Click to reach our home page

To our home pageAbout Metal Safe SignPhotoluminescent products, related services and moreTest results and certificates for our productsRelevant regulations for safety, evacuation, fires etcPublications related to fire hazards, safe evacuation, test procedures and moreContinue your search for information on the internetContact us by using our predefined formsRecent news from media and MSS

Main page regulations
ISO/CD 16069
Res. A.752(18)
Res. MSC.61(67)
Res. MSC.57(67)
Inspection of LLL

SOLAS - The International Convention for the safety of life at sea

(This document is provided as-is in unformatted text-format. Page 1 of 2)

Of all international conventions dealing with maritime safety, the most important is the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). It is also one of the oldest, the first version having been adopted at a conference held in London in 1914. Since then there have been four other SOLAS conventions: the second was adopted in 1929 and entered into force in 1933; the third was adopted in 1948 and entered into force in 1952; the fourth was adopted (under the auspices of IMO) in 1960 and entered into force in 1965; and the present version was adopted in 1974 and entered into force in 1980.

The SOLAS conventions have all covered many aspects of safety at sea. The 1914 version, for example, included chapters on safety of navigation, construction, radiotelegraphy, life-saving appliances and fire protection. These subjects are still dealt with in separate chapters in the 1974 version. The 1914 Convention was, as the title implies, concerned primarily with the safety of human life. The late 19th and early 20th centuries represented the golden age of passenger travel by sea: there were no aircraft, and emigration, from Europe to the Americas and other parts of the world, was still taking place on a massive scale. Passenger ships were therefore much more common than they are today and accidents frequently led to heavy casualties. The annual loss of life from British ships alone averaged between 700 and 800 during this period. The incident which led to the convening of the 1914 international SOLAS conference was the sinking of the White Star liner Titanic on her maiden voyage in April 1912. More than 1,500 passengers and crew died and the disaster raised so many questions about current standards that the United Kingdom Government proposed holding a conference to develop international regulations. The Conference was attended by representatives of 13 countries and the SOLAS Convention which resulted was adopted on 20 January 1914. It introduced new international requirements dealing with safety of navigation for all merchant ships; the provision of watertight and fire-resistant bulkheads; life-saving appliances and fire prevention and fire fighting appliances on passenger ships. Other requirements dealt with the carriage of radiotelegraph equipment for ships carrying more than 50 persons (had the Titanic's distress messages not been picked up by other ships the loss of life would probably have been even greater); the Conference also agreed on the establishment of a North Atlantic ice patrol. The Convention was to enter into force in July 1915, but by then war had broken out in Europe and it did not do so, although many of its provisions were adopted by individual nations. In 1927, however, proposals were made for another conference which was held in London in 1929. This time 18 countries attended. The conference adopted a new SOLAS convention which followed basically the same format as the 1914 version but included several new regulations. It entered into force in 1933. One of the two annexes to the convention revised the international regulations for preventing collisions at sea (Collision Regulations). By 1948 the 1929 convention had been overtaken by technical developments and the United Kingdom again hosted an international conference which adopted the third SOLAS Convention. It followed the already established pattern but covered a wider range of ships and went into considerably greater detail. Important improvements were made in such matters as watertight subdivision in passenger ships; stability standards; the maintenance of essential services in emergencies; structural fire protection, including the introduction of three alternative methods of subdivision by means of fire resistant bulkheads, and the enclosure of main stairways. An international safety equipment certificate for cargo ships of 500 gross tons and above was introduced - an indication of the growing importance of cargo ships relative to passenger ships, which were already facing competition from aircraft. The Collision Regulations were also revised and regulations concerning the safety of navigation, meteorology and ice patrols were brought up to date. A separate chapter was included dealing with the carriage of grain and dangerous goods, including explosives. There had been considerable developments in radio since 1929 and the 1948 Convention