Behind the Acronyms of Maritime Safety



The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) originated after the Titanic disaster of 1912 when more than 1,500 passengers and crew died. Since that time the convention has been an important part of commercial maritime safety operations and has been upgraded many times as technology and know-how concerning safety issues has improved. It applies by law to shipping of 300 Gross Registered Ton and above, which means that most recreational and coastal commercial vessels are not directly affected by the regulations except for certain safety equipment that must, or may have to meet, SOLAS standards. Any equipment that meets the criteria is generally acknowledged to satisfy the toughest demands.



The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) regulates and oversees the safety of Australia's shipping fleet and manages Australia's international maritime obligations. Although overseen by the Australian Federal Government, AMSA is funded largely through levies on the shipping industry.

Marine activities managed by AMSA include:

o    The provision, operation and maintenance of marine aids to navigation, for example, lighthouses.

o    Ensuring the seaworthiness and safe operation of Australian and foreign vessels in Australian waters.

o    Administering the certification of seafarers.

o    The provision of a maritime distress and safety communications network.

o    The operation of Australia's Rescue Coordination Centre and coordination of search and rescue operations for civilian aircraft and vessels in distress.

o    The development of a maritime safety commercial vessel legislative framework and operating system.

AMSA aims to protect the marine environment by administering programs to prevent and respond to the threat of ship-sourced marine pollution and managing Australia's National Plan to combat pollution of the sea by oil and other noxious and hazardous substances.




The National Standard for Commercial Vessels (NSCV) is a series of documents published by the National Maritime Safety Committee, an Australian regulatory and advisory body. The relevant section on sea safety specifies requirements for the design, manufacture, installation, stowage, marking and scale of safety equipment to be carried on board virtually all Australian commercially operated vessels that are not equipped to SOLAS standard. The NSCV is replacing the Australian Universal Shipping Law (USL) Code and is supported and implemented by all Australian state and territory marine authorities.



GMDSSThe Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) is an internationally agreed system of safety procedures which include communications equipment, operator licensing and protocols. It aims to rapidly alert rescue authorities ashore, as well as shipping in the immediate vicinity of a vessel or persons in distress, to an emergency situation so they can assist in a coordinated search and rescue operation. The GMDSS is intended to perform functions such as alerting (including position determination of the person(s) or vessel in distress), search and rescue coordination, locating (homing), maritime safety information broadcasts, general communications and bridge-to-bridge communications. A key concept of GMDSS is that the radio communications equipment to be fitted to a GMDSS vessel is determined by the ship's area of operation, rather than by its size. GMDSS equipment includes Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB), Search and Rescue Radar Transponder (SART), Digital Selective Calling (DSC) distress alerting on MF and VHF equipped radios, HF Radio, NAVTEC and IMARSAT satellite communications. The oceans of the world have been divided into four operational Sea Areas, defined according to the radio facilities provided on shore for distress alerting. Vessels under 300 Gross Tonnage (GT) are not subject to GMDSS requirements but offshore vessels under 300GT increasingly elect to equip themselves further. Recreational vessels do not need to comply with GMDSS requirements, but will increasingly be required to comply with some GMDSS initiatives, including Digital Selective Calling (DSC) equipped radios and emergency beacons. 



ISAF – AY – YNZ  The International Sailing Federation (ISAF) publishes a range of regulations to establish uniform minimum equipment and design standards for yachts racing offshore. These special regulations, adopted internationally, are strongly recommended by the Federation for use by all organisers of offshore races. As signatories to the Federation, Yachting Australia (YA) and Yachting New Zealand (YNZ) for the most part comply with this request with occasional regulation variations or additions to suit local race requirements.




The International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea 1972 (COLREGS) are published by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and overseen by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, and set out the "rules of the road" or navigation rules to be followed by ships and other vessels at sea in order to prevent collisions between two or more vessels. The regulations are designed to cover every possible contingency for all vessels under-way and, by necessity, are lengthy and complex. In simplified form, the ‘rules’ cover three areas:

Maintain a Lookout

Every vessel must maintain a proper lookout by all possible means appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions. This is the main collision avoidance rule.

Safe Speed

Every vessel at all times must proceed at a safe speed appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions.

Risk of Collision

Every vessel must use all available means to determine if a risk of collision exists. If such a risk exists, vessels close to each other should understand what the other is doing. Any alteration of course to avoid collision must be significant, so that it is clear that the course has been changed.




The International Organisation for Standardisation, widely known as ISO is an international standard-setting body with representatives from various national standard organisations. The body produces reports that specify world-wide industrial and commercial design and manufacturing standards. The ISO is a ‘non-governmental organisation’ but has strong links with government and many of its recommendations become law.

In the context of life raft design and manufacture, ISO has many criteria covering all types of shipping, both commercial and leisure craft. ISO 9650 for instance, is a new, comprehensive, technical specification detailing all the materials used in the construction of life rafts for smaller commercial and recreational vessels. Performance requirements covering inflation, launching, material resistance, buoyancy and interior space are also spelt out.


 © Great Circle Marine 2012