SOLAS 1974 Convention or the Safety Of Life At Sea is an international agreement between flag states that sets standards on different aspects of maritime safety.
By far, it is the most important of all international conventions related to shipping.
Its complete meaning is the International Convention for the Safety of Life At Sea, 1974.
The Convention sets uniform principles and rules with regard to construction, equipment installation, and operations of merchant vessels covered in this treaty- also known as SOLAS ships.
SOLAS 2020 Consolidated Edition
At present, the provisions of the SOLAS Convention consist of 14 Chapters. Some chapters are divided (and sub-divided) into Parts and Sections which are then defined into Regulations.
I have a PDF copy of this book, but it’s in the 2018 Edition. You can download it for free on the link below together with a PowerPoint presentation (PPT).
First, let’s embark on a journey.
There were only 13 countries that adopted the very first version of SOLAS held in London in 1914.
This was the maritime community’s response after the sinking of the RMS Titanic which claimed more than 1,500 lives in 1912.
However, the treaty did not come into force due to the occurrence of World War 1.
Since then, there have been four other SOLAS Conventions:
- The second, which entered into force in 1933.
- Third, it entered into force in 1952.
- Fourth, which entered into force in 1965, and
- The fifth, adopted in 1974 entered into force on May 25, 1980.
The 1974 Convention is the version currently in force and is unlikely to be replaced by a new one.
Over time, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) introduced amendments through the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) due to accidents and technological advancements.
What the SOLAS Convention changed after the Titanic
The maritime community learned many things AFTER the Titanic disaster. Much of it was incorporated into the first SOLAS Convention.
Here are some of the lessons.
Ship Navigation and Ice Surveillance
- The Titanic collided with an iceberg with much speed thereby greatly maximizing the damage. After SOLAS, ships must reduce speed when navigating on ice.
- The first SOLAS 1914 created a requirement for continuous ice patrol in the North Atlantic region.
Internal and External Communication
- During the initial stage of the accident, the crew and passengers aboard the Titanic were not aware of the situation. They only got the information through word of mouth adding more panic and confusion. Under SOLAS, the Public Address System (PA System) became a requirement for passenger ships.
- Distress alert of the Titanic has a range of only 200 nautical miles. Now, ships can communicate globally.
Lifeboats and Drills
- Some passengers died of hypothermia while in the lifeboat because the boats themselves were open type. The 1914 Convention changed that requiring lifeboats to be fully or partially enclosed.
- There was no record of the lifeboat drill. The Titanic crew were not familiar with the lifeboat launching, operation, boat assignments, and even the passenger capacity. The first International Convention for the Safety of Life At Sea made lifeboat drills mandatory and training manuals became more accessible.
- There were not enough lifeboats for all passengers on the Titanic. Now, the Safety of Life At Sea mandates passenger ships to carry enough lifeboats plus liferafts.
Search and Rescue
- Helicopters and rescue planes were used after 1912 for search and rescue at sea.
- Land stations and some ships heard the Titanic’s distress call but with much interference. Moreover, their position was misinterpreted due to a bad signal. Now, EPIRB and GPS provide more accurate positions for ships in distress which are sent automatically.
- The Californian, a vessel less than 20 miles away, was not able to receive the Titanic’s distress call because her radio officer went off duty. Under the SOLAS Convention, every vessel at sea must maintain a continuous watch on distress and safety frequencies.
SOLAS Convention of 1974: Chapters and Regulations
SOLAS is very broad, so vast that it touches everything related to the improvement and safety of shipping.
As one of the oldest maritime conventions, it is sometimes referred to as “SOLAS 1974, as amended” because it has been updated and amended multiple times.
To quickly memorize all the 14 chapters in this book, I learned a few acronyms during my college days that you may use.
Here it goes:
General ConCon Li, Radio Sa Car Car. Nuke Man High. SaSec AddS Vecom Pol.
Chapter I: General Provisions
Divided into three Parts, Chapter I sets provisions for inspections, surveys, and certifications of ships signifying that they meet the requirements of the Convention.
Like the seafarers who must be certified, vessels must also carry certificates that are up-to-date and non-expired.
These documents prove that the vessel complies with the standards laid out in SOLAS’ 74, as amended, and thus is seaworthy to sail the seas.
In addition, it defines which types of vessels- the SOLAS ships, are covered in this Convention as well as which ones are exempt.
Surveyors and Port State Controls
This chapter also gives nominated surveyors or port state control officers special power to require repairs to a ship and carry out inspections and surveys if requested by the appropriate authorities.
We often see this in an action wherein a port state control officer detains a vessel from leaving port due to major deficiencies related to the SOLAS Convention.
The last part of this chapter empowers the Administration to conduct an investigation of any casualty occurring to any of its ships.
Results will be used to determine whether changes in the present Regulations are desirable.
In summary, Chapter 1 encompasses all other chapters in the sense that it serves as the “arm” by which vessels are checked for compliance purposes.
Chapter II-1: Construction- Structure, subdivision and stability, machinery and electrical installations
Chapter II-1 is the longest and broadest chapter covering 7 Parts with 57 Regulations.