took these into account (the title of the relevant chapter made specific reference to radiotelephony as well as radiotelegraphy). The year 1948 was particularly significant because a conference held in Geneva under the auspices of the United Nations adopted a convention establishing IMO - or the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organization (IMCO), as it was then known. The 1948 SOLAS Convention recognized that the creation of this new Organization would, for the first time, mean that there was a permanent international body capable of adopting legislation on all matters related to maritime safety. It was originally intended that the Convention would be kept up to date by periodic amendments adopted under the auspices of IMO but in the event it took so long to secure the ratifications required to bring the IMO Convention into force that the new Organization did not meet until 1959. It was then decided that rather than amend the 1948 Convention it would be better to adopt a completely new instrument - the fourth SOLAS Convention. The 1960 SOLAS Convention The 1960 SOLAS Conference, which was attended by delegates from 55 countries, 21 more than in 1948, was the first conference to be held by IMO. Although only twelve years had passed since the last SOLAS Convention was adopted, the pace of technical change was quickening and the 1960 SOLAS Convention incorporated numerous technical improvements. Like its predecessor, the new Convention incorporated control provisions including requirements for various surveys and certificates for cargo ships of 300 tons gross tonnage and above making international voyages and for a Government to investigate casualties when "it judges that such an investigation may assist in determining what changes in the present regulations might be desirable" and to supply IMO with pertinent information. Many safety measures which had once applied only to passenger ships were extended to cargo ships, notably those dealing with emergency power and lighting and fire protection. The radio requirements were again revised and in the chapter dealing with life-saving appliances provision was made for the carriage of liferafts, which had developed to such an extent that they could be regarded as a partial substitute for lifeboats in some cases. Regulations dealing with construction and fire protection were revised as were the rules dealing with the carriage of grain and dangerous goods. The final chapter contained outline requirements for nuclear- powered ships which in 1960 seemed likely to become important in the years to come. As in 1929 and 1948 revised Collision Regulations were annexed to the Convention. Finally, the Conference adopted some 56 resolutions, many of which called upon IMO to undertake studies, collect and disseminate information or take other action. These included, for example, a request that IMO develop a unified international code dealing with the carriage of dangerous goods - a resolution which resulted in the adoption five years later of the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code. The 1960 SOLAS Conference was to determine much of IMO's technical work for the next few years. It was originally intended that the 1960 SOLAS Convention would be kept up to date by means of amendments adopted as and when it entered into force (which took place in 1965). The first set of amendments was adopted in 1966 and from then on amendments were introduced regularly. Their contents are summarized below: 1966: amendments to Chapter II, dealing with special fire safety measures for passenger ships. 1967: six amendments adopted, dealing with fire safety measures and arrangements for life-saving appliances on certain tankers and cargo ships; VHF radiotelephony in areas of high traffic density; novel types of craft; and the repair modification and outfitting of ships. 1968: new requirements introduced into Chapter V dealing with shipborne navigational equipment, the use of automatic pilot and the carriage of nautical publications. 1969: various amendments adopted, dealing with such matters as firemen's outfits and personal equipment in cargo ships; specifications for lifebuoys and lifejackets; radio installations and shipborne navigational equipment. 1971: regulations amended concerning radiotelegraphy and radiotelephony and routeing of ships. 