Boat Designer License or Certification Requirements?

Discussion in 'Boat Design' started by zstine, Dec 6, 2022.

  1. zstine
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    zstine Senior Member

    Are there any legal requirements for boat designers to ever be licensed or certified in any way (USA)?

    In regards to boat building and operating, you could divide the industry into 4 sectors; The operators/captains/skippers, The boat builder/manufacturer, The design house, and Certification boadies (ABS, DNV, Lloyd, etc). Each one of these would seem to have different legal requirements depending on whether they are commercial business or private/recreational. A recreational skipper need not be licensed, while a for hire captain must have a license. A home builder need not have a MIC number or meet all of CFRs 181/183 etc, while a commercial builder must. The question is for Design Houses providing engineering drawings like you see on the internet selling DIY boat building plans. What if any licenses or certifications does a business selling boat designs need to satisfy? Do these requirements change if the vessel is being home built, or manufactured professionally? A Designer of your house generally needs a Professional Licensed Engineer to sign off on the drawings (as applicable to State and Local law). Is there any similar requirements for companies selling boat designs?

    Thanks
     
  2. jehardiman
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    jehardiman Senior Member

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  3. DCockey
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    DCockey Senior Member

    Disclaimer - I am not a lawyer. The comments below are based on my knowledge but should not be relied on by anyone as being accurate or definitive.

    1. In the US anyone can sell designs for houses, boats, aircraft and (almost) anything else. No licenses, etc are required and no one regulates what is sold. Merely selling plans is not considered architecture or engineering. Creating plans for hire is a different proposition.

    2. The regulation of "designing", engineering and architecture is regulated by US states, not the US federal government. In all states engineering and architecture in terms of providing service to others is regulated to some extent, with professional licensing required in many situations. As discussed in the links in jehardiman's post above the regulation of providing "naval architecture" services varies signficantly from state to state.

    Note A: I used to worked as an engineer and manager for a very large automaker in Michigan. Whether I had a PE or not was irrelevant. There is no requirement, either state or federal, that anyone with a PE be involved in the design or engineering of motor vehicles. My understanding is the situation in Canada is different. There a PE needs to sign the certification that a motor vehicle meets applicable regulations.

    Note B: In Michigan there are "house designers" who were not registered architects. Some work directly for builders and others provide design services to the public. They cannot sign or stamp plans when required (see below) and there are other limitations on the services they could provide.

    3. In many situations plans for houses, structures such as bridges, dams, boats, ships, etc need to signed or stamped by a licensed engineer and/or architect either prior to start of construction, or prior to occupancy/being placed into service. For buildings the requirements vary by state and local government. In some locals plans for single family houses and associated accessory structures (at least below a certain size) need to meet building codes but a licensed design professional does not have to be involved.

    Boats used for recreational purposes (not carrying passengers for hire) in the US do not need to have a licensed design professional involved in the design. This includes boats chartered without captain or crew for recreational use. A similar situation exists for "uninspected" vessels carrying no more than 6 passengers for hire (maximum of 12 passengers for hire if the vessel is large enough).

    Other boats may need to have their plans approved by the USCG. As noted in other threads the approval process may be expedited if a PE has signed/stamped the plans. Boats for use solely on the non-federal waters of a single state may have to meet specific state requirements.
     
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  4. zstine
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    zstine Senior Member

    Thanks you jehardiman and DCockey for your replies. I read the linked threads and the 'Qual for small craft design biz' was particularly informative.

    This statement made me say hmmm!? And I think it's the nuance between 'selling plans' vice 'developing/designing plans'. It sounds almost like someone can calculate scantlings, stability, etc and develop a boat's plans, then sell them without issue since 'he's just selling a drawing' like it's a piece of art. But If you pay someone up front to develop the plans, then they legally need a license!? huh.. Well, that logic fails, but laws aren't always logical.

    Jehardiman, You identified in the aforementioned thread, a NJ law stating (paraphrasing) that any calculations that effect "safeguarding life, health or property" would require an engineering license. If that is true, how can someone perform scanting, and stability calculations to develop plans and then legally sell them in NJ if they don't have an engineering license? Assuming those calculations are considered 'safety of life', then the plans would need to be signed by a licensed PE or NA.

    Scenario. Joe buys Bob's Boat Design for $500 off the internet. Joe documents build is meticulously in accordance with Bob's design. A 25ft, 140 hp sport fisher with hull plating of 1/4" ply and 1 layer of 1708, per Bob's plans. Joe and a friend take the boat out in relatively benign conditions and soon find the boat is listing. The hull plating failed, the boat capsizes and Joe's friend is knocked out and drowns. Who's liable for the wrongful death? Joe the builder, Bob the designer.. else? Let's assume Bob is not a licensed engineer, since I'm pretty sure he would be at fault if he was. thoughts?
     