This chapter covers vessels undergoing repairs, alterations, modifications, and outfitting.
Part A deals with the keel laying of the ship as the basis to which the regulations here apply.
The definition of terms, which are very technical, are also explained in this part.
Ship’s construction covers Part B of the Convention.
Requirements for watertight integrity, mechanical and electrical equipment, emergency towing arrangements, corrosion protection, and many others are heavily explained here.
“Even with the SOLAS guidelines on ship construction, vetting inspectors or port state control officers usually find deficiencies relating to them.”
Other parts include the features with watertight subdivision, watertight integrity, stability requirements, and machinery installations on board the vessel.
Under the Safety of Life at Sea, regulations for electrical installations, requirements for unmanned machinery spaces (UMS), and alternative design and arrangements for fire safety are also set.
The last part, Part G, is about Ships Using Low-Flashpoint Fuels. The requirement for this regulation is adopted from the IGF Code.
Chapter II-2: Construction – Fire protection, fire detection, and fire extinction
Since fire is a major safety hazard on board, vessel construction includes methods on how to prevent fire, detect them, and their extinguishing systems.
Chapter 2-2 contains 5 Parts and 23 regulations. Examples of fire safety provisions include the following:
- Division of the ship into zones by thermal and structural boundaries.
- Separation of accommodation spaces from the remainder of the ship by thermal and structural boundaries.
- Restricted use of combustible materials.
- Detection, containment, and extinction of any fire in the space of origin.
- Protection of the means of escape or of access for fire-fighting purposes.
- Minimization of the possibility of ignition of flammable cargo vapor.
Chapter III: Life-saving appliances and arrangements
The Titanic disaster revealed major flaws in its lifesaving systems. Under SOLAS, ship construction includes lifesaving appliances and arrangements.
The chapter incorporates the mandatory International Life-Saving Appliance (LSA) Code.
Requirements for lifeboats, liferafts, evacuation systems, personal survival aids, rescue boats, survival crafts, and many others are set in this chapter.
Our SOLAS training or the Basic Safety Training reminds us of the safety equipment defined in the regulation.
Chapter IV: Radiocommunications
Revised in 1988 to introduce the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) and phase out R.T./W.T. communication.
All ships above 300 gt on international voyages are now required to be fitted with:
- EPIRB (Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon).
- SART (Search and Rescue Transponder).
- NAVTEX (Navigational text receiver).
Vessels today can now communicate globally anytime. Ships in distress can automatically send distress signals through the use of EPIRB.
This chapter of SOLAS also introduced the Digital Selective Calling (DSC). Radio equipment became a requirement and the regulations set frequencies for distress and safety.
Chapter 4 “divides” the oceans into Sea Areas:
- Sea area A1. It means an area within the radiotelephone coverage of at least one VHF coast station in which continuous DSC alerting is available.
- Sea area A2. It means an area, excluding sea area A1, within the radiotelephone coverage of at least one MF coast station in which continuous DSC alerting is available.
- Sea area A3. It means an area, excluding sea areas A1 and A2, within the coverage of an INMARSAT geostationary satellite in which continuous alerting is available.
- Sea area A4. It means an area outside sea areas A1, A2, and A3
Under the SOLAS Convention, all vessels at sea are required to maintain continuous radio watch on distress and safety frequencies.
Chapter V: Safety of Navigation
Safety of Navigation is the only SOLAS Chapter that applies to ALL VESSELS including sailing vessels, yachts, and pleasure crafts.
Local authorities adopt some of the regulations in this chapter incorporating them into their own national laws.
Under Chapter 5, mariners are required to take into account all information needed for a safe voyage.
This includes navigational warnings, weather forecasts, ice formations, meteorological services, distress signals while at sea, and many others.
Chapter 5 of the SOLAS Convention highlights the importance of:
- Fitting an Automatic Identification System (AIS)
- Phasing in Voyage Data Recorders (VDR).
- Masters to proceed to the assistance of those in distress.
- Safe manning of ships.
- 24-hour position and condition reporting.
- Ship’s routing.
- Life-saving signals
- Bridge design.
- Search and rescue services.
Chapter VI: Carriage of cargoes and oil fuels
Originally, Chapter 6 only covered the carriage of grain- International Grain Code (IGC).
Now, it covers all types of cargo (except liquids and gases in bulk) “which, owing to their particular hazards to ships or persons on board, may require special precautions”.
In particular, it carries solid bulk cargo, which means any cargo, other than liquid or gas, consisting of a combination of particles, granules, or any larger pieces of material generally uniform in composition, which is loaded directly into the cargo spaces of a ship without any intermediate form of containment.
Included in this chapter are requirements for stowage and securing of cargo or cargo units i.e. containers.
This chapter also gives information about the use of pesticides, oxygen analysis and gas detection equipment, stowage and securing and the use of Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)
Later amendments in 2015 incorporated the weighing of all packages and cargo items, including the mass of pallets, dunnage, and other securing material.
More importantly, Chapter VI, Regulation 2.6 states that:
“If the shipping document, with regard to a packed container, does not provide the verified gross mass and the master or his representative and the terminal representative have not obtained the verified gross mass of the packed container, it shall not be loaded on to the ship.”
