How to develop a safety management system

Safety management systems involve people, vessels and procedures.

The information in a safety management system can be broken into three parts:

Explanation of diagram below

Vessel and operation

  • Contact details
  • Risk assessment
  • Maintenance of vessel and equipment


  • Responsibility and designated person
  • Resources and personnel
  • Appropriate crewing


  • Onboard operations
  • Emergency preparedness
  • Hazardous occurrences and non-conformances
  • Documentation
  • Review and evaluate

Each item should be tailored to reflect the size and complexity of your specific operation, including the risks unique to your vessel and its operation. 

Additional requirements for hire and drive vessels (class 4) can be found in the Guidelines for a safety management system

The information provided on this page and in the sections below is also available in more detail for print or download in the complete Guidelines for a safety management system document.

What do I need in my safety management system?

Vessel and operation

You will need to include:

Contact details

You can start your safety management system by writing down the: 

  • name, address, phone number and email address (if any) of the owner of the vessel 
  • unique identification number for the vessel 
  • type of vessel 
  • area of vessel operation 
  • contact details of a person who may be contacted at any time about the operation of the vessel. You must provide the full legal name of the organisation or person who holds, or will hold, the certificate of operation issued by us. 

Key questions to consider

  • What vessel information will a surveyor or marine safety inspector need to see?

You may need to include a navigational chart or map of your area of operation.

Download Company and vessel details form DOT64 KB.

Risk assessment

Your risk assessment identifies daily tasks, emergency situations and risks to vessel operations that need to be managed for your vessel. 

A risk is anything that may pose a hazard to:

  • people—both on and off the vessel
  • property—the vessel, cargo, or other structures
  • the environment. 

It can also include financial or reputational risks. 

Create a list of the risks specific to your vessel and operation. Then consider what you do to address the risk. 

Your risk assessment must document the procedures of who, what, when and how and kept up to date—within a risk register or similar. 

A copy of the risk assessment should be included in the safety management system and be updated when a risk changes or new risks are identified. 

Example two and three provide samples of a risk assessment tool and a risk matrix. 

Read Risk management in the national system.

Download Risk register DOT45 KB.

Key questions to consider

  • What training will be conducted for risk assessment? 
  • Who will conduct the risk assessment? 
  • Where will any new risks be recorded—for example in the vessel log book or diary? Who will record this? What happens next? 
  • What will you do with any risks that can’t be eliminated? 
  • What PPE do you supply for your crew for the various conditions they are likely to face in your operation? 
  • When should crew wear this PPE?
Maintenance of vessel and equipment 

You must have documentation and records of regular planned inspection periods and maintenance activities that are appropriate for the vessel, its machinery and its equipment, including safety equipment. 

Your maintenance procedure will depend on the complexity of the vessel’s maintenance needs and may take the form of: 

  • A spreadsheet that includes the maintenance items, service frequency, maintenance conducted and the results.
  • Procedural forms, which include reporting sections and responsible persons.
  • A breakdown or unscheduled maintenance reporting.
  • A computerised planned maintenance system.
  • A log book entry recording.

Download planned inspection and maintenance program DOT93.5 KB.

Your maintenance procedure should include: 

  • How the vessel must be inspected to make sure its machinery and its equipment complies with the maintenance and operation requirements that apply to it.
  • How you will record details of each inspection and correcting each deficiency identified by an inspection.
  • Who will conduct each inspection—this should be the person who has overall general control and management of the vessel.
  • How the vessel will be serviced taking into account the manufacturer’s specifications and requirements.
  • How maintenance will comply with industry and regulations.

Key questions to consider

  • What are the key equipment and spares that need to be maintained?
  • What does the manufacturer recommend?
  • What electrical standards and requirements apply?
  • Have you included residual current devices in the schedule?
  • Are the equipment manuals on board?
  • Who is trained to do the maintenance?
  • What are the settings or expectations when you do the maintenance on the main engine?
  • What safety equipment needs to be maintained?
  • What equipment requires input from the manufacturer?
  • What parts of the regulations require maintenance to be done?


You will need to include:

Responsibility and authority statement

In your safety management system, you must clearly document the responsibilities of: 

  • the owner 
  • the master 
  • a person who has authority to act on the owner or master’s behalf.

The owner

Write a statement confirming the name and responsibilities of the owner or a person who has authority to act on their behalf. Describe the relationship and lines of formal communication between the master, the vessel’s crew and company onshore staff who are responsible for the operation. 

This may take the form of: 

  • an organisational chart 
  • a clear statement within the safety management system 
  • position descriptions

Key questions to consider

  • Describe here who is in charge of the operation of the vessel. Who makes the decisions for the operation and for the vessel when it is at sea?
  • Who decides if the vessel goes out today?
  • Who gives briefings?
  • Who conducts training?
  • Who is responsible for conducting reviews of the operation plan, maintenance plan, survey plan and risk register?
  • Has the owner given full authority for the operation of the vessel to the master?
  • Can the engineer order spares without the owner’s approval?