1973: regulations concerning life-saving appliances; radiotelegraph watches; pilot ladders and hoists. The major amendment was a complete revision of Chapter VI which deals with the carriage of grain. Unfortunately, it became increasingly apparent as the years went by that these efforts to respond to the lessons learnt from major disasters and keep the SOLAS Convention in line with technical developments were doomed to failure - because of the nature of the amendment procedure adopted at the 1960 conference. This stipulated that amendments would enter into force twelve months after being accepted by two-thirds of Contracting Parties to the parent Convention. This procedure had been perfectly satisfactory in the past when most international treaties were ratified by a relatively small number of countries. But during the 1960s the membership of the United Nations and international organizations such as IMO was growing rapidly. More and more countries had secured their independence and many of them soon began to build up their merchant fleets. The number of Parties to the SOLAS Convention grew steadily. This meant that the number of ratifications required to meet the two- thirds target needed to secure entry into force of SOLAS amendments also increased. It became clear that it would take so long for these amendments to become international law that they would be out of date before they did so. As a result IMO decided to introduce a new SOLAS Convention which would not only incorporate all the amendments to the 1960 Convention so far adopted but would also include a new procedure which would enable future amendments to be brought into force within an acceptable period of time. The 1974 SOLAS Convention The 1974 SOLAS Conference was held in London from 21 October to 1 November and was attended by 71 countries. The Convention which was adopted is the version currently in force and it is unlikely to be replaced by a new instrument because of the new tacit amendment procedure which is included in Article VIII. Tacit acceptance As explained earlier, the amendment procedure incorporated in the 1960 Convention stipulated that an amendment would only enter into force when it had been accepted by two-thirds of Contracting Governments. It therefore required Contracting Governments to take positive action to accept the amendment. This usually meant that acceptance was delayed pending introduction of the necessary national legislation and this was not always given high priority by Governments, particularly as the pace of acceptance by other States was slow. The 1974 Convention endeavours to solve this problem by in effect reversing the process: it assumes that Governments are in favour of the amendment unless they take positive action to make their objection known. Article VIII states that amendments to the chapters (other than chapter I) of the Annex, which contain the Convention's technical provisions - shall be deemed to have been accepted within two years (or a different period fixed at the time of adoption) unless they are rejected within a specified period by one-third of Contracting Governments or by Contracting Governments whose combined merchant fleets represent not less than 50 per cent of world gross tonnage. The article contains other provisions for entry into force of amendments including the explicit acceptance procedure but in practice the tacit acceptance procedure described above proves the most rapid and effective way of securing the entry into force of amendments to the technical annex (other than Chapter I) and is now invariably used. The Annex Chapter I: General provisions The most important of these concern the surveys required for various types of ships and the issuing of documents signifying that ships meet the requirements of the Convention. The survey requirements for passenger ships include a survey before the ship is put into service; a periodical survey (in most cases once every 12 months) and additional surveys as the occasion arises. In the case of cargo ships, after the initial survey, the ship is subject to a subsequent survey every two years in respect of life-saving appliances and other equipment; once every year in respect of radio installation; and in respect of hull, machinery and equipment, at such intervals as the Administration may consider necessary to ensure that the ship's condition is in all respects satisfactory. Regulation 12 of Chapter I lists the various certificates which have to be issued by the flag State as proof that a ship has been inspected and found to be in compliance with the requirements of the Convention. The certificates cover Passenger Ship Safety, Cargo Ship Safety Construction, Cargo Ship Safety Equipment and Cargo Ship Safety Radio certificates. There is also an Exemption Certificate which is issued when an exemption from requirements is granted by the flag State. The control procedures laid down in Regulation 19 of this chapter are primarily designed to enable port State officers to ensure that foreign ships calling at their ports possess valid certificates. In most cases, possession of valid certificates is sufficient proof that the ship concerned complies with Convention requirements. The port State officer is empowered to take further action if there are clear grounds for believing that the condition of the ship or of its equipment does not correspond substantially with the particulars of any of the certificates. The officer can take steps to ensure that the ship does not sail until it can do so without endangering passengers, crew or the ship itself. If action of this type is taken, the flag State must be informed of the circumstances and the facts must also be reported to IMO. Chapters