  5. jehardiman
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    jehardiman Senior Member

    Sighhhhh. It is important to remember that law and tort are two different cases. Talk to OJ about that.

    So back to the NJ question, I think it would matter if the calculation was done in NJ and the accident happened in NJ. The Interstate Commerce clause of the US Constitution ( Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3) has been stretched to cover lots of things. If the CFR's are met, then without gross negligence, this get tossed into the scrum of a jury.

    This could be a question for LegalEagle. https://www.youtube.com/c/LegalEagle/videos
     
  6. zstine
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    zstine Senior Member

    Ah, the legal system, clear as mud to a layman like me. OJ wouldn't take my call, so I had to do a bit of reading about tort vs criminal law. In the scenario where Bob's actions hurt an individual, the case may be tried in civil court under tort law where monetary penalties would be applied. Bob could be found liable and fined even if he didn't break any codified law. However, if Bob sold dozens of plans in NJ, NJ considers his plans to fall under an 'engineering service' legally codified to require licensing and Bob is hurting society, then the state may press criminal charges and Bob could go to jail.

    A layman like me would think that if Bob is doing business in NJ, then Bob needs to comply with the laws of the state of NJ, including paying sales tax to NJ and having his 'engineered plans' signed by a PE/NA, if NJ does indeed require that by law. Then you bring up The Interstate Commerce clause and after reading the law.cornell.edu write up on it, I see how muddy this gets. Bob's out of state, so can NJ even regulate his 'plans' or is it under Federal purview?

    Thanks for the discussion. As is the case with many things, there seems to be no simple answer to the question "can Bob legally sell his boat designs in NJ". I will say by observation of web pages, plenty of boat plans are being sold all over the country and NJ by non-licensed designers. Either it is legal, or the law is not being enforced, because I haven't heard of designers getting arrested for selling unlicensed engineering services. Maybe I'm just not in-the-know and there have been arrests or at least tort cases brought..? I am considering being like Bob, sans the faulty design, and selling some plans. Maybe I'll seek the advice of LegalEagle. Nothing better than internet advice to make sure my new biz is on the up n up! haha
     
  7. jehardiman
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    jehardiman Senior Member

    As I pointed out in my referenced post, the NJ question is probably best for someone with state experience, like the state Engineering Board, local SNAME chapter, or a local corporate/maritime lawyer. I'm sure you could find your answer from someone in or around that exotic port-of-call: Bayonne!
     
  8. Skyak
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    Skyak Senior Member

    FWIW, my educated opinion of how your scenario would go (perspective -engineer that has experience designing parts that determinize life/death like airbags, ABS in high volume/deep pockets situation). A wrongful death suit would be likely naming all. The suit would likely be settled out of court for about the limits of Joe's insurance unless Joe is very rich and very poorly insured. Bob's contribution to the settlement is unlikely to exceed the cost of defense lawyers time particularly if BBD is an LLC. If Joe's friend has certain life insurance coverage there may be no wrongful death suit at all because it might jeopardize the life insurance payout.
    It is very cynical, but very predictive to look at US tort law as optimized for lawyer returns with a $1000/hr hurdle rate.
     

  9. Ike
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    Ike Senior Member

    A little amplification on David's post. As he said, this falls under state jurisdiction. How much it is regulated depends on the state where you reside and do business. For instance I live in Washington state. If I want to put my self out as a designer of recreational boats, I cannot call myself an "Engineer" or "Naval Architect", unless I pass the state's PE exam. However I can move to Idaho (Arrghhh, perish the thought, no offense meant to Idahoans, I have relatives there) and do it. In Washington state I can work for a Naval Architecture firm or Engineer (both of which I have done) and as long as there is a PE on the staff who signs off on the drawings, I'm good. Some states do not require this. So you need to check the laws where you live.

    I worked for the Coast Guard for 14 years as an "Engineer" (my title was General Engineer ) but we had at least two PEs on the staff, but even that wasn't required. Good to have though.

    However, selling plans on the internet is a whole different ballgame. Just about anyone can hang out their shingle and say, I'm a boat designer, and sell plans.

    I don't want to get into liability much, but I will say this: In the USA, anyone can sue anyone else for just about anything. If you design a boat and sell the plans and someone gets killed or injured because of a fault in the design, under the laws of "Strict Liability", you can be sued. Of course they have to convince a jury it was your fault, and the level of proof is not very high, nowhere near as high as in a criminal trial . So you need to know what rules/laws/standards may apply to your design and incorporate them, as well as do all the necessary calculations for scantlings, etc. And you need to put a big waiver clause on your design saying in essence "if you deviate from these plans you will not hold the designer responsible" or words to that affect, and get the buyer to agree to that.
     
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