The master

Write a statement confirming the name of the masters and their responsibilities for the vessel and its operations. This could be a position description or duty statement. 

This may include such responsibilities for: 

  • investigating risks and implementing controls 
  • implementing and complying with the safety management system
  • maintenance of the vessel, its safety equipment and machinery 
  • commercial operations 
  • delivery of crew training, familiarisation and inductions 
  • maintaining the vessel’s documentation 
  • command of the vessel and its safe operation 
  • compliance to regulations. 

The designated person 

Is the designated person:

  • Responsible for monitoring the safety of the vessel and operations?
  • Responsible for making sure that appropriate resources and shore support is provided?
  • Acting as the owner or master or another person?

If they are another person, document a statement that confirms who they are, who is responsible for the safety management system and its support, and whether it is the owner, master or a separate position.

Download Guidelines for a safety management system. Appendix D and E provide an example of a master duty statement.

Resources and personnel—applies only to Class 1, 2 and 3 vessels

Your crew 

You must make sure that you have the appropriate crew to safely operate your vessel. The owner must take into consideration: 

  • tasks or activities of the vessel and any particular demands these place on the master and crew, in addition to the safe navigation of the vessel 
  • number of people to be carried on the vessel 
  • design characteristics of the vessel, including its general arrangements, machinery and equipment 
  • competency required for the use of technological aids to safety and navigation fitted in addition to the mandatory requirements 
  • area of operation of the vessel and expected conditions (for example weather, climate and water temperatures) 
  • duration of the voyage 
  • risk of fatigue of the master and crew—refer to fatigue guidance
  • vessel’s emergency preparedness, including the vessel’s emergency plan and evacuation arrangements 
  • maintenance requirements of the vessel, its machinery and its equipment 
  • risks to the environment and all persons who will be on or near the vessel 
  • qualifications and competencies of the master and crew, including circumstances where only the master holds mandated engineering qualifications (dual certification) 
  • external support available to the vessel 
  • requirements of key on board operations. 

The owner must record that they have completed this evaluation in the safety management system including reasons why it was conducted that way. You must determine and record the final appropriate crewing for each kind of operation of the vessel.

Read Crewing guidance for domestic commercial vessels.

Read Managing crew fatigue.

Crew qualifications 

In your safety management system, you must keep a record of each crew member’s qualifications, induction, training, attended drills and duties. Document the records of any training for the master and crew, including the signed acknowledgement by the person who undertook the training, covering: 

  • induction and familiarisation safety training as soon as possible when joining a vessel 
  • competence and safety training in key on board operations 
  • training in emergency procedures, including using the vessel's life-saving equipment. 

The owner must make sure that appropriately skilled people deliver training to all crew, so they are fully aware and competent to safely perform their duties in relation to key on board operations and emergency plans.

Download Training and staff qualifications record.

Key questions to consider

  • What is the minimum certificate of competency a master needs to hold to operate your vessel?
  • What qualifications do you require your crew to hold?
  • Is crewing appropriate for each kind of on board operation? (see appropriate crewing guidance)
  • Are crewing qualifications for key operational requirements being met?
  • How will you keep track of your master and crew qualifications (Certificates of competency)?
  • Where will you record those qualifications?
  • How will you keep track of the Certificate of competency expiry dates?
  • Is induction and familiarisation training for crew conducted in relation to duties, key operations and emergency procedures?
  • Is a crew list available, as required?
  • Describe what induction training and familiarisation you expect a new master or crewmember to complete before they take your vessel to sea.
  • Who will conduct the training of the new master and crewmember?
  • Who will assess them and complete the final sign-off once the training is completed?
  • How often will your crew be required to conduct emergency drills? For example, at intervals not exceeding 6 months for each drill. These drills should test procedures and confirm the crew's competence and ability to respond rapidly and effectively in an emergency.
  • How will you record your crew drills, training and refresher training?
  • How will you ensure records of training are kept for 5 years?
Training and Drills

Obligations and considerations for owners

Vessel owners need to make sure qualified and competent people train all masters and crew to work safely during key onboard operations and emergency situations.

Key things to consider:

  • Is induction and familiarisation training for masters and crew conducted in relation to duties, key operations and emergency procedures?
  • How will you check the competency and ability of masters and crew to undertake their duties, key operations and emergency procedures?
  • Who will conduct the training and sign them off as competent?
  • How often will masters and crew need to conduct training and drills?

What is induction training?

Induction training is for new masters and crew who join a vessel. It covers safety training, key onboard operations and emergency procedures.

Just because someone may have many years of experience, don’t assume that they know your vessel or operations.