II-1 and II-2 This chapter includes a number of important changes from the 1960 version mainly in the area of fire safety and the 1974 Conference found it necessary to divide the chapter into two sections. The main points of the chapters are as follows: Chapter II-1: Construction - subdivision and stability, machinery and electrical installations The subdivision of passenger ships into watertight compartments must be such that after assumed damage to the ship's hull the vessel will remain afloat in a stable position. Requirements for the watertight integrity and bilge pumping arrangements for passenger ships are also laid down. The degree of subdivision - measured by the maximum permissible distance between two adjacent bulkheads - varies with the ship's length and the service in which it is engaged. The highest degree of subdivision applies to ships of the greatest length primarily engaged in the carriage of passengers. The requirements for machinery and electrical installations are designed to ensure that services which are essential for the safety of the ship, passengers and crew are maintained under various emergency conditions. Chapter II-2: Construction - Fire protection, fire detection and fire extinction Casualties to passenger ships through fire in the early 1960s emphasized the need to improve the fire protection provisions of the 1960 Convention, and in 1966 and 1967 amendments were adopted by the IMO Assembly. These and other amendments, particularly detailed fire safety provisions for passenger ships, tankers and combination carriers, have been incorporated in this chapter, including requirements for inert gas systems in tankers. These provisions are based on the following principles: 1. Division of the ship into main and vertical zones by thermal and structural boundaries. 2. Separation of accommodation spaces from the remainder of the ship by thermal and structural boundaries. 3. Restricted use of combustible materials. 4. Detection of any fire in the zone of origin. 5. Containment and extinction of any fire in the space of origin. 6. Protection of the means of escape or of access for fire- fighting purposes. 7. Ready availability of fire-extinguishing appliances. 8. Minimization of the possibility of ignition of flammable cargo vapour. Chapter III: Life-saving appliances The original Chapter III was divided into three parts. Part A contained general requirements, which applied to all ships, described appliances by type, their equipment, construction specifications, methods of determining their capacity and provisions for maintenance and availability. It also described procedures for emergency and routine drills. Parts B and C contained additional requirements for passenger and cargo ships respectively. Chapter IV: Radiotelegraphy and radiotelephony The chapter is divided into four parts. Part A prescribes the type of radio installations to be carried and Part B the operational requirements for radio watchkeeping, while technical requirements are detailed in Part C. This latter part includes technical provisions for direction- finders and for motor lifeboat radiotelegraph installations, together with portable radio apparatus for survival craft. The radio officer's obligations regarding mandatory log-book entries are listed in Part D. The chapter is closely linked to the Radio Regulations of the International Telecommunication Union. Chapter V: Safety of navigation The provisions of this chapter are mainly of an operational nature and apply to all ships on all voyages. This is in contrast to the Convention as a whole, which only applies to ships of a certain size engaged on international voyages. The subjects covered include the maintenance of meteorological services for ships; the ice patrol service; routeing of ships; and the provision of search and rescue services; etc. The chapter also includes a general obligation for Contracting Governments to ensure that all ships are sufficiently and efficiently manned from a safety point of view. Requirements for the fitting of radar and other navigational aids are also contained in this chapter. Chapter VI: Carriage of grain Shifting is an inherent characteristic of grain, and its effect on a ship's stability can be disastrous. Consequently, the SOLAS Convention contains provisions concerning stowing, trimming and securing the cargo. In the 1974 Convention this chapter was radically amended, following extensive study and testing after the introduction of the 1960 version. This chapter was also adopted by the IMO Assembly as resolution A.264(VIII) in 1973 and Governments were urged to introduce its provisions as a replacement for the 1960 chapter. The 1974 Convention recognizes ships constructed specially for the transport of grain, and specifies a method for calculating the adverse heeling moment caused by shift of cargo in ships carrying bulk grain. Each ship must carry a document of authorization, grain loading stability data and associated plans of loading. Chapter VII: Carriage of dangerous goods This