Classification Societies

Classification societies are organizations that establish and apply technical standards in relation to the design, construction and survey of marine related facilities including ships and offshore structures. These standards are issued by the classification society as published rules. A vessel that has been designed and built to the appropriate rules of a society may apply for a Certificate of Classification from that society. The society issues this certificate upon completion of relevant classification surveys.

Such a certificate does not imply, and should not be construed as an express warranty of safety, fitness for purpose or seaworthiness of the ship. It is an attestation only that the vessel is in compliance with the standards that have been developed and published by the society issuing the classification certificate.

More than 50 organizations worldwide define their activities as providing marine classification. Ten of those organizations form the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS). It is estimated that these ten societies, together with the one additional society that has been accorded associate status by IACS, collectively class about 94 percent of all shipping tonnage involved in international trade worldwide.

International Association of Classification Societies (IACS) currently consists of 10 member societies and one associate, details of which are listed below. Chairmanship of IACS is on a rotational basis with each member society taking a turn.

ABS (American Bureau of Shipping)
BV (Bureau Veritas)
CCS (China Classification Society)
DNV (Det Norske Veritas)
GL (Germanischer Lloyd)
KR (Korean Register of Shipping)
LR (Lloyd’s Register)
NK (Nippon Kaiji Kyokai (ClassNK))
RINA (Registro Italiano Navale)
RS (Russian Maritime Register)
IRS (Indian Register of Shipping)


Classification is one element within a network of maritime safety partners. Other elements are parties such as the shipowner, the shipbuilder, the flag State, port States, underwriters, shipping financiers and charterers among others.

The role of classification societies has been recognized in the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, (SOLAS) and in the 1988 Protocol to the International Convention on Load Lines. As an independent, self-regulating body, a classification society has no commercial interests related to ship design, ship building, ship ownership, ship operation, ship management, ship maintenance or repairs, insurance or chartering. In establishing its rules, each classification society may draw upon the advice and review of members of the industry who are considered expert in their field.

Classification rules are developed to contribute to the structural strength and integrity of essential parts of the ship’s hull and its appendages, and the reliability and the function of the propulsion and steering systems, power generation and those other features and auxiliary systems which have been built into the ship in order to maintain essential services on board.

Classification rules are not intended as a design code and in fact cannot be used as such. A ship built in accordance with an IACS Member’s rules will be assigned a class designation by the society on satisfactory completion of the relevant surveys. For ships in service, the society carries out surveys to ascertain that the ship remains in compliance with those rules. Should any defects that may affect class become apparent, or damages be sustained between the relevant surveys, the ship owner and operator are required to inform the society concerned without delay.

A ship is maintained in class provided that the relevant rules have, in the opinion of the society concerned, been complied with and surveys carried out in accordance with its rules. Classification societies also maintain significant research departments that contribute towards the on-going development of appropriate, advanced technical standards.

All classification societies publish an annual register and the most well known of these is Lloyd’s Register.