A ship classification society or ship classification organization is a non-governmental organization that establishes and maintains technical standards for the construction and operation of ships and offshore structures. Classification societies certify that the construction of a vessel comply with relevant standards and carry out regular surveys in service to ensure continuing compliance with the standards. Currently, more than 50 organizations describe their activities as including marine classification, twelve of which are members of the International Association of Classification Societies.
IACS ensures that safety is not compromised in a challenging operating environment.
By Robert Ashdown, Secretary General.
IACS Member classification societies collectively boast unrivaled expertise and technical understanding of ships’ structures and the stresses they are subject to and, working in partnership, they continue to set and maintain high standards for commercial shipping through the development of unified technical requirements and the production of other Recommendations and guidance.
To enable effective classification of ships, independent classification societies develop and apply Rules. These are then complemented by the verification of compliance with international and/or national statutory regulations on behalf of flag State Administrations. Classification Rules are subject to a process of continuous refinement, supported by extensive research and development as well as a service experience.
Ship classification itself is defined as the verification of the structural strength and integrity of the essential parts of a ship’s hull and its appendages, as well as the authentication of the reliability and function of its propulsion and steering systems, and power generation, alongside other features and auxiliary systems built into the ship to maintain essential onboard services for safe operation.
IACS Unified Requirements, once agreed by IACS Members, are also transposed into individual Members’ Rules. The vast majority of commercial ships are built to and surveyed for compliance with IACS Members’ Rules. Robust research and data collection underpin today’s classification societies’ activities. Sitting in an enviable position with their involvement through the entire life cycle of ships, classification societies have data from, and direct experience of the design approval process, from new construction – including the certification of materials, equipment, and components – to the surveys of ships in service. This connection enables classification societies to drive research and development, leading to the continuous improvement of classification Rules. This ‘class cycle’ involvement is a key supporting element of the purposes and objectives of IACS.
List of classification societies