Classification society

Classification society

A classification society is a non-governmental organization that establishes and maintains technical standards for the construction and operation of ships and offshore structures. The society will also validate that construction is according to these standards and carry out regular surveys in service to ensure compliance with the standards.

To avoid liability, they explicitly take no responsibility for the safety, fitness for purpose, or seaworthiness of the ship.[1][2]



Classification societies set technical rules, confirm that designs and calculations meet these rules, survey ships and structures during the process of construction and commissioning, and periodically survey vessels to ensure that they continue to meet the rules. Classification societies are also responsible for classing oil platforms, other offshore structures, and submarines. This survey process covers diesel engines, important shipboard pumps and other vital machinery.

Classification surveyors inspect ships to make sure that the ship, its components and machinery are built and maintained according to the standards required for their class


In the second half of the 18th century, London merchants, shipowners, and captains often gathered at Edward Lloyds’ coffee house to gossip and make deals including sharing the risks and rewards of individual voyages. This became known as underwriting after the practice of signing one's name to the bottom of a document pledging to make good a portion of the losses if the ship didn’t make it in return for a portion of the profits. It did not take long to realize that the underwriters needed a way of assessing the quality of the ships that they were being asked to insure. In 1760, the Register Society was formed — the first classification society and which would subsequently become Lloyd's Register — to publish an annual register of ships. This publication attempted to classify the condition of the ship’s hull and equipment. At that time, an attempt was made to classify the condition of each ship on an annual basis. The condition of the hull was classified A, E, I, O or U, according to the state of its construction and its adjudged continuing soundness (or lack thereof). Equipment was G, M, or B: simply, good, middling or bad. In time, G, M and B were replaced by 1, 2 and 3, which is the origin of the well-known expression 'A1', meaning 'first or highest class'. The purpose of this system was not to assess safety, fitness for purpose or seaworthiness of the ship. It was to evaluate risk.

Samuel Plimsoll pointed out the obvious downside of insurance:

The ability of shipowners to insure themselves against the risks they take not only with their property, but with other peoples’ lives, is itself the greatest threat to the safe operation of ships.[3]

The first edition of the Register of Ships was published by Lloyd's Register in 1764 and was for use in the years 1764 to 1766.

Bureau Veritas (BV) was founded in Antwerp in 1828, moving to Paris in 1832. Lloyd's Register reconstituted in 1834 to become 'Lloyd's Register of British and Foreign Shipping'. Where previously surveys had been undertaken by retired sea captains, from this time surveyors started to be employed and Lloyd's Register formed a General Committee for the running of the Society and for the Rules regarding ship construction and maintenance, which began to be published from this time.

In 1834, the Register Society published the first Rules for the survey and classification of vessels, and changed its name to Lloyds Register of Shipping. A full time bureaucracy of surveyors (inspectors) and support people was put in place. Similar developments were taking place in the other major maritime nations.

Adoption of common rules for ship construction by Norwegian insurance societies in the late 1850s led to the establishment of Det Norske Veritas (DNV) in 1864. Then after RINA was founded in Genoa, Italy in 1861 under the name Registro Italiano, to meet the needs of Italian maritime operators. Six years later Germanischer Lloyd (GL) was formed in 1867 and Nippon Kaiji Kyokai (ClassNK) in 1899. The Russian Maritime Register of Shipping (RS) was an early offshoot of the River Register of 1913.

As the classification profession evolved, the practice of assigning different classifications has been superseded, with some exceptions. Today a ship either meets the relevant class society’s rules or it does not. As a consequence it is either 'in' or 'out' of 'class'. Classification societies do not issue statements or certifications that a vessel is 'fit to sail' or 'unfit to sail', merely that the vessel is in compliance with the required codes. This is in part related to legal liability of the classification society.

However, each of the classification societies has developed a series of notations that may be granted to a vessel to indicate that it is in compliance with some additional criteria that may be either specific to that vessel type or that are in excess of the standard classification requirements. See Ice class as an example.

Flags of convenience

The advent of open registers, or flags of convenience, has led to competition between classification societies and to a relaxation of their standards.

The first open register was Panama in 1916. Fear for political instability and high and excessive consular fees led the president of Liberia, William Tubman, in 1948 to start an open register with the help of Edward Stettinius, Jr.. The World Peace of Stavros Niarchos was the first ship in that register. In 1967 Liberia passed the United Kingdom as the largest register. Nowadays, Panama, currently the largest register, and Liberia have one third of the world fleet under their flag.

Flags of convenience have lower standards for vessel, equipment, and crew than traditional maritime countries and often have classification societies certify and inspect the vessels in their registry, instead of by their own shipping authority. This made it attractive for ship owners to change flag, whereby the ship lost the economic link and the country of registry. With this, also the link between classification society and traditional maritime country became less obvious - for instance Lloyd's with the United Kingdom and ABS with the United States. This made it easier to change class and introduced a new phenomenon; class hopping. A ship owner that is dissatisfied with class can change to a different class relatively easily. This has led to more competition between classes and a relaxation of the standards. In July of 1960, Lloyds Register published a new set of rules. Not only were scantlings relaxed, but the restrictions on tank size were just about eliminated. The other classification Societies quickly followed suit.[4] This has led to the shipping industry losing confidence in the classification societies, and also to similar concerns by the European Commission.[5]

To counteract class hopping, the IACS has established TOCA (Transfer Of Class Agreement).

