Innovative design solutions: a new approach to rules compliance


Talking about yacht design, it is imperative to include safety in the conversation. And, when looking at the maritime safety, it’s useful to remind the international regulatory framework in place and the new approach to compliance


SOLAS – International Convention of Safety of Life at Sea was adopted in November of 1974 and entered into force in May 1980; its objective is to set the safety standards regarding the construction, equipment and operation of ships, and it can be considered the most important international treaty about shipping safety.

Due to the technical character of the information included, and the fast technological development of the industry, the document has been updated and amended on numerous occasions.

In the Nineties the members of the Maritime Safety Committee realized that “prescriptive-based” regulations were not fit for purpose, and the IMO – International Marine Organization decided that the classical approach was not useful in solving the new needs of the industry. The response to this problem consisted in incorporating a “goal-based philosophy” into the technical regulations. 

The New “Goal-Based Regulations” Approach

In recent years the International Maritime Organization has been working to change the method used to develop the maritime safety norms. More and more authors are starting to consider that the old prescriptive approach is based on the past experiences, thus preventing the advancement of the industry in the adoption of best practices. 

The “goal-based regulations” are effective ways to incentivize innovation in the industry, as the new model does not specify the means of achieving compliance: this fact contributes to enhancing creativity and the development of new technical solutions.

As the opposite of the prescriptive model, the new approach of setting goals allows the introduction of new alternatives to achieve conformity. This perspective also intends to be the foundation for the future international standards for shipping safety.

The difference between approaches
The document titled “International Goal-Based Ship Construction Standards for Bulk Carriers and Oil Tankers”, issued by the IMO Maritime Safety Committee more than 15 years ago, gave a basic example that demonstrates the difference between a “goal based” and “prescriptive” approach:

  • GOAL-BASED FRAMEWORK: informatics and probabilistic methods. “People shall be prevented from falling over the edge of a cliff.”
  • PRESCRIPTIVE FRAMEWORK: empirical information and experience. “You must install a 1m-high rail at the edge of the cliff.”

During design stages, the PRESCRIPTIVE APPROACH will independently consider issues related to fire protection, marine engineering, naval architecture, and other disciplines. Based on the experiences, the designer will propose the enhancing of the mentioned components in isolation from each other: this will be materialized in improvements to the fire protection system, propulsion systems, adjustments and so on.

On the other hand, the GOAL-BASED APPROACH will take into account a specific goal, for instance: “the ship should be designed for improved survivability so that, in the event of an accident, persons can stay safely on board”. This basic change creates a holistic view that integrates all safety related issues. The designer considers the experience in addition to risk-based methodologies.

The example of the Polar code

The Polar Code is a functional, goal-based code. A key objective is to ensure a ship is fit for its intended operation in polar waters; to ensure this, the Code does not provide a one-size-fits-all solution, but it is highly dependent on where, when, and how it will operate in the polar regions and what environmental conditions it will likely encounter while there.

It applies to ships differently depending on how a ship is constructed, how it will be operated in polar waters, and the capabilities that ship will need to carry out its intended operations safely and responsibly.

An “Operational risk assessment” need to be conducted by the Polar Code (Part I-A § 1.5). It is a type of risk assessment that:

  • defines the anticipated range of operating and environmental conditions for the area and season of operations;
  • identifies the relevant hazards associated with the ship’s polar operating profile;
  • identifies the capabilities the ship requires to perform satisfactorily under these conditions;
  • assesses the ship’s design and equipment arrangement against these capabilities;
  • identifies additional technical and operational measures needed to comply with the Polar Code.

Certain key choices will determine which parts of the Polar Code apply to a vessel:

  • operation in ice;
  • operation in low air temperature;
  • operation in high latitude;
  • maximum expected time of rescue.

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