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General safety duties for domestic commercial vessels

A guide for domestic commercial vessels

General safety duties apply to everyone working on, travelling on, designing, building, or servicing domestic commercial vessels, including those under grandfathering arrangements. They are a legal requirement under the national law. 

General safety duties are in place to: 

General safety duty roles

Key to roles used in table: 

Safety duties


Provide and maintain the vessel so that it is safe.O
Provide information, instruction, training or supervision to people on board the vessel as necessary to ensure their safety.O
Implement and maintain a safety management system (SMS) that ensures that the vessel and its operations are safe.O
Do not operate, or cause the vessel to be operated, if it is an unsafe vessel.O, M
Ensure the safety of the vessel, people, marine safety equipment, and the operation of the vessel.O, M
Do not prevent or restrict the master of the vessel from making or implementing a decision that, in the professional opinion of the master, is necessary for the safety of a person or the vessel.O, C, P, G
Implement and comply with the SMS for the vessel and its operations.M
Take reasonable care for the safety of persons who may be affected by their acts or omissions.M, C, G
Take reasonable care for own safety.M, C, P, G
Do not unreasonably place the safety of another person at risk.M, C, P, G
Do not interfere with or misuse any safety equipment provided on the vessel.M, C, P
Comply with reasonable and lawful directions (of the master and crew).C, P
Do not do an act, or omit to do an act that may cause the loss, destruction of or serious damage to a vessel.G
Take actions to prevent loss of, destruction of, or serious damage to, a vessel.G

If you design, commission, construct, manufacture, supply, maintain, repair or modify a domestic commercial vessel or marine safety equipment, you have a duty to ensure it is safe when used for its intended purpose, including:

  • carrying out (or arranging) testing to confirm that the vessel or the marine safety equipment is safe when used for its intended purpose
  • making sure there is adequate information available about the testing that has been carried out, including information on any conditions necessary to ensure the vessel or equipment is safe.

Benefits of following the general safety duties

In addition to meeting your legal obligations, the benefits of fulfilling your safety duties include:

Safety management systems

One of the key general safety duties of the vessel owner is to implement and maintain a safety management system (also referred to as an SMS). A master is required to implement and comply with a SMS. All domestic commercial vessels must have a SMS – even those exempt from the certificate of operation. 

The SMS must address the specific risks and conditions for your vessel, its operations, area of operation and crew. 

When preparing or reviewing the SMS risk assessment, owners must consult with the master and crew of the vessel. This encourages everyone to think about their specific role in ensuring the safety of the vessel and its operations. 

Read more about safety management systems.

Verifying your compliance with the general safety duties

We can ask you to show evidence that you are complying with the general safety duties at any time. This may be: 

You may be asked to demonstrate that you have thought about the risks and hazards in your operation and taken steps to eliminate or minimise these. Your SMS will be useful in demonstrating that you are complying with your general safety duties.

This page replaces advisory note DCV-A-029, dated 1 October 2015.

Last updated: 1 August 2023