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The ICC is a certificate which is intended to provide evidence of competence when requested by officials in foreign countries.

The ICC (or to give it its full title International Certificate for Operators of Pleasure Craft) is a certificate which is intended to provide evidence of competence when requested by officials in foreign countries. It is sometimes known as the International Certificate of Competence.

It is issued under the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Inland Transport Committee Working Party on Inland Water Transport Resolution 40. It is this resolution which details how and to whom the ICC may be issued, the syllabus requirements, the layout of the certificate and it also lists the countries which have notified the UNECE Secretariat that they have accepted the resolution.

The UK Government has accepted Resolution 40 and has authorised the RYA to issue the ICC on its behalf. 

The origin and history of the ICC

The ICC was originally created to facilitate pleasure navigation along the length of the rivers Rhine and Danube.

The evidence of competence required, differed for each of the countries the rivers pass through, which caused difficulties. The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Inland Transport Committee Working Party on Inland Water Transport sought to find a solution.

The rules surrounding the issue of the ICC were initially detailed in Resolutions 13 and 14, but it is Resolution 40, which was first adopted in October 1998, which now regulates the ICC.

Over time, the ICC has evolved into a document which enables boaters to evidence their competence when visiting both the inland waterways of Europe and European coastal waters.  

So what does the ICC do?

When you visit another country, in most circumstances (in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) you can be required to comply with the maritime legislation of the visited country (Coastal State) in addition to that of your vessel’s country of registration (Flag State).

The regulations for pleasure craft can vary considerably from one country to another and the regime for skipper training and licensing can be equally disparate; the ICC helps to overcome the difficulties these differences can cause.

An ICC issued by a contracting government to Resolution 40 indicates that the certificate holder has demonstrated the level of competence required by Resolution 40 for the certificate to be issued.

In other words it is an assurance from one government to another that the certificate holder is sufficiently competent to be driving a pleasure craft, despite not holding the visited country’s national certificate. 

Formal acceptance of the ICC

The ICC should be automatically accepted in countries which have adopted Resolution 40. However, of the 56 UNECE countries able to accept the resolution, the UK is one of only a handful which have fully adopted Resolution 40.

Many of the eligible countries have not accepted Resolution 40, some still apply Resolution 14 which Resolution 40 was intended to replace and others only apply Resolution 40 in part or with caveats attached.

Wider (informal) acceptance

The ICC is however a far more useful document than the Resolution’s formal acceptance would suggest.

Although acceptance of the ICC by the visited country should be because the visited country itself has adopted Resolution 40, the ICC is sometimes recognised as an acceptable certificate in the visited country’s national legislation and is quite often accepted on a purely informal basis. Spain, Greece and Portugal, for example, have not adopted Resolution 40 but are still likely to ask visitors for an ICC.

The ICC may be acceptable for visiting foreign flagged vessels, foreign flagged vessels being kept in the Coastal State and/or vessels flagged in the Coastal State. It should never be assumed that the ICC will be accepted as an alternative to the national qualification of the vessel's flag state. The onus is on ICC holders to determine its acceptability by foreign states, as the ICC was never intended to be an alternative to individual national qualification requirements.

What does the ICC not do?

The validity of the ICC is frequently misunderstood. The ICC is not the boating equivalent of the EU driving licence for road vehicles, which all EU member states are obliged to accept.

The ICC’s validity is in fact determined by the visited country, so it is not a truly international qualification. It is nevertheless a valuable document when boating abroad as the ICC is the only international evidence of competence that exists for pleasure boaters in Europe.

Some countries may accept the ICC as an alternative to their national qualification on their nationally flagged vessels, but this should never be assumed, as the ICC was never intended to be an alternative to Flag State qualification requirements.

With the exception of certificates where the power category is restricted to vessels up to 10m length overall, an ICC does not state the maximum size of vessel the certificate is valid for. Such limits vary from country to country and are determined by the country in which the certificate is being used.

The RYA is frequently asked how far offshore the ICC is valid. On the high seas or in UK territorial waters the applicable legislation for a UK flagged boat is the UK Merchant Shipping Regulations. This legislation does not require the skipper of a pleasure vessel to have an ICC, therefore the UK ICC issued by the RYA only becomes relevant within the territorial waters of another country, and the visited country determines the ICC’s validity.

Restrictions imposed by the visited country on the validity of the ICC most commonly relate to the size of the boat. But the visited country could also restrict how far how far offshore you can venture, the type of boat you can use or could decline to accept the ICC altogether. Such restrictions are most likely to apply to smaller boats especially open boats and boats that are kept in a foreign port or are launched from foreign shores. Owners should check the local regulations before launching.

Restrictions may also apply when chartering abroad and charterers should consult the charter boat provider for advice.

The national legislation of a country provides a good indication of whether restrictions are likely (and together with local regulations would ultimately determine what restrictions can be imposed and the possible penalties for non-compliance).

The fact that you are eligible to receive a UK ICC issued by the RYA does not mean that it will be acceptable to the Flag State of the boat you own, use or hire and it does not mean that it will be accepted as evidence of competence in the country in which you plan to go boating.

It is up to you to make the necessary enquiries to ensure the UK ICC issued by the RYA is the correct document specific to your circumstances.

The ICC cannot be commercially endorsed and should never be used as evidence of competence for commercial activities.

The ICC issued by the RYA is issued on behalf of the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA); it does not entitle you to any other certificate (in the UK or abroad).