Examining Boats in the Time of COVID-19

Some context

Last update: 31 Jan 21

The information on this page is drawn from advice published by the three UK governments and their agencies concerning COVID-19. It was last reviewed on the date above and it could be amended at any time subject to changes in Government guidance.

BSS Examinations are essential work and BSS Examinations are being carried out based on allowable working practices. Many BSS Examiners are working, but it is personal choice for the examiners. 

The government advice for workers is that those in higher-risk groups including those who: -

  • are older males
  • have a high body mass index (BMI)
  • have health conditions such as diabetes

...should consider this in their risk assessment.

On the subject of Risk Assessments, Gov.UK says "If you have fewer than 5 workers, or are self-employed, you don’t have to write anything down as part of your risk assessment, but you may decide it would be helpful to."

Boat owners and BSS Examiners should work together at the preparation stage if an Examination is to take place successfully.

Examiners must take reasonable measures to prevent: -

  • Acquiring COVID-19 and taking it back to their homes
  • Transmitting the disease to others, making them ill, raising the ‘R number’ and threatening NHS capacity

For boat owner this means taking extra time in preparing for examination and extra conditions being imposed.

Prepare your boat well for examination so that there are no delays for the examiner (he will spend less time aboard) and so that it passes first time. A return examination can cost you more and it is essential to reduce the number of visits.

The rules and guidance in the devolved regions are different so Examiners must abide by the law covering the area where they are working. Check the relevant Government websites as appropriate.

Because of the potential for local flare-ups or hot spots of COVID-19, it is very important to pay attention to any local changes in this matter and abide with any new and possibly local rules.

As we know from our survey in Spring 2020, we know that many Examiners have real concerns about their safety, the safety of those close to them and that of their customers, especially those who are vulnerable.

The way  is to take small, careful steps, learn as you go and share your experiences with the BSS Office. This crisis will not be over for some time yet and there are no prescriptive instructions on how to fully manage this risk.

For all BSS Examiners it is critical to be led by good principles: -

  • Keep up to date and follow the latest Government guidance and considering how it can be applied to your work, anticipate updated guidance frequently.
  • Consider the helpful hints and tips below, developed as a result of the recent engagement with Examiners and stakeholders.
  • To make sure your customers understand what they need to do to maintain a safe working environment for you and safe space for them and avoid spreading the virus.

    Communicating with customers prior to arrival, and on arrival, to ensure the customer understands the social distancing and hygiene measures that should be followed once work has commenced.

This is a document that continues to be developed and improved as we go forward. Further suggestions are always welcome.

Regions: - While we point to information from Gov.UK website, if you are working in the devolved regions, please seek out the information on the appropriate government websites.

The challenge we face

BSS Examiners should work together with their customers at the booking stage if an Examination is to take place safely and successfully.

There are two risks you are required to manage. For legal and moral reasons, you must take reasonable measures to prevent: -

  • Acquiring COVID-19 and taking it back home to your household
  • Transmitting the disease to others, making them ill, raising the ‘R number’ and threatening NHS capacity

Consider urging your customer to take the extra time in preparing their boat for examination and the extra conditions necessitated by the need to avoid catching or spreading the virus.

According to the Government, while we wait for a full vaccination process to kick in, the only protections you should be relying on are good hygiene practice and maintaining the Government guidance on social distancing. In its guidance on safety outside of the home it says “It is important to be aware that the risk of infection increases the closer you are to another person with the virus, and the amount of time you spend in close contact with them.”

There are two types of distance:

  • Distance of time – The virus survives on some surfaces longer than others and usually indoors longer than outdoors. So, the longer there is between someone leaving the boat and the BSS Examination happening the lower the risk is likely to be. Likewise, the time between the examination finishing and someone going inside the boat again, can reduce the risk of the virus spreading.
  • Distance of space – if you can, consider avoiding examinations of boats with anyone aboard. In poor weather check first before setting out that your customer has somewhere safe (also distancing) to shelter while you are aboard. It would be helpful to warn your customer about how long the examination may take.


