ABYC offers the following summary of their reason for existence on their website:
"American Boat & Yacht Council, Inc. (ABYC) develops the voluntary consensus safety standards for the design, construction, equipage, maintenance, and repair of small craft. The development of uniform standards is the basis for industry-wide comparisons of products and performance. Both nationally and internationally, ABYC is on the leading edge of movement toward greater use of and reliance upon standards that improve your products, increase your profits and improve boating safety for your customers."
To understand in detail what ABYC does it is important to differentiate what they do not do as well. Perhaps the most fundamental distinction is that ABYC does not test or certify any components that are used aboard boats. They do specify what type of components need to be installed, in what situations and how they need to be installed. In some cases ABYC also will specify a standard such as those from UL that a component must conform to or a type of functionality that a component must have. An example of this is the common specification that circuit breakers must be "trip-free".
Another way to think of this is that ABYC sets systems standards that are comprised of products manufactured to component standards to which they are then tested by organizations such as UL.
The ABYC Standards (formerly known as Standards and Recommended Practices) is easily the most coherent body of standards specific to small boat systems, rivaled in their comprehensiveness only by the European ISO Standards. In fact, ABYC is the U. S. representative to ISO, and works to promote the needs of the U.S. marine industry in relation to ISO and to harmonize the ISO and ABYC standards.
With respect to other systems standards bodies in the U. S. that concern themselves with marine issues, the two principal bodies are the U. S. Coast Guard which administers federal maritime regulations as embodied in the Code of Federal Regulations and the National Fire Protection Association, Inc., which owns the National Electrical Code (NEC) as a Registered Trademark.
Among all these, the ABYC Standards is the most comprehensive, understandable and practical body of knowledge available creating sale pleasure craft. The Standards are available for ABYC in printed or CD-ROM format.