Keith Ivory, Lead Specialist at LR, explores the Grey Boat Code and how it takes a contextual approach to service craft safety.

Commercial vessels are subject to an assortment of regulations and legislation that give owner/operators clear guidance on how to maximise safety and security. That isn’t the case for small craft in the service of government agencies or military powers, leaving those responsible for safety without the guidance that their commercial counterparts receive. 

Launched by LR in 2019, the Grey Boat Code (the Code) aims to set standards of safety and protection for anyone aboard small craft in Government service. While the Code is used predominantly in support of naval craft and their crews, the guidance it provides can also extend to coastguards, border patrols, and police depending on the regulatory framework within a given country.

The Code finds its roots in changes introduced in the United Kingdom in the mid-to-late-1990s. The Ministry of Defence (MOD), seeking to introduce new safety policies for smaller craft that would offer a level of assurance comparable to that outlined by statute, required a framework that could also account for the unique military operating requirements – something that existing commercial legislation was largely unsuited for.

Born in response to that need, the Code established a set of guidelines for any operator not under a legal obligation to comply to national or international standards; proven recommendations to ensure the best possible safety environment without compromising on the craft’s function or the crew’s mission.

A contextual approach to safety

Today, the Code provides military and other governmental and non-governmental organisations around the world with extensive practical guidance across a wide range of craft. Code adoption is growing, with organisations seeking to plug gaps in their existing safety management solutions and gain the added confidence that the new solutions they employ have been verified by an independent third party.

Crucially, rather than mandating safety requirements on a “tick-box” basis, the GBC offers a more consultative approach. Practical application of the Code has seen LR conduct thousands of assessments across well over 100 types of craft and in climatic conditions that range from extreme arctic conditions to equatorial and jungle environments. This breadth of experience helps clients maximise safety without compromising on the unique needs that craft and crew will have when operating in specialist habitats.

Consider jungle-based craft, for instance. While safety flares would be an essential item for any seafaring craft, in a dense, forested area like a jungle, their incendiary nature can ultimately do much more harm than good. Similar adaptation is required for radio equipment, which typically works by line of sight between antennae – an impossibility here. Satellite-based communications represent a much better choice in such an instance.

The environment is not the only factor the Code takes into consideration, with the circumstances of the craft’s operation requiring equal attention. Lighting may be a fundamental requirement for the vast majority of craft, for instance, but it is undoubtedly less helpful for night patrol craft that would prefer to remain unidentified. A standardised freeboard might make sense for most craft, but not for those whose crew members need to disembark quickly and quietly.

Rather than seeking to penalise an agency for refusing to adopt those techniques or forcing them to use them, the Code embraces a common-sense, “next best thing” approach to safety and can be adapted accordingly. Context is key.

The technical perspective

Under the Code, the definition of a small craft is anything less than 24m in length. This qualification is a response to client’s needs. Typically, any vessel longer than 24m tends to adopt Classification Rules. However, before the introduction of the Grey Boat Code, no appropriate standard existed for anything below that threshold.

The Code itself is written with clear awareness of and respect to the many recognised standards already in place across the nautical world. Calling on well-established, robust, and widely accessible and recognised technical standards, traditional Classification rules are used to evaluate craft design, and certain ISO standards are also used to inform best practice around elements such as machinery and electrical systems.

Moreover, since the Code is intended for a global audience, it takes account of the standards and regulations that exist within specific territories. Instead of mandating “Western” safety criteria on organisations located elsewhere on the globe, the Code takes a realistic view and uses local regulations and legislation as a guide for acceptable standards where appropriate.

The best possible result

At its core, the Code seeks to ensure the best possible safety of a craft in its defined role and without compromising either the mission or operational capability.

We understand that navies and other organisations sometimes require flexibility around certain standards in order to perform their roles effectively, and the Code has been designed with this in mind. Rather than jeopardising a mission by enforcing standards that won’t work or creating the risk of non-compliance by presenting rules that are too prescriptive for practical application, the Code offers a pragmatic and useful approach to safety.

Download the the Grey Boat Code