Distance of Time

There is advice from UK.Gov on how infection risk from COVID-19 following contamination of the environment decreases over time. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-decontamination-in-non-healthcare-settings/covid-19-decontamination-in-non-healthcare-settings

There is similar advice from the World Health organisation on how long the virus lasts on surfaces indoors. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/question-and-answers-hub/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses#

You can help minimise to your time aboard by urging the owner to have a well prepared boat, but you cannot compromise on the thoroughness and completeness of your examination, nor is it wise to reduce any of the hygiene processes you may consider important to stop any disease spread.

The Government advice is to limit your contact with other people – it may be best to avoid any unnecessary conversation with any other boaters or staff at the moorings. We are not suggesting that anyone be impolite, but conversation can be ‘to the point’.

Good Hygiene

The risk of infection depends on many factors, including:

  • the type of surfaces contaminated
  • the amount of virus shed from the individual (also related to time)

Face covering - reduce the shedding of an aerosol of the virus. A good quality mask may also provide you with a partial protection and reduce the amount of viral aerosol you breathe in. It is not fully protective, but a reduction in viral quantity is likely to help.

Very frequent and thorough handwashing – it should take at least 20 seconds - is still one of the best means to avoid picking up a virus.

Also avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth. These can be virus entry or shedding points.

Ask your customer to give you clear direction for all the systems you need to examine - ask them about shutoffs, switches, batteries, etc.

Urge them to declutter both general access and in the cupboards and locker you need to get into, this will have two benefits, you will touch fewer objects and take less time moving, disinfecting and replacing things.

Usual manual handling issues that are risk assessed as needing two people i.e. you and the boat owner may need an alternative approach or additional protection measures to take account of social distancing guidance. So, consider asking your customer to identify any potential issues in this respect at the time of booking.

You may want to discuss the disinfectant product you are planning to use with your customer. They may have some cherished items that could be affected by certain types of cleaning product. Also, some people have allergies linked to various disinfectants.

Other pointers to hygiene include setting up remote or contactless payment methods to avoid handling cash. There are many ways to take money electronically from bank transfers to PayPal transfer and mobile contactless card readers. Our research shows the major card suppliers and banks have information on their websites on contactless payments. You may also find help at your local chamber of commerce.

Basic rules of engagement

This is based on Government advice and instructions.

  • Do not leave home if you or those in your household have any COVID-19 symptoms – can you run your temperature before setting out?
  • Do not examine a boat with anyone aboard whenever possible, or take very careful precautions if you assess that you can mitigates the risks for both parties and work safely. (follow government and HSE advice on risk assessments
  • Do not examine a boat where that someone has just vacated if they are seen, or you learn, are showing any symptoms of COVID-19 or has tested positive
  • Do not examine on a boat in which any crew members are isolating because one or more family members has symptoms or where an individual has been advised to shield  (The Government says that work should not be done in such a circumstance, unless it is to remedy a direct risk to the safety of the household - remedying a safety issue not BSS Examination work and any remedy work done would be outside of a BSS Examination contract).

Please be polite and make alternative arrangements with your customer in the circumstances above.

Gov.UK information on symptoms https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/check-if-you-have-coronavirus-symptoms/

Keep essential records

The BSS is asking you to keep a diary, or record of your movements, including anyone who you have met or engaged with in the course of examinations such as marina or moorings staff.

If you are tested or if you fall ill with symptoms of COVID-19, but cannot get tested, please can you or ask someone to do the following: -

  • Contact the people on your list, and
  • Advise the BSS Manager
  • If you cannot contact or arrange someone to contact the people on the list yourself, then ask the BSS Office if we can take that on.

Assuming you have no other eligibility for testing, as a person with symptoms going to work who cannot work from home is eligible for a test https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-getting-tested

Helpful scenarios & discussion topics

Here are some scenarios designed to promote some thoughts on this subject and what you may need to consider in each case.

This list is far from exhaustive, but it may give you some models to work with.

Scenario 1 – The pleasure boat is in a marina and has not been used for many weeks or months. The owner is prepared to open-up the boat, recommission the gas system, provide water; undo access panels and generally prepare for examination in advance. The marina office has the keys and will make sure the boat is opened-up and ventilated. No one will be present at the BSS examination.