chapter prescribes the classification, packing, marking and stowage of dangerous substances in packaged form. The chapter does not apply to substances carried in bulk in purpose- built ships. The provisions on classification follow the method used by the UN for all modes of transport, although these provisions are more stringent. Contracting Governments are required to issue or cause to be issued detailed instructions concerning the carriage of dangerous goods, and for this purpose the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code was adopted by IMO in 1965. For many years it has been up-dated periodically to accommodate new substances and to supplement or revise existing provisions to keep pace with developments. Chapter VIII: Nuclear ships Only basic requirements are given, which were supplemented by various recommendations contained in an attachment to the Final Act of the 1974 SOLAS Conference. These recommendations have now been overtaken by the safety code for nuclear merchant ships and recommendations on the use of ports by nuclear merchant ships. The Collision Regulations One subject which was not discussed at the 1974 SOLAS Conference was the revision of the Collision Regulations, which had been on the agenda of all previous SOLAS conferences. The reason was the decision taken some years before that the Collision Regulations should no longer be appended to the SOLAS Convention but should become a separate international instrument. The Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea was adopted by an IMO conference in 1972 and entered into force in 1977. It is significant that this Convention, like SOLAS, also incorporates a "tacit acceptance" procedure. The 1978 SOLAS Protocol The requirements for entry into force of the SOLAS Convention - acceptance by 25 States with at least 50 per cent of world gross tonnage of merchant shipping - meant that it would take several years before the Convention entered into force. It finally did so on 25 May 1980. In the meantime a series of accidents involving oil tankers in the winter of 1976- 77 led to increasing pressure for further international action. As a result early in 1978 IMO convened an international conference on tanker safety and pollution prevention which adopted a number of important modifications to SOLAS as well as to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), 1973. Since the 1974 SOLAS Convention had not entered into force it was impossible to amend the Convention. Instead the conference decided to adopt a Protocol which would enter into force six months after ratification by 15 States with 50 per cent of world tonnage of merchant ships (but not before the parent 1974 SOLAS Convention had entered into force). The Protocol entered into force on 1 May 1981. The main points of the Protocol are as follows: 1. New crude carriers and product carriers of 20,000 dwt and above are required to be fitted with an inert gas system (Chapter II-2). 2. An inert gas system is mandatory for existing crude oil carriers of 70,000 dwt as of 1 May 1983, and as of 1 May 1985 for ships of 20,000- 70,000 dwt (Chapter II- 2). 3. In the case of crude carriers of 20,000-40,000 dwt there is provision for exemption by flag States where it is considered unreasonable or impracticable to fit an inert gas system and high- capacity fixed washing machines are not used. But an inert gas system is always required when crude oil washing is operated (Chapter II-2). 4. An inert gas system is required on existing product carriers as from 1 May 1983 and as from 1 May 1985 for ships of 40,000-70,000 dwt and down to 20,000 dwt where ships are fitted with high capacity washing machines (Chapter II-2). 5. All ships of 1,600-10,000 tons gross tonnage are required to be fitted with radar, and ships of 10,000 gross tonnage and above must have two radars, each capable of operating independently. Requirements for operation and testing of steering gear were also introduced (Chapter V). 6. All tankers of 10,000 gross tonnage and above must have two remote steering gear control systems, each operable separately from the navigating bridge (Chapter II-1). 7. The main steering gear of new tankers of 10,000 gross tonnage and above must comprise two or more identical power units, and be capable of operating the rudder with one or more units (Chapter II-1). 