If as a visitor you are planning to use the French canals and rivers, the boat’s skipper must have an ICC certificate as endorsed for Inland Waters (having also passed the CEVNI exam).

Inland waterway regulations come into effect once a vessel is upstream of the seaward limit of each estuary. The category of licence required is determined by the size of craft and the power of the engine.

Paradoxically, hire boat skippers (i.e the most inexperienced) need no qualifications at all (merely some very limited tuition) and this is another reason why hire boats should be treated with caution by more seasoned boaters, especially those piloting their own craft.

The International Certificate of Competence ICC

UN Resolution 40 introduced a Europe-wide helmsman’s licence, known as an International Certificate of Competence (ICC). It is issued after a test of practical ability and knowledge of the ‘rules of the road’, and is available for cruising with a sail boat and/or a motor-driven one, with the test being taken on an appropriate craft.

ICC International Certificate of CompetenceThe UK (RYA) ICC has six categories. When an ICC certificate is issued, only the categories for which competence has been proven will be validated. The categories include sail, power and inland – it is therefore possible to hold an ICC sailing certificate also validated for inland use through the CEVNI endorsement.

UK nationals and residents can take a course for the ICC at Royal Yachting Association (RYA) recognised sea schools and training centres. The ICC can also be awarded on production of an appropriate RYA certificate. ICC forms are available from the RYA in the United Kingdom, via the website, or from RYA recognised sea schools that test for the ICC. The application form must be completed and submitted with a passport photograph and copies of practical course completion certificates if applicable. An ICC is valid for 5 years.

It is also possible to take the ICC test at a few places in France, although French boating schools test and issue the French certification as a rule.



The CEVNI Endorsement

First introduced in 1985 and revised and updated regularly since then, CEVNI (Code Européen des Voies de la Navigation Intérieure) is the code governing navigation on the interconnected European inland waterways and is the basis of the various countries’ own regulations. Signs, rules and procedures for navigating the European inland waterways are all included within the CEVNI code and in the same way as pleasure craft on coastal waters are expected to abide by the COLREGS, pleasure craft on the inland waterways of Europe, which in places are heavily utilised by commercial traffic are expected to know and follow the CEVNI code. If you require an ICC endorsed for use on inland waters, you must learn the CEVNI code and sit the CEVNI test. The “RYA European waterways regulations (the CEVNI rules explained)” publication G17 provides the information you need to learn the code in a clear and concise way.

The CEVNI test is a short multiple choice paper – a sample paper is available and this can also be found at the back of the book. The training centre will, confirm successful completion of the test by signing the relevant section of the ICC application form – there is no separate certificate.

The UK ICC is issued by the Royal Yachting Association. The RYA is now able to certify for non-UK nationals, provided they would have been unable to do so in the home country. Inland boating certificates issued by non-EU countries are not generally accepted, as the Cevni rules are specific to the interconnected European inland waterways, and differ in some significant ways from the Colregs in use at sea.

The study book for the ICC Inland endorsement is the RYA Book of European Waterways Regulations, which will also satisfy the requirement that a copy of the Cevni rules is carried on board.

Tuition and Examination

A very highly recommended inland and coastal RYA, ICC and CEVNI training centre in the UK is at Bisham Abbey on the River Thames west of London – see www.bishamabbeysailing.co.uk
The prime sources for tuition and advice for barges and larger craft (but also for ICC/CEVNI in France) are Tam and Di Murrell – see www.bargehandling.com Tam and Di are no longer based on their barge in Cambrai but will travel to teach and examine throughout France. Steve Bridges of Bargecraft is now probably the most actively appropriate, being English (also an ex-professional seaman and police inspector!). His courses take place in South-west France on the Canal de Garonne. See www.bargecraft.com and mention French Waterways as your information source!

French System

French Certificates of Competence

On 1 January 2008, a new system for French registered boats was introduced. The Recreational Permit (Permis Plaisance) is available for four different purposes, one each for sea and inland waters, each of which can be extended. Validity is ‘for life’. They can be held by persons of any nationality. The inland water licences are:

Permis Plaisance(a) EI Eaux Intérieures licence – for boats up to 20 metres.

A QCM theory test of 25 questions is taken (four errors are allowed). Plus a minimum of three hours practical training must take place at a training centre. Practical training may begin before the theory test is taken, but a permit is only issued when the practical and theory tests are passed.

(b) GP Grande Plaisance Fluviale licence – for boats with no length restriction.

Basically the Eaux Interieures test, plus the candidate must be at least 18 years of age and have done a minimum of 9 hours practical training on a boat of at least 20 metres in length. The GP permit has replaced the former PP (peniche plaisance) licence that applied to boats over 15m.
Beyond the GP, taking passengers on board a peniche (i.e a hotel barge) requires a “Passager” licence which also involves serving time as deck crew.

Special Cases

Special Cases

  • Small Boats
    There is an exemption for boats less than 5m with no cabin and with a power factor less than 1, though the helmsman must be 16 or over. The power factor T is calculated by the formula T = hp of the engine multiplied by 1.9, and this sum then divided by the square of the boat’s length. By this formula a 4.9m craft with a 12.5hp engine just qualifies for exemption. There is a similar VNF licence fee exemption for smaller and low powered craft.
  • Large Boats 20m+
    Click for information relevant for larger boats/barges, principally TRIWV inspection and certification. .
  • Hire Boats
    A special temporary certificate called Carte de Plaisance is issued by the boat hire firms to all clients not in possession of one of the above, for cruising on waterways that are considered relatively safe. The hire firm is obliged to spend sufficient time with each client to explain the boat’s operation and handling.
  • Hotel Barges
    Click for our page of information concerning regulations and hotel barges.
  • Coastal Sailing
    Skippers of British Registered boats – motor or sail – do not require an International Certificate of Competence (ICC) when sailing in French coastal waters (unless they charter or use a French registered boat).

Revised and updated incorporating Tam and Di Murrell’s information published in ‘Inland Waterways of France’