ISM Code in Brief – Quick Reference Guide for Ship Officers

ISM Key Elements

(ISM) – International Safety Management Code.

  1. The ISM Code is an International Standard for the Safe Management and Operation of Ships and for pollution prevention.
  2. Adopted by the IMO & came in force through SOLAS Ch IX “Management for the safe operation of Ships”
  3. Mandatory for all passenger ships and other vessels of 500 GT and above.
  4. It requires companies to have SMS (Safety Management System) which contains a straight forward procedure, standards and instructions for ship and company office ashore.

Objective of ISM: (Life + Property + Environment)

It ensures that Seafarers working onboard ships are safe, Damage to property and Pollution to the environment is avoided.

What is the Vision/Purpose/Principle of ISM Code?

  1. It set a minimum international standard required for the safe management and operation of ships and pollution prevention. (In other words – Culture of self-regulation of safety and pollution prevention in shipping)
  2. It’s a Guideline upon which a company develops its own “Safety Management System”.

Safety Management System(SMS): 

SMS contains Procedures, Instructions, Audit, Reporting and Review system.

  1. Simple instructions on what job is to be done
  2. How the job will be carried out
  3. How we will audit our SMS
  4. How the reporting will be done
  5. How we will review our SMS
[PMS] Planned Maintenance System in SMS

PMS gives complete information on all the jobs required to be carried out as per the regulations.


What is Document of Compliance (DOC)?

  1. A certificate issued to the company by the Class or flag state who comply with the ISM code, (*Class can issue the DOC if allowed by the Flag State).
  2. Initially, an Interim DOC is issued for 12 months and later a DOC validity not exceeding 5 years subject to annual verification within 3 months before or after the anniversary date. (ISM code 13.2 & 13.4, page 21)
  3. ISM requires any company whose ships are on an international voyage to have a DOC.

What is a Safety Management Certificate (SMC)?
A certificate issued to a ship who implemented the SMS provided by the company. Initially, Interim SMC is issued for 6 months and later issues the SMC which is valid for five years with one intermediate verification.

Interim DOC12 Months1) Issued to a new established company. 2) Vessel change of flag. 3) A company took over a vessel of different flag whose DOC is not with the company.
If a company have vessels of five different flag, they need DOC from Each Flag state.
DOCMax 5 Years Subject to annual verification within 3 months before or after the anniversary date.
Interim SMC (Issued to Ship)6 Months1) Internal Audit after Three months of SMS implement. 2) Issued to new company. 3) Issued to New ship in company. 4) Vessel change of flag
SMCMax 5 YearsValid for maximum 5 years with 1 intermediate verification

(The issue of a DOC and SMC will be preceded by an external audit of the Safety Management System.)

Major Non-conformity: [Disaster can happen any time]

A serious threat to the safety of personnel, ship or to the environment which requires immediate corrective action by the vessel and the company ashore. Failure of effective and systematic implementation of ISM code.


  1. Marpol Equipment failure
  2. LSA deficiency
  3. Structural Damage
  4. Invalid Certificates or Documents
  5. Emergency Generator/Lifeboat engine cannot start
  6. Missing Oil Record Book

Read more on Major Non-Conformity Explained in Details


Designated Person Ashore (DPA): (its ISM requirement to have DPA)

  1. Link between the company, its management and ship for fast response in an emergency
  2. Responsible to keep SMS up-to-date with the latest regulations for the smooth operation of a ship
  3. Contact details posted in the Smoking Mess room, so each crew has his contact details.

Masters Responsibility:

To Implement, Motivate, and review the SMS onboard.

What is the role of the Safety Officer?

  1. Ensure a safe working culture
  2. Carry out safety meetings
  3. Investigate Near Misses
  4. Incidents and Accidents
  5. Risk Assessments
  6. Workplace Inspections (every 3 months)

Important External Links:

  1. Example of Foreign flagged ships detained by MCA with deficiency list.

This post was to give you a brief introduction on ISM and its content, What as a seafarer you must know about.

ISM related Orals Questions:

  1. What is the ISM code? Tell me about the ISM code?
  2. Which SOLAS Chapter deal with ISM?
  3. What is DOC, SMC, DPA, NC in ISM?
  4. What are the objectives of the ISM code?
  5. What are the principles of ISM?
  6. How does ISM help you as an officer onboard?
  7. what certificates required by ship?
  8. Cert to carry onboard ship and with a company? What certificates are required under SMS?
  9. The validity of Certificates?
  10. Where would you find information on how to conduct a Navigational Watch?
  11. SMS regarding 3rd Officer? How does it affect 3/0?
  12. How ISM was implemented on your last ship?
  13. How do companies implement it?
  14. You have joined the ship as a 3rd officer, how do you consult ISM?
  15. What are the SIX important points of ISM?
  16. What has to be in an SMS?
  17. What is PMS? What information do you get in PMS?