A pool with wave simulation at a training facility in Amsterdam.

Safety of Life at Sea


The first version of the SOLAS convention was globally adopted in 1914 as a response to the Titanic disaster. The fifth and current version was written in 1974, but has been amended numerous times since then. It is considered the most important of all international treaties for the safety of merchant vessels.

The main objective of the SOLAS Convention is to specify minimum standards for the construction, equipment and operation of ships, compatible with their safety. Flag States are responsible for ensuring that ships under their flag comply with its requirements, and a number of certificates are prescribed in the Convention as proof that this has been done. Control provisions also allow Contracting Governments to inspect ships of other Contracting States if there are clear grounds for believing that the ship and its equipment do not substantially comply with the requirements of the Convention - this procedure is known as port State control. The current SOLAS Convention includes Articles setting out general obligations, amendment procedure and so on, followed by an Annex divided into 14 Chapters.

    How can the Panamanian government possibly enforce the compliancy of over eight thousand vessels, located around the world? The Panamanian Registry accounts for nearly a quarter of the world’s ocean-going tonnage. Most of the ships on the Panamanian Registry are transporting goods, but it’s also the largest 
    Often, crew members can find large binder-sized copies of the convention in the crew mess and recreation areas, but it’s unlikely they’ll pick it up to read unless they believe certain rules have already been violated.


A dummy is staged for an emergency medical drill next to the crew office on the Queen Mary 2.


A cardboard cut-out of an officer diverting crew to the alternate corridor during embark/turnaround day.


An informational poster on the dangers of ballast water invasions.

Some Sea-faring Acronyms I Was Told to Learn

IMO: International Maritime Organization
SOLAS: Safety of Life at Sea
HESS: Health, Environment, Safety, Security
ERP: Environmental Response Plan
IPM: In-Port Manning
GES: General Emergency Signal
SEA: Seafarer’s Employment Agreement
USCG: United States Coast Guard
ECR: Engine Control Room
ISO: International Standards Organization



The Engine Control Room (ECR) on a standard Vista-class vessel.

Workers examine the underside of a ship in dry-dock in Namibia.