ISM Code & ISO 9001 Onboard Ships

The International Safety Management Code for the Safe Operation of Ships and for Pollution Prevention (ISM Code) is an international standard for the safe management and operation of ships focusing towards the protection of the environment and the safety of the crew as well as equipment. The ISM Code is mandatory for all vessels of more than 500 gross tonnages including mobile offshore drilling units.

ISO 9001:2008 specifies requirements for a quality management system which ensures that a company provides products/services that meet customer as well as any applicable statutory and regulatory requirements. Moreover, ISO 9001 aims to enhance customer satisfaction.

Both ISO 9001 and the ISM Code specify a systematic approach to management by those responsible for management of ships. ISM Code with ISO 9001 provides a basis for ensuring management systems are also driven by customer needs for the continued success of a shipping company.

Onboard Ship Management

Regarding shipboard management the company is required according to the ISM code as well as the ISO 9001 standard to have developed a set of company objectives and policies.

More specifically the ISM code approach requires the company to have developed a safety and environmental protection policy which describes ISM Code objectives to be achieved, implemented and maintained.

Such objectives should aim to the direction of ensuring safety at sea as well as the prevention of human injury or loss of life or damage to property. Another important objective of the policy should aim on the environmental protection and in particular on the protection of the marine environment not excluding of course other related environmental issues such as air-pollution control, recycling etc.

In order to achieve such objectives the company should provide Safe Working Practices guidelines and procedures (e.g. entry into enclosed space, hot work etc) relative to the ship operations as well as equipment which results on maintaining a Safe Working Environment onboard. The procedures and the guidelines to be implemented/followed should have been developed in a way that they can also represent safeguards against possible risks which the company has identified. The company should also have in place procedures regarding response in case of safety or environmental emergencies and of course the Safety Management System should be continuously improved (a requirement which is also stated in a similar way in the ISO 9001 standard)

All the above should always be in compliance with mandatory rules, regulations; applicable codes, guidelines and standards (e.g. SOLAS, MARPOL, STCW 95, COLREGS, Regulations on Navigation in Panama Canal Waters etc) recommended by the IMO, Flag Administrations, Port State Authorities, Classification Societies and maritime industry organizations.

On the other hand the ISO 9001 standard requires the company to have developed a quality policy along with objectives that should be implemented onboard.

Such a quality policy should include a commitment to comply with any requirements (e.g. customer requirements, regulatory requirements etc) and to continually improve the effectiveness of the quality management system which means that a management review procedure should be established in order to assess and evaluate the implementation of the management system (a requirement which is also stated in a similar way in the ISM code). The policy should also be communicated and understood within the organization, and is reviewed for continuing suitability. Moreover, the company should also be committed in maintaining the integrity of the quality management system whenever changes to the quality management system are planned and implemented.

Quality objectives should be established within relevant procedures of the company and they should be measurable and consistent with the quality policy. Such objectives may be:

  1. High quality services measured by internal and external audits & non-conformances,
  2. Customer satisfaction which can be measured through customer surveys and complaint handling procedures,
  3. Crew training improvement measured through crew training evaluations,
  4. Non Conformities reduction measured through internal/external audits and monitoring procedures

Both the ISM and ISO 9001 require that any mandatory requirements, laws and regulations are to be followed and implemented accordingly. The ISM code states specifically that the company’s developed safety management system should ensure that compliance with mandatory rules and regulations is achieved throughout shipboard operations and that any other applicable codes/guidelines etc that are being recommended by the Flag Administrations, the Classification Societies, the IMO etc are taken into account.

Both the ISM code and ISO 9001 require defined levels of authority, responsibility and lines of communication.

According to the ISM code responsibilities, authorities as well as their interaction between personnel onboard and ashore, whose work is related and also affects safety and pollution prevention, should be clearly defined and documented. For example the Master usually has the authority and is responsible for the implementation of the drills program with the cooperation of the Chief Officer. The Cook is responsible to keep the galley and the stores in a clean condition and is under the supervision of the Master and the Chief Officer. The ISM code also requires a clear statement emphasizing the Master’s overriding authority and the responsibility to make decisions with respect to safety and pollution prevention. The ISO 9001 standard requirements are similar although they are quality oriented and related to customer satisfaction.

