In November 2017, Maritime UK published an Industry Code of Practice for Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships ('MASS') up to and including 24m in length, prepared by the UK Maritime Autonomous Systems Working Group. This coincides with the UK Ship Register has signing its first autonomous vessel, C-Worker 7.

The Code has been reviewed by the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency ('MCA'), and is to be used in the interim period before such a code is published by the MCA. It will be updated as needed when guidance from the International Maritime Organisation ('IMO') is published, and as the MCA develops policies to meet the needs of technological, commercial and regulatory developments.

This Code of Practice provides guidance for the design, construction and safe operation of autonomous and semi-autonomous vessels under 24m, setting initial standards and best practice for those who design, build, manufacture, own, operate and control MASS. The Code also deals with remote manning and the training and qualifications needed for those operating MASS.

The Code provides guidance for MASS which are registered in the UK, operating in the UK or in UK waters. When operating outside of UK waters, UK registered MASS to which the code applies, may also be subject to additional requirements of overseas administrations.

The Code should be read in conjunction with 'An Industry Code of Conduct' for Maritime Autonomous Systems (Surface), published by the UK Maritime Industries Alliance in March 2016, and MASS operations will still need to comply with relevant bylaws made by local/navigation authorities or the port/harbour authority for the area in which the MASS operates.

The Code deals with:

  • Operations;
  • Vessel design and manufacture standards;
  • Navigation lights, shapes and sound signals;
  • Situational awareness and control;
  • Communications systems;
  • Base control station operations;
  • System integrity certification and test procedures;
  • Operator standards of training, competence and watchkeeping;
  • Registration, certification, examination, maintenance and record-keeping;
  • Safety management;
  • Security;
  • Prevention of pollution;
  • Carriage and transfer of cargoes (including dangerous goods);
  • Rendering of assistance to persons in distress at sea; and
  • Salvage and towage