Once the arrangements are confirmed with the owner and marina, this situation as told to you may presents a lower risk commission, but do you need to check what you have been told?

Scenario 2 – The pleasure boat is in the marina and the owner has been preparing eagerly for the examination since the marina re-opened. On the day of examination, the owner and his family are there and they don't appear to have any signs of the virus. The owner seems very keen to know what you are finding and is intent on following you around the boat as you work. 

This scenario is likely to be reasonably common and it will be for the Examiner to agree with the owner that they must leave the boat and await a report of findings at the end of the examination. Should they still be anxious to see specific items, consider using video sent by phone or tablet on some aspects to help you communicate those checks with the owner. Don’t provide paper forms for customers if you can avoid it – transfer your reports by electronic means.

Scenario 3 – The boat is the home for a liveaboard family and in use.

Make the usual preparatory questions that apply for a boat in use for primarily domestic or residential purposes. From the start of the conversation, manage the ‘householders’ expectations so that they are clear that they will need to leave the boat for some time, which could be lengthy. You must ask them to consider what they can do and where they can go. Are their plans weather dependent; and are there any other potential barriers to you having an empty workspace? The clutter of life may also be an issue, particularly on a liveaboard. Make sure they are fully aware that the boat will need to be clutter free in the areas of the boat you need access to, including relevant cupboards, lockers and hatchways. Explain that all access panels must be removed and everything else you need to examine is in place e.g. fire extinguishers, CO alarms. Check with the boat owner that they are comfortable about the brand/type of disinfectant cleaner you are planning to use.

Scenario 4 – The boat is the liveaboard home for people who are self-isolation because one or more family members has COVID-19 symptoms, or has been tested as positive or they are extremely vulnerable.

The UK Government states that no work* should be carried out in a household which is isolating because one or more family members has symptoms or where an individual has been advised to shield.

The only way forward is to delay the Examination commission until such time as the owners are no longer shielding. Advise the owners that they should contact their boat's licensing/registration body as soon as they can. Send your decision by email because your email could be helpful to the owners if they need to advise their navigation authority about the delayed BSS certification.

*However, if the owner already knows the boat has a problem that is potentially a direct risk to the safety of the household or to the public, then the Government guidance is that a professional can work in that household to remedy the risk.

Scenario 5 – You are asked to examine a workboat. The yard or operation manager tells you the last time the boat was used, and all systems are in place and ready to be examined.

Ask the operator if the windows of any cabins can be left open sometime before you arrive. Check if you are expected to produce a printed version of your risk assessment and insurance documents - can you do this in advance electronically? You may still be required to undertake post-examination hygiene and cleansing. Are you able to provide your reports electronically and take payment remotely?

Advice, tips & pointers

Consider these pointers in your day-to-day dealings, it is not intended to be prescriptive or exhaustive.

Have you included lone, or isolated, working in your risk assessments?

Consider manual handling issues, especially if there is no one to assist on the boat.

Consider having a risk assessment ready that you could provide to a marina or customer on request.

Apart from useful input of examiners and stakeholders, we have drawn on various pages from the Gov.UK website and other responsible sources including British Marine which is providing strong support to the industry during this crisis

Links as follows: -

Suggested Considerations

These suggestions are not an exhaustive list, there are probably more you want to add:

At the booking stage.

  • Examiner considerations to boat owner
    • Advise the owner that you will be following the latest government & BSS advice
    • Ask you owner to read the advice and information at boatsafetyscheme.org/COVID
    • Find out if anyone been aboard the boat in the past few days (how many)
    • Health & wellbeing of owner is known (owner and household is free from symptoms of COVID-19, has anyone had a positive test for COVID-19)       
    • The environment and position of the boat – managed marina, canal towpath, river side mooring, open access hard-standing, do you reach a private mooring through an owner’s property, etc?
    • Access to & from boat – are third parties involved such as mooring staff, friends, relatives?
    • Are there new marina protocols – e.g. need to see Risk Assessment document
    • Find out the last date that the boat was used
    • If the boat is occupied, explain that the people must be prepared to move out for X minutes/hours? Is this weather dependent?
    • Readiness of boat need stressing more than usual – has all clutter been removed, are cupboards need for access to pipes, hoses, joints, valves and switches now empty, all areas accessible, have all areas where you will work been cleaned?
    • Ask the owner if there any manual handling challenges - discuss the options for the best safe working methods with the owner.
    • Are all labels, fire extinguishers and CO alarms on the boat and in place – if not it may mean serious delays
    • Are the locations of all batteries known?
    • Is there gas, water, power to enable any system that needs to be run?
    • Air flow – know how long that the boat can be openly vented before you arrive?
    • Discuss methods of remote payment
    • Appropriate types and quantities of PPE for this examination where relevant

