Safety Management System (SMS) Inspection Oversight – Summary 2019-2020


Safety management systems (SMS) help companies identify safety risks before they become bigger problems. An SMS is a set of documents that companies use to set safety objectives, and put in place and maintain:

  • safety and environmental-protection policies
  • instructions to make sure the ships operate safely and protect the environment, according to the international conventions and Flag State laws
  • defined levels of authority and lines of communication between, and among, shore and ship personnel
  • procedures for reporting accidents and violations of the ISM Code
  • procedures to prepare for, and respond to, emergencies
  • procedures for internal audits and management reviews

Most vessels on international voyages must use a safety management system that meets the requirements of the International Safety Management (ISM) Code. Government-run ships used for non-commercial purposes, and the companies that operate them, don’t need to meet this rule.

At this time, the Safety Management Regulations apply to three types of vessels:

  • Passenger ships, including high-speed passenger craft
  • Oil tankers, chemical tankers, gas carriers, cargo high-speed craft and bulk carriers of 500 gross tonnage or more
  • Other cargo ships and mobile offshore drilling units of 500 gross tonnage or more

Transport Canada is currently updating the Safety Management Regulations (SMR). Once the changes come into force, the regulations will also apply to all companies that operate Canadian non-Convention vessels (vessels that aren’t covered by the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea [SOLAS]) in addition to all vessels currently covered by Safety Management Regulations.

Canadian operators will be required to use a safety management system to comply with requirements that mirror the International Safety Management (ISM) Code.

Under the Designated Statutory Inspection Program (DSIP) third-party recognized organizations (ROs) inspect vessels to make sure that they meet SMS requirements. Transport Canada does not carry out these inspections. However, the Marine Safety and Security Branch evaluates the performance of recognized organizations to make sure that their inspections follow established practices, processes, and guidelines.

Certification cycle

Any vessel that falls under the Safety Management Regulations must hold a safety management certificate (SMC). The vessel must also be operated by a company that holds a document of compliance (DOC). A recognized organization issues a safety management certificate when it has verified that shipboard management, and its company, are operating according to an approved safety management system that meets the requirements of the ISM Code.

A safety management certificate is valid for five years. On top of the original inspection, there will be one more during the five year period. A document of compliance is also valid for five years, based on yearly inspections.

SMS oversight activities results and statistics for 2019-2020

There are four recognized organizations in Canada that oversee safety management systems, and MSS evaluates their performance using a risk-based method. These evaluations are done to make sure that practices, processes, and guidelines are being used correctly and consistently.

In fiscal year 2019-2020 (1 April 2019 through 31 March 2020), recognized organizations verified 93 safety management systems among 55 vessels and 38 Canadian companies. These included both vessel inspections and inspections of the companies that own them.

In 2019-2020 the Marine Safety and Security Branch audited all four recognized organizations while they verified five safety management certificates and four documents of compliance that involved eight different companies.

Most Common Observations (Trends)

It is not currently possible to determine trends related to safety management systems on vessels. This is because only a small number of Canadian vessel operators must follow the Safety Management Regulations. The Safety Management Regulations should be updated in 2021, and this may offer better opportunities to collect data and see trends over time.