Safety management systems (SMS)

Information for operators about safety management systems; MOSS, SOP, ISM (SOLAS), Safety Case, and Specified Limits Permit.


Safety management systems are implemented to ensure that commercial vessels are maintained and operated safely to prevent maritime accidents and protect the marine environment.

These systems make ship owners and operators responsible for the daily safe operation of their vessels. This ensures that the safety of a vessel and its crew, and protection of the marine environment, is maintained throughout the year instead of just on an annual ‘survey day’.

The introduction of safety management systems in New Zealand is in line with a global move to put ongoing safety measures in place to prevent maritime accidents and place the responsibility of this on vessel owners and operators.

Safety management systems cover safe operating parameters, the qualifications and training of the vessel’s crew, vessel maintenance, emergency procedures, health and safety considerations and continuous improvement.


Types of safety management systems in New Zealand

All commercial vessels are categorised as either:

  1. SOLAS*
    SOLAS vessels typically engage in international voyages and must adhere to the safety management system provided under the ‘International Safety Management Code’.
  2. Non-SOLAS
    Non-SOLAS vessels typically do not engage in international voyages and must adhere to an appropriate safety management system that accounts for vessel type, size and operations.

* SOLAS refers to the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) convention.


SOLAS safety management systems

A SOLAS ship (as defined in Maritime Rule Part 21) is any ship to which the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea 1974 applies; namely:

  • a passenger ship engaged on an international voyage, or
  • a non-passenger ship of 500 tons gross tonnage or more engaged on an international voyage

There are some exceptions where certain commercial vessels are required to meet the safety standards of a SOLAS ship. These vessels are required to be in Class and have an International Safety Management system in place (ISM Code).

These exceptions are:

  • a passenger ship of 45 metres or more in length that proceeds beyond restricted limits
  • a non-passenger ship of 45 metres or more in length that proceeds beyond restricted limits
  • a self-propelled mobile offshore drilling unit of 500 tons gross tonnage or more.
  • SOLAS ships (including those non-SOLAS vessels that meet the exceptions) are subject to Maritime Rule Part 21, section 1 and Maritime Rule Part 40B.

The safety management system for SOLAS ships is provided under the International Safety Management Code. This Code covers SOLAS vessels that are either New Zealand-owned or foreign flagged vessels that are visiting New Zealand that meet the requirements of Regulation 2 of the code.


Non-SOLAS safety management systems

The safety management system for all non-SOLAS ships is broken into the following separate categories:

  • Maritime Operator Safety System (MOSS)
    This covers most New Zealand owned and operated vessels
  • Safe Operational Plans (SOPs)
    This covers smaller specialist vessels and their operations
  • Safety Case
    This covers operations that don’t fit under Maritime Rules
  • Specified Limits Permit
    This covers commercial operations within restricted areas

Non-SOLAS ships are essentially all commercial vessels that don’t fit within the definition of a SOLAS ship, although there are some exceptions.

Non-SOLAS ships are subject to Maritime Rule Part 19 and Maritime Rule Part 44. These rules apply to:

  • restricted limit ships
  • fishing ships and
  • ships of less than 45 metres that go beyond restricted limits but are not SOLAS ships.

Sister ship provision for ships operating under MOSS

Under rule 40A, there is a provision that could save you the cost of undertaking an inclining experiment. This provision applies to certain types of ships.

A sister ship of a new single-hull ship that is 15m or longer, carries more than 50 passengers or operates beyond restricted limits is not required to conduct an inclining experiment, provided that the lightship displacement measurement is within a limit of that of the lead sister ship that is satisfactory to the naval architect.

In order to take advantage of this provision, the owner of a sister ship must measure the lightship displacement of his ship and compare it with the lightship displacement of the lead sister ship. If the naval architect is satisfied that the two measurements are close enough, then the inclining experiment need not be undertaken.

The owner must therefore:

  • work collaboratively with their naval architect and determine their ship’s lightship
  • obtain the lightship displacement value from the owner of the lead sister ship and provide this to the naval architect to make a comparison.

If the naval architect is satisfied that the numbers are within an acceptable limit, they will take the next step of developing the stability book; if they are not satisfied that the lightship measurement of the two ships are within the satisfactory limit or if the owner is unable to obtain the lightship displacement of the lead sister ship, the owner will have to pay for an inclining experiment.

From 1998 to 2008 30 June 2014, all stability and inclining experiment results have been required by law to be held by the ship owner and the SSM company. MNZ holds very limited survey records on behalf of a vessel owner.

Whether the SSM company or MNZ holds the record, these ship records are the property of the ship owner. Should another vessel owner or surveyor wish to access such records, they must obtain the permission of the owner of the vessel they relate to.

The owner (and/or their surveyor) wishing to use survey records for comparison purposes is responsible for obtaining the appropriate documents and approvals.


Contact us

If you require any further information about safety management systems, please contact your local Maritime Officer.

+64 4 473 0111


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