The boat owner has a role, and this is the advice we will be promoting to boat owners through our website and social media (It may be followed up with other means as soon as we can produce it)

  • Boat Owner considerations to Examiner -You may want boat owners to understand these points:
    • Ask that time or space distance advice applies
    • Is the latest government & BSS guidance is being followed?
    • Health & well-being of examiner – tested for COVID-19, in isolation, anyone at home showing signs of COVID-19
    • Cleanliness of boat following examination – boat left uncluttered, all areas accessible, disinfectant probably used
    • Inaccessible or hidden joints, hoses, shut-offs, etc.
    • You propose to use type X of disinfectant cleaner before you leave – is that OK?
    • Agree, whereabouts of keys to gain access and who to contact and how
    • Access arrangements – are third parties involved, they will need to apply social distancing.
    • Method of payment


Day before BSS examination:

  • Examiner considerations to boat owner
    • Check BSS and Government websites for latest information
    • Call day before to seek assurance as to the wellbeing of boat owner and those last aboard, finalise time slots
    • Are all previously agreed actions / processes underway or done
  • Boat owner considerations to Examiner
    • Check BSS and Government websites for latest information
    • Seek assurance as to the wellbeing of the Examiner, double check time slots
    • Are all previously agreed actions / processes underway or done?
    • If you agreed to leave the boat, make sure you can for the agreed estimated period


 Day of examination:

  • Examiner considerations to boat owner
    • Text / call one hour before arrival – check all is well e.g. could the weather prevent the crew from leaving the boat
    • Ensure any PPE you carry is fit-for-purpose and you have enough for the day
    • Use new disposable gloves for every test
    • Reduce the spread of germs when you cough or sneeze by covering your mouth and nose with a tissue, or your sleeve (not your hands) if you don’t have a tissue and throw the tissue in a bag to remove from site immediately, then wash your hands
    • Frequently clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that are frequently touched
    • Consider warning owner you are likely to use disinfectant cleaners, check if they have any concerns/allergies
    • Supply your own refreshment, don’t accept offers from owners
    • Consider carefully your toilet and hygiene needs
    • Consider carrying your own means of handwashing
  • Boat owner considerations to Examiner
    • Prepare the boat days in advance, don’t expect to be aboard during the examination
    • Open some windows or hatches if safe to do so and leave the key somewhere for the examiner (e.g. marina office) then keep away from the boat for at least three days
    • If you can, keep away from the boat for the times in the relevant government advice following the examination
    • If you live on the boat, text / call one hour before arrival – advise the examiner that all is well e.g. does the weather prevent the crew from leaving the boat
    • Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces before examiner arrives
    • The examiner may be likely to use disinfectant cleaners, advise the examiner if you have any concerns/allergies
    • Don’t offer the examiner refreshments, they will have their own
    • The examiner should have their own means of handwashing
    • Pay by a remote method such as band transfer, paypal, contactless card payment, etc
    • Expect all reports and findings by electronic delivery such as email, Whatsapp, Messenger, etc

Further help & advice for examiners

Here is useful video from ECA, NICEIC & ELECSA (It is domestic based, but you can work out what adaptions and lessons there are for BSS Examinations) https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=A-J-2vJoMFg 

British Marine advice https://britishmarine.co.uk/coronavirus

British Marine Back To Business advice including a link to advice specifically for marinas - Back To Business

British Marine daily update links on the Government's daily COVID-19 Press Conference

British Marine publishes DODs daily bulletin on domestic and international headlines related to COVID-19

Gas Safe Register; advice and guidance for consumers and landlords related to the work of gas engineers

Trading Standards Institute - Watch out for scams and fraud linked to the COVID-19 crisis

Government advice and information on the financial and business aspects here https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus/business-support

As of 13 May 2020, “Applications for Self-Employment Income Support Scheme opened.

