In early 1988, the International Council of Marine Industry Associations (ICOMIA) took the initiative to ensure that its members became directly involved in the proposal for a directive for recreational craft. This was finally made possible after ICOMIA was accepted as an observing member at the European Union (EU) meetings in Brussels.
For several years, direct input to the draft directive came via ICOMIA's Technical Committee and later ICOMIA's Certification Committee.
Recreational boat certification was a special concern in the mid 1990s because the European Association of Classification Societies (EurACS) was also an observing member at the EU meetings and naturally wanted to impose its certification procedures and price levels on the boating industry. Of secondary concern, especially to the USA and other countries outside the EU, was the requirement that certification can only be conducted by European certifiers. This led to the perception and wide criticism of a "Fortress Europe."
The EU suggested following that by using a planned Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA), other non-EU countries may also be able to provide this certification. Non-EU countries were sceptical about implementation of this approach. This was the first formal introduction that non-EU countries received about the proposed certification procedures. The proposal drove many EU and non-EU organisations to active responses. At the outset, the EU's position was that only those organisations which were already involved in boat certification could be accepted as a certifier, according to the Recreational Craft Directive (RCD). Thus, for an organisation to become involved in certification activities, it must already have a marine certification program underway in Europe.
Lars Erik Granholm, born in Finland in 1934 and immigrated to the USA in 1961, proposed that the Chicago-based National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) together with the European manufacturer organisations help form a globally working organisation to certify recreational boats for the EU. Granholm, a naval architect by education and trade, was at that time involved in setting up the NMMA boat and engine certification programs in the U.S. On September 1, 1989, NMMA required engine certification as a condition of membership. The NMMA engine certification program was underway and well accepted by the industry. In early 1990, the NMMA Board supported Granholm's proposal to form an organisation to certify recreational boats for the EU. This organisation was named the "International Marine Certification Institute" (IMCI) and was based in Brussels, Belgium.
was held in a hotel at the Brussels airport Zaventem on November 10, 1992. Many of those original members and its representatives are still on the IMCI Board and continue to provide valuable assistance. The minutes of that first meeting were extremely short.
At that time, it was expected that the European Organisation for Testing and Certification (EOTC) would provide certification criteria and approvals. Discussions with EOTC brought out the recommended approach to form so-called Agreement Groups, with a minimum of three European certification organisations per industry field, to establish common procedures that can be used for product certification. IMCI took the initiative to form an Agreement Group, called Recreational Marine Agreement Group (RMAG) and to apply for recognition by EOTC. It was anticipated that with these procedures in place, IMCI could then show it was qualified as a certification entity and should therefore be officially approved by the Authorities.
The founding members of RMAG were Register Holland, VTT Finland, IMCI, NMMA, as well as the EU Commission and public and industry representatives. IMCI was elected to take over the chairmanship of that group. This group had 12 meetings and was responsible for writing the first set of Guidelines for Recreational Craft. The EOTC recognition of RMAG took three years. The lengthy approval process became necessary in order for EOTC to authorise full membership to NMMA, a first for a U.S. certification organisation to get recognised in EU.
After RMAG recognition, EOTC widely publicised and referenced RMAG as an example of that no "Fortress Europe" existed. Later, EOTC's role changed to administering only non-directive certification programs (voluntary certification), and the EU began administering directive-related (mandatory) certification. In an early EU meeting after introduction of this change, the industry was encouraged to form a new cooperative group among potential EU certifiers. Thus was formed the EU-mandated Recreational Craft Sectoral Group (RSG). Now the EU determined all certifiers to be obligatory part of the RSG, whereas membership in RMAG was strictly voluntary. IMCI was appointed as the first Technical Secretariat. The base document created by this group became the "RSG Guidelines" taken from the already drafted RMAG Guidelines. The RSG Guidelines still exists today and is updated yearly in June.
IMCI was registered in Belgium as an international non-profit organisation on June 24, 1993. The IMCI certification program started with invoice # 1001 dated August 8, 1993. At that time a staff of 2 persons in the head office was working with 4 Inspectors in 4 countries.
A new ISO standard for engines had been completed, and using that as a catalyst, in November 1993, the NMMA Board of Directors asked IMCI to take over the NMMA engine certification program. This decision gave IMCI the financial start it needed and also established IMCI as a credible European certifier. During this time, IMCI was not yet an accredited Notified Body and thus could only issue "pre-certificates," according to procedures in the early draft of EU guides.
It is worthwhile noting that during IMCI's early years, practically all EU administrative procedures, documents, organisations and oversight were still being developed and nothing was completed; no Directive, ISO standards, Notified Bodies, or cooperative agreements. However, it was this formative developmental period that made it possible for IMCI to provide industry leadership and direction by using real-life processes as guides for how final procedures, rules and interpretations could be used as a foundation for the CE certification program. IMCI's early participation and key roles in ICOMIA, RMAG, RSG, and ISO made it possible to be in a good position in each of these organisations as they gained strength and focus in the marine industry.
IMCI was the only European certification body doing advanced certification which, naturally, brought scepticism and criticism from some competitors. Of some concern by the Belgian Authorities, having no accreditation system in place at that time, were IMCI's small staff and the fact that IMCI did not use fulltime inspectors. At their 20 May 1996 meeting, the EU Commission had a special agenda item to discuss IMCI's approach to certification and whether this approach was in line with what the EU had anticipated. The IMCI model was discussed in detail, and in the end the Belgian Member State representative was satisfied, and accepted IMCI as a Notified Body. This was a very significant outcome for the industry. Not only could Belgium proceed with notification of organisations other than large classification societies for certification of boats, but several other countries like France and the Netherlands also followed this example and proceeded with notifications of their own new small Notified Bodies. Thus the classification societies' exclusive grip on recreational craft certification in Europe was broken.
After that day the IMCI certificates were reissued as CE certificates to confirm compliance of the products with the new legislation. All pre-certified manufacturers made a seamless transition to full certification.
at which time he was appointed Chairman of the Board for the following 4 years. For his lifetime achievements in the marine industry, he received the prestigious NMMA Chapman Award.
The picture shows Lars Granholm (left) with the NMMA President Thomas Dammrich (right) in course of the presentation.
Uli is a naval architect, too, and worked up to the time as a yacht designer.
Belgium, now equipped with a system of accreditation, granted IMCI on 26th June 2003 the accreditation as a certification body.
Other products,such as Persons-, Marina- and Company-Certifications have been established in the following years.
IMCI is constantly growing. Were the sales of the Institute in 1996 still at 275 thousand Euros, as of 2008, the brand reached 1.8 million Euros.
Ever since IMCI has established itself as the market leader in its segment of the recreational boating industry
In the fall of 2013 Directors, Inspectors and the head office team as well as numerous guests were happy to celebrate IMCI’s 20th anniversary.
Malta, the smallest Member State of the EU, offered the appropriate framework supported by some powerful cannon shots.
Ulrich Heinemann said in course of the celebration: "Who would have thought that in 1993! I am delighted about this event. A big thank-you to all our customers who have kept us their loyalty on our way. We are looking forward to cooperate with them also in the future. IMCI's success is based on a very dedicated Board of Directors, professional Inspectors, and a highly efficient management team. Since my first day at IMCI it’s a great pleasure for me to be part of this Institute and to work together with these dedicated people.”