This training needs to occur as soon as practical. Ideally before the vessel leaves port or within the first day (where possible) of the person joining the vessel.

What about training in emergency procedures?

Training and drills in emergency procedures need to cover off all the elements of your emergency response plan. This includes mandatory requirements such as fire, collision, person overboard and master incapacitated.

This also needs to include training to use the vessel’s life-saving equipment such as life rafts, EPIRBs and lifejackets.

The owner needs to determine how often the training and drills take place.

These should happen often enough to:

  • test onboard procedures
  • check the competence of masters and crew to respond quickly and effectively in an emergency.

How do I record that training has been undertaken?

Within your safety management system, you must keep a record of each crew member’s induction training, familiarisation training and emergency drill participation.

This record needs to include:

  • Name of any person participating
  • Signature of participants (this can be an electronic signature)
  • Description of the training (e.g., induction, person overboard drill, use of life raft etc.)
  • Date training occurred

These records need to be kept for at least 5 years.

How do I record electronic signatures?

Participants can use a physical or electronic signature.

For electronic signatures, owners should ensure that:

  • The electronic signature clearly identifies the participant and confirms that the participant agrees with the contents of the record entry (this may be achieved when the electronic signature is accompanied by a person’s name and the date).
  • The method used to sign must be reliable and appropriate. The onus remains on the owner to prove that a participant has signed the record.

Electronic signatures may take various forms and some acceptable examples include: 

  • Using a digital signature (a type of electronic signature that uses encryption).
  • Signing an electronic document on a smartphone, tablet or laptop using a stylus or finger.
  • Scanning and inserting (pasting) a physical signature into an electronic document typing a name in an electronic format.

Training and induction – what to consider

Include training and inductions in your vessel’s risk assessment and your vessel’s safety management system, then log these activities after you have done them.

  • Do you provide training and inductions for new masters and crew?

→ Does this happen as soon as practical after they join the vessel?

  • Do you provide familiarisation training for masters and crew on key onboard procedures like fishing, towing or cargo work?

→ How often do you ensure you do this?
→ How do you ensure they are competent to undertake their duties safely?

  • Does your training include drills for all emergency procedures, including master incapacitated and collisions?
  • Does your training include the use of life-saving equipment like liferafts, lifejackets, EPIRBs and flares?
  • Do you log details of training activities like who participated, what training they did, when it occurred, etc?

→ Did they sign-off on this log? Either on paper or electronically?
→ Did you know this record needs to be kept for 5 years?


Review your risk assessment every 12 months and following any incidents.

Download and print our Train. Drill. Log. Repeat. checklist PDF178.31 KB


You will need to include:

Procedures for onboard operations 

Key onboard operations need to have documented procedures, including how they are reviewed when conditions change. 

Key onboard operations may include: 

  • Tasks connected to the particular vessel's type and which may affect safety and pollution prevention.
  • Tasks which the operator considers risky if not appropriately controlled.
  • Tasks where safe practices and safe working environments have been recommended by AMSA and other relevant marine industry bodies.
  • Other operations prescribed in mandatory rules and regulations.

Key onboard operations must include the controls and management process identified in the risk assessment to demonstrate they are carried out safely. These procedures must be part of the safety management system and kept on board for Class 1, 2 and 3 vessels. For Class 4 vessels, this needs to be stored in a practical location. 

The procedures can include the following: 

  • passenger briefings and inductions—mandatory for Class 1, 2 and 3 only
  • radio watch—mandatory for Class 1, 2 and 3 only 
  • checklists 
  • references to industry codes of practice 
  • pre-checks 
  • standard operating procedures 
  • simple procedural statements.

Download Guidelines for a safety management system:

  • Appendix H provides an example of the standard operating procedures. 
  • Appendix I provides an example of the passenger safety briefing. 
  • Appendix J provides an example of the small boat pre-departure checklist.

Key questions to consider

  • Do you need to define a 'key' operation?
  • What level of documentation do you need, if any?
  • What do you expect from your master and crew for each procedure?
  • How rough does the sea have to be before operations will be stopped?
  • What will the crew be told in each procedure, for example health and safety issues, PPE to be worn, procedure steps, procedural outcomes?
  • Are all visitors required to sign in?

For passengers vessels:

  • Where will passengers board and disembark?
  • What will be completed before passengers are permitted to embark or disembark the vessel?
  • How will passengers be briefed?
  • How will you brief non-English speaking passengers?
  • When and where will the briefing take place, for example on the wharf or jetty before departure, on the vessel before or during departure?
  • How will passengers be monitored?
Emergency preparedness 

A documented emergency plan must be developed, reviewed and maintained on board your vessel.  
Passenger vessel plans need to include passenger emergency management, including assembly  
points, lifejacket instructions, recording of numbers and briefings, as well as making safety information available to passengers. 

Read Emergency procedures flipchart.

