine activity and safety within South Africa’s maritime zones. This entity was established on April 1, 1998, after the SAMSA Act 5 was passed. As an entity that watches over the seas of South Africa, their priorities are:

  • To preserve life, and safety regulations on South African waters.
  • Preventive measures against pollution at the sea.
  • Expand and act on South Africa’s maritime interests.

To know more about SAMSA, consider visiting their about us section on their website.

SAMSA License in South Africa

If you wish to operate a powerboat on your own on South African waters, you will require a SAMSA Skippers license. This also includes all the inland water bodies such as dams, lagoons, and rivers. With this license, you can operate a powerboat of length smaller than or equal to 9m and the engine power greater than 15hp.

South Africa takes the safety and preservation of maritime boundaries very seriously. The entity cuts no slack for illegal activities or powerboat operators without a license, and the penalty can be severe. Help South Africa keep the waters safe by obtaining a SAMSA Skippers license today.

The SAMSA Skippers license is classified into certain categories. Each category provides you different privileges in handling a powerboat in South Africa.

SAMSA Skippers License categories are as follows:
  1. Category R: A Skippers license that exclusively allows you to motor on inland water bodies only.
  2. Category E: The most basic day skipper license in South Africa. Many aspiring sailors mainly aim for a Category E license as it allows them to handle a powerboat on the sea as well as on inland water bodies. You can go within 1 nautical mile from the shore with this license.
  3. Category C: This is an upgrade to the Category E license. With this license, you can go deeper into the sea – up to 15 nautical miles from the shorelines.
  4. Category B: This license will allow you to sail up to 40 nautical miles into the sea.
  5. Category A: Removes the nautical miles restriction.

As you progress, the prerequisites to obtain a higher level license get tougher. To know more about how you can obtain a SAMSA Skippers license, please refer to the article below.

Related: ‘Getting a Skippers’ License in South Africa’

Obtaining Legal Paperwork for your Vessel

So, you have secured a legal license to use a powerboat on South African waters. But what about your vessel? If you own a car, you have to register it, right? You have to obtain a proper number plate license and other vehicle-related paperwork. The same applies to your vessel.

SAMSA requires you to register and obtain proper licensing for your vessel under the Merchant Shipping Act 57 of 1951 (section 68 to 72) and National Small Vessel Safety Regulations of 2007. Under these regulations, you are required to register your vessel with SAMSA. This registration has to be renewed every 5 years. Note that certain types of vessels are exempted from this act but may be subject to inspection for issues related to safety standards.

Let’s understand what type of vessels require licensing:
  • Recreational vessels greater than 9m and having an engine greater than 15hp require a registration marking on the boat. Consider this as a license plate number for the boat. These vessels are annually inspected for safety standards and are issued Certificate of Fitness (CoF) or if your SA flagged boat is going into foreign waters, then a Local General Safety Certificate (LSGC).
  • Recreational vessels smaller or equal to 9m in length and engine less powerful than or equal to 15hp does not require a marking or a safety certificate. However, they still must follow the safety regulations of constructing the vessel and other safety equipment requirements mentioned in the National Small Vessel Safety Regulations 2007.
  • Vessels that are operating commercially will require a license under the Merchant Shipping Act 57 of 1951. In that case, you will have to obtain the license by registering with a SAMSA ship registrar (You don’t need a license for a purely recreational vessel, only the approved marking).
  • Foreign vessels entering South African waters do not have to comply with these procedures. They should have the appropriate documents to prove the identity and safety of their vessels. However, if they are moored on South African waters on a permanent basis, then they must register with SAMSA and get an approved marking for their vessel.
Some important things to note:

If you are operating a recreational vessel, you will require a Certificate of Competence (a.k.a. Skipper’s Ticket) along with a qualification to operate radio equipment. More importantly, you must have a valid Ship Station License, without which obtaining registration and marking is impossible.

If your SAMSA registered vessel is going into foreign waters, then your vessel will be represented by the South African flag.

Licensing and registering your vessel can be a difficult process. Refer to this PDF document, visit the SAMSA website, or consider contacting us for guidance.

Bottom Line

SAMSA registration and licensing process for vessels and skippers are very important. Without these licenses and registration, you may be subject to a severe penalty.  

Sail and Power SA provides SAMSA approved Skippers license training up to Category B. We will be assisting you throughout the entire process to make your adventure as smooth as possible. Contact us today or check out our service page for more information.