Chapter VII: Carriage of dangerous goods
This chapter covers the carriage of dangerous goods in packaged form, solid form, or bulk. In summary, requirements from this chapter are adopted from three International Codes namely:
- IMDG Code or the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code.
- IBC Code or the “International Bulk Chemical Code”. Its long name is the International Code for the Construction and Equipment of Ships Carrying Dangerous Chemicals in Bulk.
- IGC Code or the “International Gas Carrier Code”. The long name is the International Code for the Construction and Equipment of Ships Carrying Liquefied Gases in Bulk.
INF Code or the International Code for the Safe Carriage of Packaged Irradiated Nuclear Fuel, Plutonium, and High-Level Radioactive Wastes on Board Ships.
All kinds of dangerous goods must be in compliance with the provisions listed on those books. Construction of different ships designed for that purpose is also found in there.
Chapter VIII: Nuclear ships
Although not in common today, Chapter 8 of SOLAS Convention sets guidelines for ships powered by a nuclear reactor.
This chapter gives basic requirements for the construction and operation of nuclear-powered ships and is particularly concerned with radiation hazards.
It also refers to the mandatory Code of Safety for Nuclear Merchant Ships.
Unlike other type of ships, nuclear ships are subject to special control before entering the ports and in the ports of Contracting Governments.
An inspector must first verify if the vessel has a valid Nuclear Ship Safety Certificate and that there are no unreasonable radiation or other hazards at sea or in port, to the crew, passengers or public or to the waterways or food or water resources.
Chapter IX: Management for the safe operation of ships
Chapter 9 is adopted from the International Safety Management (ISM) Code or the International Management Code for the Safe Operation of Ships and for Pollution Prevention.
It entered into force on 1st July 1998 and required all vessels of over 500 gt to comply with the Code by 1st July 2002.
As per the ISM Code, every shipowner, ship operator or any person assuming responsibility of running a vessel must have a safety management system.
Chapter X: Safety measures for high-speed craft
This chapter makes mandatory the International Code of Safety for High-Speed Craft (HSC Code). Chapter 10 only applies to high-speed crafts built on or after 1st January 1996.
There are two HSC Codes used in this Chapter.
- A high-speed craft constructed on or after 1 January 1996 but before 1 July 2002 must comply with the requirements of the High-Speed Craft Code, 1994.
- High-speed crafts constructed on or after 1 July 2002 must comply with the requirements of the High-Speed Craft Code, 1994.
Chapter XI-1: Special measures to enhance maritime safety
Originally, this a single chapter which entered into force on 1st January 1996. Under SOLAS Convention, it stated requirements for:
- authorization of organizations responsible for carrying out surveys and inspections on behalf of administrations i.e. classification societies;
- enhanced surveys;
- ship identification number scheme;
- port state control and operational requirements;
- continuous synopsis record;
- additional requirements for the investigation of marine casualties and incidents;
- atmosphere testing instruments for enclosed spaces.
Chapter XI-2: Special measures to enhance maritime security
A second part of this chapter has now been created and requires ships, companies, and ports to comply with the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code.
The ISPS Code contains two parts:
- Part A is which is mandatory. It sets minimum regulations that ships and ports must follow.
- Part B is recommendatory and contains guidance for the implementation of the Code.
Under this chapter, ships and port terminals are required to have security plans containing preventive and corrective actions against any security threats.
They must set security levels at all times and implement security duties appropriate to the level of security they operate.
Under Regulation 8 of this chapter gives the Master an overriding authority to decide and act for the safety and security of the ship even if it’s not to the best interest of the company, charterer or any other person.
Chapter XII: Additional safety measures for bulk carriers
SOLAS Chapter 12 entered into force on 1st July 1999 and includes:
- Structural requirements for new bulk carriers over 150 meters in length built after 1st July 1999 and carrying cargoes with a density of over 1,000 kg/m3.
- Specific structural requirements for existing bulk carriers carrying cargoes with a density of over 1,780 kg/m3.
- Requirement for water level detectors to be installed in cargo holds.
- Availability of pumping systems.
- Damage stability requirements.
Chapter XIII: Verification of compliance
Adopted on 22 May 2014, verification of compliance under Chapter XIII of the SOLAS 1974, as amended subjects Contracting Governments to periodic audits by the Organization.
This is the only in the SOLAS Convention that does not directly touch on the safety aspect of any types of ships.Instead, it makes mandatory the IMO Member State Audit Scheme starting 1 January 2016.
Chapter XIV: Safety measures for ships operating in polar waters
This is the latest chapter in the International Convention for the Safety of Life At Sea, 1974. It is adopted from the Polar Code or the International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters.
This applies to ships operating in polar waters and certified in accordance with Chapter I. Polar waters are defined as the Arctic waters and the Antarctic areas.
Ships navigating these areas must carry a Polar Ship Certificate and a Polar Water Operational Manual.
Since polar areas are extremely different than the normal seas, Regulation 4 of this chapter lays out the standards.
This part provides rules for special design and arrangements for structures, machinery, electrical installations, fire safety, and life-saving appliances.
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May the winds be in your favor.