Australian Maritime Safety Authority


Commercial vessels

If you own a vessel in Australia and use it for any commercial activity, you are required to obtain a Certificate of Operation.

Certificate of Operation

A Certificate of Operation defines how an operation is undertaken, where it is undertaken, what vessels it can use and the manning requirements for those vessels.

The Certificate of Operation sets out the need for a Safety Management System.

When do I need to get a Certificate of Operation?

New operations

If you are a new operator, or if your operation did not exist at any time between 30 June 2011 and 30 June 2013, you are required to obtain a Certificate of Operation before starting any operations.

Existing operations

If your operation existed at any time between 30 June 2011 and 30 June 2013, you can continue to operate using your current certificate arrangement until it expires, or until 30 June 2016, whichever comes first.

If your operation does not currently hold a certificate arrangement, you must obtain a Certificate of Operation before 30 June 2016.

If you wish to change your current operations, or change where you operate, you will need to apply for a Certificate of Operation before making these changes.

How do I get a Certificate of Operation?

To obtain a Certificate of Operation, you will need to complete an Application for Certificate of Operation for a Domestic Commercial Vessel.

You can find this on the Forms page.

You need to submit it, along with supporting material, which may include your Safety Management System and vessels’ survey certificates, to a Marine Safety Agency, who will process your application on AMSA’s behalf.

Please note that all fees are set by the Marine Safety Agencies.

Safety Management System

Owners have a duty to ensure the safety of the vessel and its operation.

The owner must implement and maintain a Safety Management System which ensures that the vessel and the operations of the vessel are safe.

What is a Safety Management System?

A Safety Management System (SMS) is the manner in which your company, or you as an individual/sole trader, proactively identify and manage risks and develop a culture of safety in your employees.

The owner of the vessel is responsible for developing, documenting and implementing an SMS.

An SMS should be relevant, practical and effective for your organisation.

It should be tailored to reflect what you do in your operation, on your vessel, and involve the crew, particularly when identifying your risks and developing your procedures.

An SMS may be combined with other administrative and management systems of the vessel, such as:

  • occupational health and safety
  • fisheries
  • food safety
  • quarantine
  • environmental
  • general management.

What is the benefit of having a Safety Management System?

A documented SMS clearly sets out your organisation’s approach to safety.

It promotes clear understanding of the safety system and consistency in its application at all levels of the business.

Importantly, it provides tangible evidence of the precautions you have taken should the sufficiency of your vessel’s safety system be brought into question following an incident or accident.

When is a Safety Management System effective?

A SMS is effective when it successfully identifies hazards and controls risk and is clearly understood by everyone directly involved in or connected with your vessel’s operation.

Clearly understood means that anyone who performs duties, or has responsibilities associated with your vessel’s operations:

  1. understands this duty or responsibility
  2. is equipped with the skills, knowledge and capability necessary to effectively fulfil these duties and responsibilities
  3. can demonstrate these skills, knowledge and capabilities as required for verification of compliance with NSCV Part E.

What additional benefit will I get from a Safety Management System?

An SMS provides a clear and consistent approach to vessel safety management and a foundation for the development of a safety culture.

A safety culture means that there is a commitment at all levels within your organisation to safety.

A safety culture also spreads safety awareness that is present at all times during the performance of daily duties and responsibilities.

When do I need to have a Safety Management System?

These requirements commenced on 1 July 2013.

How do I write a Safety Management System?

As all operations are different, and all vessels, crews and operational areas are different, the SMS needs to take into account the individual circumstances of your operation to ensure that it reflects what you do, in your operation, on your vessel.

To assist you in the development of your SMS, AMSA have developed the following resources:

Below are some sample Safety Management Systems for different types of operations:

Who can review my Safety Management System?

AMSA or your local Marine Safety Agency may assist you to review your SMS and provide information to help you meet your general safety duties under the National Law. To assist in this process, AMSA has developed a SMS Verification Tool.

SMS Verification Tool

As with the development of the SMS, vessel owners, masters and crews should all be involved in the ongoing review and update of the SMS. 

Why is consultation so important in the development of a Safety Management System?

Those who own and especially those who work on board commercial vessels have firsthand knowledge of the hazards and risks associated with their operation.

As such it is important for vessel owners, masters and crew to be involved in all stages of development of an SMS.

Open consultation during the SMS development phase increases knowledge and appreciation of hazards and risks on the vessel or associated with its operation.

This knowledge and appreciation is critical to an informed and consistent approach to the effective management of these hazards and risks.

I’m a commercial or fishing vessel owner and a sole operator, do I need to have an established system to manage the safety of my vessel’s operation?

Yes, under the National Law all commercial vessels must establish a system that provides for the vessel’s safe operation.

However NSCV Part E affords you the flexibility to scale your safety system to suit your particular operations.

What if I have a SMS for my vessel that was put in place to satisfy a previous State or Territory requirement?

Your SMS may need to be updated in accordance with the revised NSCV Part E Operations, in particular ensuring your SMS is supported with:

  • a documented risk assessment
  • appropriate crewing assessment
  • a verification review and evaluation process depending on your service category.

What is the difference between a Safety Management System and risk assessment and management?

Risk assessment and management is an integral part of your SMS development.

It is impossible for a vessel owner, master or crew to ensure the safety of vessel operations if they do not have an appreciation for the hazards or risks associated with that operation.

Put simply, the risk assessment and management process informs the development of your SMS.

What is the International Safety Management Code?

The International Safety Management Code, or ISM Code as it is commonly known, is an internationally recognised standard for safety management on commercial vessels.

I have a Safety Management System that complies with the International Safety Management Code. Does it satisfy the National Law?

The NSCV recognises and accepts ISM Code-compliant safety management systems.

What will happen if my Safety Management is found to be non-complaint with requirements of NSCV Part E?

AMSA’s response will be influenced by the number, nature and severity of any non-conformances that are identified.

Where possible, AMSA’s preferred approach is to work with you to educate and provide guidance with respect to non-compliance. 

Sale or transfer of a vessel and/operation or change of details

If you have sold or transferred ownership of your vessel, or your vessel has been lost or disposed of, complete a Notification of Change of Ownership, which you can find on the Forms page.

Further Information

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