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Safety Management System requirements for Commercial Vessels

A breakdown of domestic commercial vessel safety management system requirements from Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Canada and the United States of America.


Marine Safety (Domestic Commercial Vessel) National Law Act 2012. Marine Order 504 specifies minimum requirements for the safe operation of Domestic Commercial vessels in Australia. If you own a Domestic Commercial Vessel in Australia, the National Law applies to your vessel and its operation. You will therefore need to develop a safety management system.

New Zealand

Non-SOLAS ships are essentially all commercial vessels that don’t fit within the definition of a SOLAS ship, although there are some exceptions.

Non-SOLAS ships are subject to Maritime Rule Part 19 and Maritime Rule Part 44. These rules apply to:

  • restricted limit ships
  • fishing ships and
  • ships of less than 45 metres that go beyond restricted limits but are not SOLAS ships.

United Kingdom

Domestic Passenger UK Vessels need to comply with the requirements of the Safety Management Code. The Merchant Shipping (Domestic Passenger Ships) (Safety Management Code) Regulations 2001 SI 2001/3209 come into force on 01 November 2001 and give statutory force to the Safety Management Code for Domestic Passenger Ships of Classes III – VI (A) as set out in Merchant Shipping Notice MSN 1754(M). The Code will apply only to Class III – VIA passenger ships and will exclude domestic operators already required to comply with the International Safety Management (ISM) Code.

Safety Code for passenger ships operating solely in the UK categorised waters is the MSN 1823(M). This Code applies to new United Kingdom (UK) passenger ships which operate within UK categorised waters A, B, C or D irrespective of construction material. These requirements are made mandatory by the Merchant Shipping (Passenger Ships) (Safety Code for UK Categorised Waters) Regulations 2010.

The Safety Management System requirements which must be complied with are stated in section 16 of MSN 1823(M).

Workboat Code Edition 2

Workboat Code Edition 2, applies to small workboats that operate to sea, and to pilot boats of any size operating either at sea or in categorised (i.e. inland) waters. It applies to such vessels that are United Kingdom (UK) vessels wherever they may be, and to non-United Kingdom vessels in UK waters or operating from UK ports. This Code should be read in conjunction with MSN 1892.

Appendix 7 outlines the requirements for the Safety Management System. The Ocean Time Marine Safety Management System will assist you with compliance.

To access the full revised Workboat Code, readers are invited to visit:

UK Fishing Vessels

UK Commercial Fishing Vessels need to provide a risk assessment of work activities and duties to be completed in accordance with the Merchant Shipping and Fishing Vessels (Health and Safety at Work) Regulations 1997;

A risk assessment is intended to be a careful examination of what, in the nature of operations, could cause harm, so that decisions can be made as to whether enough precautions have been taken or whether more should be done.

The assessment should first identify the hazards that are present and then establish whether a hazard is significant and whether it is already covered by satisfactory precautions to control the risk. Include consideration of the likelihood of the failure of those precautions that are in place in the International Code of safety for High Speed Craft (HSC). The 2000 HSC Code calls on Administrations to ensure that craft are provided with adequate information and guidance in the form of technical manuals to enable safe operation and maintenance.

Port of London Authority (PLA)

The PLA has adopted the Inland Waters Small Passenger Boat Code along with industry good practice as the base requirement for licensing passenger vessels carrying 12 or less passengers. The main licensing requirements for vessels inspected under this Code include the need for a Safety Management System The specific requirements for licensing a small passenger boat with the PLA can be found on the PLA website


Transport Canada has amended the Safety Management Regulations. The following Canadian vessels will be required to adopt a SMS in compliance with the ISM Code:

  • A vessel subject to Chapter IX of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS).
  • 500 gross tonnage and upwards.
  • Certified to carry more than 50 passengers, and
  • More than 24 meters in length and less than 500 gross tonnage.

The proposed regulations are based on the International Safety Management (ISM) Code however, incorporate existing acts, regulations, and standards that are consistent with the Canada Shipping Act, 2001. Until this work is completed, vessel owners and operators are encouraged to voluntarily develop a SMS in compliance with the ISM Code.

United Sates of America

Fishing Vessels

Commercial Fishing Industry Vessel Safety Act (CFIVSA) of 1988 the US Coast Guard regulations for safety equipment and operating procedures for fishing. Examinations and Certificates of Compliance Dockside safety examinations are now mandatory for vessels operating beyond three nautical miles. These examinations are completed every two years. A certificate of compliance will be issued to a vessel successfully completing the exam. Developing a Safety Management System makes this process easier.

Passenger Vessels

A US Passenger Vessels on a domestic voyage are encouraged to participate in the program. Based on the requirements of the International Safety Management (ISM) Code and 33 CFR 96. This is a Voluntary ISM program that applies to a domestic voyage.

Any responsible person and their company who owns and operates a U.S. flag vessel which is not engaged in a foreign voyage, may voluntarily meet the standards of 33 CFR 96 and Chapter IX of SOLAS and have their safety management systems certificated.

Super Yachts: The Large Yacht Code incorporates guidelines for the implementation of a safety management code for vessels between 200GT and 500GT.

USCG Towing Vessels – Sub Chapter M

The final Subchapter M regulation was published on June 20, 2016, and went into effect on July 20, 2016. The requirements are delayed for two years or until a vessel is issued a Certificate of Inspection (COI).

Domestic towing vessel operators are now tasked with preparing their fleets to comply with most of the requirements outlined in 46 CFR Subchapter M by July 20, 2018. To reduce the burden placed on industry stakeholders, the USCG has mandated a four-year phase-in period for towing vessel owners to obtain COIs for 25 percent of their fleets each year. The first 25 percent of an owner’s towing vessel fleet must be certificated on or before July 22, 2019. An additional 25 percent certificated each year until the final deadline of July 19, 2022. All affected towing vessels must hold valid COIs by July 2022. Owners only operating one towing vessel must obtain a COI for that vessel by July 20, 2020.

An operator may choose to achieve and maintain certificated status through the Coast Guard inspection option or the Towing Safety Management System (TSMS) option. The TSMS option requires towing vessel owners to schedule an annual towing vessel survey that meets the scope of 46 CFR 137.220.

The published regulation  refer to 46 CFR SUB Chapter M, Part 138 Towing Safety Management System (TSMS)

Ocean Time Marine can assist you with compliance for ISM and mini ISM with their Safety Management System (SMS) Software / Template.

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