In 1978, a number of European countries agreed in The Hague on memorandum that agreed to audit whether the labour conditions on board vessels were according the rules of the ILO. After the Amoco Cadiz sank that year, it was decided to also audit on safety and pollution. To this end, in 1982 the Paris Memorandum of Understanding (Paris MoU) was agreed upon, establishing Port State Control, nowadays 24 European countries and Canada. In practice, this was a reaction on the failure of the flag states - especially flags of convenience that have delegated their task to classification societies - to comply with their inspection duties.


Today there are a number of classification societies, the largest of which are Det Norske Veritas, Lloyd's Register, Bureau Veritas and the American Bureau of Shipping.

Classification societies employ ship surveyors, material engineers, piping engineers, mechanical engineers, chemical engineers and electrical engineers, often located at ports and office buildings around the world.

Marine vessels and structures are classified according to the soundness of their structure and design for the purpose of the vessel. The classification rules are designed to ensure an acceptable degree of stability, safety, environmental impact, etc.

In particular, classification societies may be authorised to inspect ships, oil rigs, submarines, and other marine structures and issue certificates on behalf of the state under whose flag the ships are registered.

As well as providing classification and certification services, the larger societies also conduct research at their own research facilities in order to improve the effectiveness of their rules and to investigate the safety of new innovations in shipbuilding.

There are more than 50 marine classification organizations worldwide, some of which are listed below.

List of classification societies

Name Abbreviation Date Head office IACS member?
Lloyd's Register of Shipping LR 1760 London [6] Yes
Bureau Veritas BV 1828 Paris Yes
Registro Italiano Navale RINA 1861 Genoa Yes
American Bureau of Shipping ABS 1862 Houston Yes
Det Norske Veritas DNV 1864 Oslo Yes
Germanischer Lloyd GL 1867 Hamburg Yes
Nippon Kaiji Kyokai NKK 1899 Tokyo Yes
Russian Maritime Register of Shipping
(Российский морской регистр судоходства)
RS 1913 Saint Petersburg Yes
Hellenic Register of Shipping HR 1919 Piraeus No
Polish Register of Shipping PRS 1936 Gdansk Yes
Croatian Register of Shipping CRS 1949 Split Yes
China Corporation Register of Shipping CR 1951 Taipei No
China Classification Society CCS 1956 Beijing Yes
Korean Register of Shipping KR 1960 Daejeon Yes
Turk Loydu TL 1962 Istanbul No
Biro Klasifikasi Indonesia BKI 1964 Jakarta No
Registo Internacional Naval[7] RINAVE 1973 Lisbon No
Indian Register of Shipping IRS 1975 Mumbai Yes
International Naval Surveys Bureau INSB 1977 Piraeus No
Asia Classification Society ACS 1980 Tehran No
Brazilian Register of Shipping RBNA 1982 Rio de Janeiro No
International Register of Shipping IROS 1993 Miami No
Ships Classification Malaysia SCM 1994 Shah Alam No
Isthmus Bureau of Shipping IBS 1995 Panama No
Dromon Bureau of Shipping DBS 2003 Limassol No
Intermaritime Certification Services ICS Class 2005 Panama No
Iranian Classification Society ICS 2007 Tehran No

See also


  1. ^ Such a certificate does not imply, and should not be construed as an express warranty of safety, fitness for purpose or seaworthiness of the ship. It is an attestation only that the vessel is in compliance with the standards that have been developed and published by the society issuing the classification certificate. IACS, What are classification societies?, p. 2
  2. ^ Put simply, the purpose of the classification certificate is not to guarantee safety, but merely to permit Sundance to take advantage of the insurance rates available to a classed vessel. The Sundancer (7 F.301 1077) per George C Pratt, Circuit Judge
  3. ^ Jack Devanney (2006): The Tankship Tromedy, The Impending Disasters in Tankers, CTX Press, Tavernier, Florida, ISBN 0-9776479-0-0, p. 9-11
  4. ^ Jack Devanney (2006): The Tankship Tromedy, The Impending Disasters in Tankers, CTX Press, Tavernier, Florida, ISBN 0-9776479-0-0, p. 21-23
  5. ^ The Commission shares the concerns often expressed in various sectors of the maritime industry that the performance of classification societies does not always meet the standards required. COM(2000) 142 final, Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on the Safety of the Seaborne Oil Trade, p. 19
    However, largely due to the commercial pressure exercised on the classification societies, and to the growing number of organisations operating in the field without having sufficient expertise and professionalism, the confidence of the shipping community in these organisations has declined in the recent decades. p. 23
  6. ^ LR plans to move its head office to Southampton in 2011
  7. ^ Since 2004 in Bureau Veritas

External links

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