The emergency plan may include: 

  • vessel plan showing emergency details, exits and muster points 
  • drawings of a fire plan or emergency plan 
  • individual emergency plans 
  • flow charts 
  • flip charts.

The emergency plan must include the following events for all vessels—when applicable: 

  • fire 
  • a person overboard 
  • a personal injury or other medical emergency 
  • master incapacitated 
  • loss of steering 
  • vessel collision 
  • vessel grounding 
  • vessel flooding 
  • adverse weather or water conditions 
  • any other circumstance identified by the risk assessment that may require an emergency response.

Key questions to consider

  • Are emergency plans developed and documented?
  • Are assembly stations designated?
  • Are passengers provided with all the relevant emergency information?
  • Are the emergency plans on board known and understood by the crew?
  • What are the emergency contact numbers for the authorities including harbour master and AMSA Response Centre?
  • What are the radio distress procedures?
  • When are drills carried out to practice the emergency plan?
  • How do I record all crew and passengers are present in an emergency?
Hazardous occurrences and non-conformances 

Near misses, non-conformances and incidents must be reported and investigated. Customer complaints should also be recorded and investigated. 

Read incident reporting.

Key questions to consider

  • How will marine incidents be notified to AMSA?
  • What is the policy for reporting and recording any incidents where harmful substances are discharged into the marine environment?
  • Do I have the necessary forms available on board for reporting marine incidents?
  • Who has the responsibilities of filling out the form?
  • Do all crew understand what a marine incident is?

Download Guidelines for a safety management system. Example 6 and 7 (page 30) provide samples of how to record an incident.

Documentation—applies only to Class 1, 2 and 3 vessels

The owner can:

  • maintain written records about the operation of the vessel
  • write a statement confirming you keep records related to the operation of the vessel in your safety management system. 

The owner must maintain an applicable log book, passenger record and crew list that is kept for a minimum of five years. The log book is an official document so it must not be damaged destroyed or deliberately withheld from a marine safety inspector and is not to include an illegible, false or fake entry. 

You should create a procedure for how you will manage log books, crew lists and passenger records.

Key questions to consider:

  • Who will complete the trip reports?
  • Do we enter hourly/daily/trip details into the log book?
  • When will they be lodged?
  • Who will be contacted?
  • Where will trip reports be recorded?
  • What happens if the vessel does not arrive at the expected time or misses a planned radio contact?
  • Who will report the vessel overdue or missing and after what period will that call be made?
  • Do I have up to date crew records, including next of kin?
  • How do I accurately conduct a passenger head count?
  • How often will I do a passenger head count?


The logbook must include all: 

  • Illnesses or injuries of persons on board.
  • Marine incidents, other incidents or accidents involving the vessel or its equipment.
  • Assistance rendered to another vessel.
  • Unusual occurrence or incident.
  • Communications messages sent or received for an emergency.
  • Operations of the vessel for recreational purposes.

The logbook may include any details that the master considers relevant about the vessel for its key activities including: 
•    position 
•    navigation track 
•    general summary of the weather it has experienced.

Download vessel log book.

Purchase a copy of our official logbook AMSA 361 and other log book types online or at your local AMSA office.

Passenger list 

You are required to complete a head count, and for voyages longer than 12 hours, a passenger record. 

The record must have the following: 

  • name of the vessel
  • identification number for the vessel
  • voyage details
  • medical or safety requirements of particular passengers—if required in an emergency
  • name, phone number and address—local and home if a person has both—of all passengers.

Download passenger record.

Crew list 

The crew list must include the following information: 

  • name of the vessel 
  • identification number of the vessel 
  • name, address, phone number and any email addresses of the owner of the vessel and employer of the crew
  • name, home address, phone number and any email addresses of each crew member 
  • name, address and phone number of each crew member’s next of kin 
  • the capacity in which each crew member is employed 
  • each certificate of competency or other certificate held by a crew member that is required by a standard prescribed under Marine Order 505 (Certificates of competency — national law) 2013 
  • the date each crew member joined and left the vessel. 

Download crew details form

Review and evaluate 

You must document how you will regularly review your safety management system and record any revisions. 

You must review your safety management system at least every 12 months. You must record the results and actions from the review. 

The record must include: 

  • the signature or initials of the person making the record of the change 
  • a reference to the part of the document or record changed 
  • document reference number 
  • the date of the change.

Key questions to consider

  • When will reviews be completed for example annually and/or following any accidents, incidents or notifiable events?
  • Who will conduct the reviews?
  • How will they be done and where will the findings from the reviews be
  • Recorded, for example record sheet, diary?
  • Who actions the results of the review?

A simple spreadsheet with the above-stated items may be sufficient to meet compliance.

Download Guidelines for a safety management system. Example 8 (page 40) provides a sample of a revisions and annual review ledger.

Last updated: 1 November 2023