Updated regulations for the use of private submarines in France

The French Préfet Maritime recently announced the updated regulations for yachts using private submarines in French Mediterranean waters.

We’ve provided an English translation of an example of the new prefectoral order for those yachts affected by the updated regulations.

To download the updated submarine regulations in French, click here.

Private Submarine use in French Mediterranean waters

Prefectoral order N ° 223/2017: Regulating the navigation of private submarine vessels  in inland and territorial French Mediterranean waters

Article 1
- Definition and scope

For the purpose of this Order, an "underwater vessel", subsequently referred to as "Submarine", is any manned craft, autonomous or not, capable of navigating and diving in complete immersion and zero apparent weight. The provisions of this order are intended to regulate the navigation of submarines in French inland and territorial waters under the responsibility of the Mediterranean maritime prefect.

Outside the French inland and territorial waters of the Mediterranean, the following article applies: 

Article 233-14.01, paragraph 2 of division 233 of the regulations annexed to the ministerial decree of 23 November 1987. This states that any submarine use in the areas of navy submarine exercise must be notified to the prefect of shipping with at least 48 hours notice. The diving area of the submarine must be brought to the attention of the Maritime Prefect, by electronic means,  on the following addresses:

- cecmed.com-soum-cdq.fct@intradef.gouv.fr
- premar.aem.rm@premar-mediterranee.gouv.fr

If underwater military activities are already scheduled in the requested area, the maritime operations centre for the maritime prefecture in Toulon will prescribe measures to guarantee the safety of the submarine.

Article 2
- Exemption from  navigation in the area

The exemption from the obligation to navigate on the surface in inland and territorial waters is subject to an individual order from the maritime prefect specific to each particular submarine or submersible craft.

The request for exemption must be addressed to the maritime prefect of the Mediterranean and must specify the purpose of the dive operation, the duration requested and the area(s) amongst those identified in appendix I. These areas are either open permanently, except in the case of contrary provisions (category 1), or after agreement from the centre of the maritime operations of the maritime prefecture in Toulon (category 2). Requests should be made according to the methods specified below.

The areas listed in Appendix I are likely to be increased according to submarine operators' requests, after instruction and advice from the departments concerned.

The request for exemption must be accompanied by the following documents:

- for a submarine under the French flag, the navigation license issued by the head  of the relevant ship safety centre

- for a submarine under a foreign flag: 

- The safety certificate issued by or on behalf of the flag State (classification authority). This document will be submitted for assessment to the head of the Marine security centre for PACA-Corsica . 

- If the submarine is operated commercially, the confirmation of receipt of the declaration of activity issued by the department director of territories and sea, according to the provisions of article R5561-2 of the transport code.

- The emergency and rescue plan, which details the device to be used for the recovery of the submarine and its crew in the event of an incident or accident whilst the craft is immersed. Note, the depth supplied in this plan should be the deepest areas to be reached during the dive.

- proof of identity of crew members;

- the name and registration of the accompanying ship (s);

- the insurance certificate for the submarine and the accompanying ship (s).

The maritime prefect can request advice from anybody which it considers it relevant to consult (eg: sub-marine and underwater archaeological research departments, managers of marine protected areas, sports federations).

The exemption will only be granted upon the publication of the prefectural decree, which will specify the diving authorization period, the specific conditions and the accessible sites.

For sites under category 1, access may be suspended at any time.

In the event that category 2 sites are identified, prior approval will be required from the prefecture's maritime operations centre in Toulon. To this end, a special request must be sent electronically, with 72 working hours notice, to the following addresses:

- cecmed.com-soum-cdq.fct@intradef.gouv.fr
- premar.aem.rm@premar-mediterranee.gouv.fr

Article 3
- General requirements to be respected

The use  of a private submarine is notably subject to compliance with the following:

- when sailing on the surface, the submarine must fly its flag;

- when diving, the submarine has no particular priority over the other users, in particular divers. It must respect these divers with a safety distance of 10 meters.

- In order to preserve the marine environment, the submarine should not get closer than 5 meters from the bottom. Any contact with fauna and flora by equipment controlled by the submarine is prohibited. 

- The submarine must be accompanied by a surface vessel, (unless agreed by the administration following consultation with the central security commission) unless otherwise decided by the administration. This surface ship must continuously transmit AIS signals and permanently know the position of the submarine while both on the surface and whilst diving.

- Communication between the submarine and the accompanying ship must be permanently in place (both on the surface and whilst submerged) following a  planned procedure for minimum time gaps between two communications according to the circumstances of the dive. 

- The accompanying ship must at all times be able to locate the submarine with the appropriate equipment and to effect a rescue operation without delay. To do this, the operator of the submarine must also provide to the personnel the resources and the equipment necessary for conducting a first emergency response  (location and investigation).

- The pilot must hold (and be able to provide) the qualifications to operate the submarine, as required by the flag authority.

- The submarine must be equipped in accordance with the regulations issued by the flag authority for the nature of the operation, especially if it is in commercial use.

Article 4
- Lawsuits and punishment

Violations of this decree leave the perpetrators open to prosecution and the enforcement of the penalties provided by articles 131-13 and R. 610-5 of the penal code and by article L.5242-2 of the code of transport.

Article 5
- Application and execution

The Departmental Directors of the Territories and the Sea, and the officers and agents empowered by navigation police, are responsible, each as far as they are concerned, for the execution of this decree which will be published in the collection of administrative acts, by the maritime prefecture of the Mediterranean.

Please note: These regulations have been translated to the best of the PYA's ability. In case of any queries, we advise all members to refer to the original French prefectoral order or contact the Préfet Maritime.