  • Self-Employment Income Support Scheme opens for applications
  • those eligible will receive government grant worth up to £7,500
  • money expected to be in bank accounts by 25 May”


Please remember these hints, tips and links are not exhaustive. Further suggestions are welcome

Q&As related BSS Examinations in the time of COVID-19

Should I have over CO booklets


If you know that the boat is not going to be occupied for a time matching or beyond the survival time for the virus on surfaces in the Government advice, consider leaving a CO booklet

I need to leave a Warning Notice and label

Consider using filing punched pocket stationery or plastic bags that can be wiped with disinfectant before you leave. You may want to seal the pouch with tape.

We hope to produce some easily wipeable warning labels as soon as we can source them.

The private mooring is accessed through someone's property.

Find out if there is access outside of any building.

It will be important to know if anyone at the property has be showing symptoms.

If you must go through a building e.g. a home, consider asking the owner to ventilate the space well before your arrival. Ask the owner to open all doors on the route so you are in the interior space for the briefest time possible.

Consider the use of PPE, such as face coverings/masks and gloves.

If you need to witness a Gas Safe registered technician undertake a gas tightness-test, how can this happen if you need to leave the boat?

Consider the best way of recording or creating a record (eg distanced selfie photo of the two of you in front of boat) that you were both at the boat at the same time.

Consider not boarding the boat at the same time and asking the technician for an electronic report of the readings and timings so you can keep it in your records.

A GSR technician is under a duty of law to work competently.

When is the temporary suspension ending / is it being extended?

The suspension has now been lifted (13 May) for BSS Examinations in England when it is safe for both Examiner and boat owner / operator.

If the boat is in a marina or managed mooring, check with the owner when the operator is opening the facility and what the ground rules, including COVID-19 related ones, are for professional visitors.

BWML advises that its marinas may be opening 1 June 2020.

Follow other regional Government advice for situation in those countries.

A boat I failed has now had the remedial work completed, can I re-examine the boat or can I issue a certification on the basis of photographs?

No. You must attend the boat if it is safe for you to do so.
The position is that in almost all situations, photographs are not a sufficient basis to allow Examiners to certify the boat to the BSS requirements without any uncertainty.
An Examiner judging compliance by photo image will be accepting risk on their shoulders and probably can only do this realistically for checks linked to items of provision such as labels or fire blankets, for example, etc., and only then, if the photo is certain to represent the boat in question and the newly acquired items (for example a photo of fire extinguisher or CO alarm with its recent purchase receipt).
Images are certainly not appropriate for any of the BSS Checks that instruct examiners to verify compliance by touch, sight and touch or by 'manual force'.
The further risk to examiners is where rectifications involve work to the system and examiner may not know what changes may have happened outside of the frame of the picture. There could be newly damaged insulation, loosened flue spigots, or an introduced fuel-leak at a joint where a fuel line removed to gain access to the repair site, for example.

Should BSS Certification expiry dates be date to the 31 July

The normal dating of certifications applies – four years to the day unless usual forward dating applies - https://www.boatsafetyscheme.org/professionals/examination/examination-guidance/dating-certificates/

Do you want me to inform the marinas I work for that the BSS has lifted its  temporary suspension in England?

You are welcome to let them know if they are unaware. There is a public statement on our website here. There are links to the statement on our home page and pinned messages on our social media channels. There is also important advice for boat owners on this link www.boatsafetyscheme.org/COVID

Can my customer's BSS Certification be extended or renewed as they need it to support their boat's insurance policy?

Boat owners are being advised to discuss options with their insurer or broker.

For the avoidance of doubt, certification expiry dates are not being extended, where a boat's BSS Certification has expired, navigation authorities are allowing customers to licence or register their boats with the expectation that the BSS Certification will be renewed as soon as possible after the temporary suspension is lifted.