Behind the acronyms of Maritime Safety

Behind the acronyms of Maritime Safety

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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 up-graded 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 is recommended to meet, SOLAS standards. Any equipment that meets the criteria is generally acknowledged to satisfy the toughest demands.


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.


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 Organisation for Standardisation, widely known as ISO is an international standard-setting body composed of representatives from various national standard organisations. The body promulgates a large range of reports that spell out in great detail world-wide industrial and commercial design and manufacturing standards. While the ISO defines itself as a non-governmental organisation, in practice, its ability to set international benchmarks sees it having strong links to governments, with many of its recommendations becoming 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.