The ISM code and the ISO 9001 require a person ashore to be assigned with specific duties and responsibilities relevant to the implementation of their requirements. Thus, the ISM code requires a Designated Person Ashore (DPA) who ensures and monitors the safe operation of company ships providing links between the company and the crew onboard. The DPA is required to have direct access to the highest level of management. On the other hand the ISO 9001 standard requires the position of a Quality Management Representative who is to be assigned with the responsibility and authority to ensure that the quality management system processes are established, implemented and maintained. He is also responsible to report to the top management regarding the performance of the quality management system and he is required to make the company aware of the customer’s requirements.

Regarding human resources the ISM code states that the company should ensure that each ship is manned with seafarers who have the appropriate qualifications, certifications according to national and international requirements. Moreover, the ISM code requires that the seafarers are also medically fit for the job. Another requirement of the ISM code is that all crew/personnel with duties related to safety and environment protection should be appropriately familiarized in order to ensure that the duties will be conducted on a safe and environmental friendly way. Such familiarization is usually conducted according to company developed forms as well as any training products that may be required according to company procedures. Needless to say that for all the above records are to be maintained.

ISO’s 9001 requirements are similar although they are more generalized requiring also an evaluation on the effectiveness of actions taken and making personnel aware on how to contribute to quality objectives.

One requirement that is not contained in the ISO 9001 but is mentioned within the ISM code is Emergency Preparedness. ISM requires that potential shipboard emergency situations should be identified and described in order to ensure that they are confronted and efficiently responded. This requirement may take the form of checklists, drills procedures, posters etc which should specific and simple instructions on what to do in case of an emergency. The closest requirement of ISO 9001 to emergency preparedness is the need for control of non-conforming products.

Bridge Operations Management

In order to navigate safely an effective command, communications, procedures and controls needs to be established. Passage planning is conducted to assess the safest and most economical sea route between ports, as well as to identify and recognize any possible hazards so as to avoid them. Equipment can fail and unexpected situations may arise, so there is a need for a contingency planning in order to be ready to face the unexpected. Watch officers at sea need to be able to keep a proper look-out and to monitor charts and the radar. Bridge notes should be provided in order to explain how to handle specific equipment and how to conduct maintenance procedures where needed.

All of the above are just a minor fracture of the operations being conducted onboard a ship’s bridge and they emphasize the need to have well developed plans for shipboard operations according to the requirements of the ISM code. Planning of operations is also a requirement of the ISO 9001 standard. Every shipping company should provide practical guidance concerning safe navigation and its policies should include:

  1. a clear statement that safety of life and safety of the ship are the most important operational factor
  2. allocation of bridge duties and responsibilities
  3. voyage planning procedures
  4. chart and nautical publication correction procedures
  5. essential navigation equipment is available and fully operational
  6. contingency response plans
  7. accident and near miss reporting procedures;
  8. recording of voyage events;
  9. familiarisation training and handover procedures;
  10. company contacts, including the designated person under the ISM Code.

 Engine Room Operations Management

A well managed ship requires, apart from a well organized and with defined procedures bridge, an effective management in the engine room. The ISM code as well as ISO 9001 standard require specific planning for the ship’s operations and so as in the case of bridge operations, planning is also required for engine room operations and therefore procedures for identifying and controlling the operation of main and auxiliary machinery, steering gear, bunkering, waste management etc. as well as orders and guidance notes, are required in order to ensure safe operation of all involved equipment as well as the safety of the crew. Therefore it is essential to have a well documented system on Engine department organization, defining duties and responsibilities, Maintenance procedures stating best practices, reporting methods and safety instructions etc.


To sum up the ISM code emphasizes the role of the management in safety and pollution prevention. The implementation of the ISM code is mandatory in order to be able to be engaged in the maritime market.

On the other hand the implementation of ISO 9001 standard in the shipping industry can provide benefits related to the improvement of the service quality provided by the company as well as enhancing customer satisfaction.

As explained above by implementing the ISM code a company is in a way also implementing some of the ISO 9001 requirements. Efforts should be made during implementation of both the ISM code and the ISO 9001 standard in order to avoid high bureaucracy levels which can make the implementation and the maintenance of an effective Integrated Management System problematic.

Implementing both ISM and ISO 9001 surely is for the benefit of the company but high bureaucratic levels should be avoided in order to avoid procedures being more complicated than it is required.


  1. Abdul Razak Abdul Aziz says:

    Beautiful and important piece of information.Thumbs up.

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