Classification of vessels in the marine shipping industry

A classified vessel can operate according to IMO’s regulatory framework, and lives up to global safety and environmental standards. A prerequisite for a vessel to be classified is that the engines are type approved. This is the first part, of three, in my article series about classification and type approval. In this article, I will describe what classification is and how it affects vessels operating in the marine shipping industry.   


IMO – an international UN agency concerning marine safety and environment

International marine shipping is one of few areas that has a global legislation through a UN agency. IMO, International Maritime Organization, is the global standard-setting authority for the safety, security and environmental performance of international shipping. Its main role is to create a regulatory framework for the shipping industry that is safe, fair and effective, as well as universally adopted and implemented.

IMO presents legislative proposals, coming into effect when a majority of the member countries have approved of the proposals. When sailing internationally, you need to follow the same legislations as the country you are visiting. This is controlled by the country’s government. During an inspection – normally referred to as port state controls – you need to present a number of certificates proving your vessel has approved safety equipment and fire equipment, among other things. A country’s approval of the proposals, and inclusion in flag state rules, are basically a must if the country wants to have their own merchant fleet operating internationally.

SOLAS – Safety of Life at Sea

In turn, IMO is responsible for a number of conventions and codes, where SOLAS, Safety of Life at Sea is the most common. As the name reveals, this convention is about safety and when following the SOLAS rules, your vessel meets all global safety requirements on board. Examples of other conventions and codes are the Life Saving Appliance Code, International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships and HSC 2000 Code, which is the international code of safety for high-speed crafts.

Classification – a certification enabling the insurance of your vessel and its cargo

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To have a vessel under class is a certification enabling the insurance of your vessel and its cargo. There are about one hundred different classification societies worldwide, performing classification of vessels and components onboard vessels. The major classification societies are included in IACS, International Association of Classification Societies. To be able to operate in the international marine shipping industry you need to comply with the IMO legislations, but the classification is optional. However, all classification societies’ regulatory frameworks include the IMO legislations and are therefore also used by national administrations as base to show compliance with flag state rules.

A lifelong commitment

When classifying a vessel it is not only the ship that is classified but everything on board, including all machinery, equipment and systems. The decision of whether to classify the vessel or not is up to the shipping company or shipyard building the boat. To have a vessel under class is a lifelong commitment that continuously needs to be updated. To maintain the classification, all criterias need to be fulfilled. This means a high level of repair and maintenance keeping everything in perfect shape. It also requires competent and trained staff. Consequently, to classify a vessel and keeping it classified is a costly process. Nevertheless, practically all international vessels are classified.

High reliability and uptime are key in the marine shipping industry

Operators in the marine shipping industry value comfort, performance, reliability and safety. A classified vessel means that your vessel has gone through a number of tests and risk assessments to promote safety for the vessel, the crew as well as the environment. Also, it is a prerequisite for getting the vessel and its cargo insured. Basically, to classify your vessel means a quality assurance, prolonging the lifespan of the vessel. A downside with classification is that there is no global notification, but several different classification societies, which all have their own detailed rules and requirements to follow.

Volvo Penta prepares for a classification by type approving the engine

When a shipyard orders products from a subcontractor and includes a class notation, it puts high demands on the products. Therefore, a classification facilitates the process for the shipyard, contributing to a harmonisation of the tough demands imposed on the vessel’s equipment.

Volvo Penta works with seven different major classification societies. When a shipyard contacts us with a class notation, it becomes clear what demands the shipyard and the shipyard’s customers have on our products. From start, our work is transparent with full documentation, offering the shipyard our drawings and installation requirements. There are several tests during the process, where one of them is the FAT test (Factory Acceptance Test). Our engines are manufactured based on the class notation, and when delivering our products they are, based on type approval, covered by a single product certificate issued by the classification society. In part two of my article series, I will describe type approval and what it means to our customers.   

I hope you enjoyed reading my blog article about classification. Please contact me if you have any questions, or visit our website. Stay tuned for part two in my article series, where you will find out more about type approval!

This article has 4 comments

  1. Petros Tripolitis Reply

    We are the managers of a 19000DWT motor tanker, equiped with Volvo Penta TAMD162C-C Diesel Generator Engines. Recently, No4 DG engine suffered a serious damage with its block and crankshaft beyond repairs and in need of replacement.

    Unfortunately, due to the age of this model, Volvo Penta is not producing anymore cylinder blocks. We had no other option but to search for a complete engine to replace our damaged one and we were lucky enough to find the best possible replacement which is a TAMD165C – and in very good condition.

    We have repeatedly asked Volvo Penta (both Sweden and local distributor) for this TAMD165C engine’s Certification but nothing received so far. The reply is that Volvo Penta is not keeping any database with engines Certification and despite we have all engine’s particulars and crankshaft’s markings, we are not able to accept the engine without being able to submit some Certificates to vessel’s Lloyds Class.

    Could you please assist?

    • Johan Aspeqvist Reply

      Hi Petros!
      Thank you for your question.
      I will forward this to the responsible person within our organisation and make sure you get contacted right away.


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