8. A number of important regulations designed to improve the survey and certification of ships were also adopted. These include modifications to the provisions relating to the intervals of surveys and inspections and the introduction of intermediate surveys of life-saving appliances and other equipment of cargo ships and, in the case of hull, machinery and equipment, periodical surveys for cargo ships and intermediate surveys for tankers of ten years of age and over. Unscheduled inspections and mandatory annual surveys were also introduced. Furthermore the port State control provisions were rewritten (Chapter I). The 1981 Amendments As previously noted, the 1974 Convention basically consists of the 1960 version incorporating the amendments adopted between 1966 and 1973, together with the new "tacit acceptance" procedure. During the 1970s the Organization prepared a number of major changes to the Convention, some of which were incorporated in the 1978 Protocol. Others were included in amendments adopted in November 1981 and, under the tacit acceptance procedure, entered into force on 1 September 1984. The most important of these concern Chapter II-1 (Construction - subdivision and stability, machinery and electrical installations) and Chapter II-2 (Construction - fire protection, fire detection and fire extinction). In both cases the chapters have virtually been rewritten and updated. The changes to Chapter II-1 include the provisions of resolution A.325(IX), which was adopted in 1975, on machinery and electrical requirements. They also include further modification to regulations 29 and 30 of the 1978 SOLAS Protocol on steering gear. The requirements introduce the concept of duplication of steering gear control systems in tankers and were developed to prevent a repetition of the defects which led to the grounding of the tanker Amoco Cadiz in 1978. Other amendments to Chapter II-1 include collision bulkheads in cargo ships, passenger ships designed for the carriage of goods vehicles and accompanying personnel, and bilge pumping arrangements for cargo ships. The amendments to Chapter II-2 include the requirements of resolutions A.327(IX) and A.372(X), adopted in 1975 and 1977 respectively, provisions for halogenated hydrocarbon extinguishing systems and a new regulation 62 on inert gas systems. The extensive amendments which had to be incorporated made a complete rearrangement of that chapter necessary. Chapter III (Life-saving appliances) was slightly amended to provide a cross- reference to the amendments to Chapter II-1 and minor amendments were made to several regulations in Chapter IV (Radiotelegraphy and radiotelephony). Important changes were made to Chapter V (Safety of navigation), including the addition of new requirements concerning the carriage of shipborne navigational equipment (Regulation 12). The revised requirements cover such matters as gyro and magnetic compasses; radar installations; automatic radar plotting aids; echo- sounders; devices to indicate speed and distance; rudder angle indicators; propeller revolution indicators; rate-of- turn indicators; radio direction-finding apparatus; and equipment for homing on the radiotelephone distress frequency. The application of Chapter VI (Carriage of grain) was extended to ships of less than 500 gross tonnage engaged on international voyages. The 1983 Amendments The second set of amendments to the SOLAS Convention was adopted in November 1983 and entered into force on 1 July 1986. They include a few editorial changes to Chapter II-1 and some further revisions of Chapter II-2, including several amendments to regulations which were changed in 1981. This was considered necessary by IMO's Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) because of their importance to the safety of bulk carriers and passenger ships in particular. One of the most important changes affects regulation 56 (Location and separation of spaces in tankers) which has been completely rewritten. One section of the new regulation applies specifically to combination carriers. The revised Chapter III has been increased from 38 regulations to 53 and retitled "Life-saving appliances and arrangements". The main changes are to ensure operational readiness of ships and the safe abandonment survival, detection and retrieval of survivors. The requirements of the revised chapter apply to new ships the keels of which were laid on or after 1 July 1986 (the date of entry into force of the 1983 amendments). A few requirements, mostly dealing with life-saving appliance operations and drills, also apply to existing ships as from 1 July 1986. Some requirements, including those for the carriage of additional liferafts, life-saving radio equipment, lifejacket lights and other aids to assist detection, immersion suits and thermal protective aids, applied to existing ships not later than 1 July 1991. The amendments are designed not only to take into account new developments but also to provide for the evaluation and introduction of novel life-saving appliances or arrangements. Like the original chapter, the new chapter contains three parts, but the arrangement is very different.

Page 1 of 2 (Go to page 2)


Latest news:
Third generation photo luminescent paint now available. Ideal for crew quarters, engine rooms, industries, tunnels and other enclosed areas!

Ceramic tiles for use in floors, walls and ceilings where the use of paint, low location strips or other solutions are not feasable.

Photos of directional signs before mounting

Brannfarlig isolasjon i bytunnel (Norwegian only).

News archive


Contact information:

Metal Safe Sign International
Tel: 00-47-92067930

Responsible for all content on MSS web-pages:
Mr. Arve Heggem