When working at sea, the hazards and risks posed are specific to this unique environment. And whether you’re operating as an owner, coordinating a fleet of ships or working with fishing vessels, it is important to understand the current regulations in place. This guide will fake a look at the current navigation safety set out for UK seafarers, designed to keep you and your employees safe at all times.

Many of the regulations and regulatory bodies that we will discuss here cover international shipping while others are specific to different regions. Understanding which applies to you will ensure every journey is taken in full accordance with the law.


The Maritime and Coastguard Agency operate from the UK and work to prevent the loss of lives at sea. They are entirely responsible for implementing both our own British and international maritime laws and ensuring there is a comprehensive safety policy in place. Additionally, they are the department responsible for broadcasting the relevant navigational warnings that are issued by the UKHO. To maintain the safety of all vessels at sea, the MCA will issue radio broadcasts which will specify the hazard and alert vessels as to the required course of action.

SOLAS (International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea), 1974

This international treaty is responsible for laying out the minimum standards required of a vessel during construction. It also dictates the quality of the equipment required onboard and how a merchant ship should be operated. This version came into force on 25th May 1970 and covers the vast majority of all merchant vessel ships across the world. It is regarded as one of the most important treaties when it comes to marine safety. SOLAS V applies to all on-sea vessels and covers commercial vessels right down to private yachts.

If a ship does not comply with the regulations set out, they could be delayed into their desired port or refused entry altogether. There are various chapters within the treaty which relate to different vessel types.These include:

  • Chapter I – General Provisions
  • Chapter II-1 – Construction – Includes specifications for watertight compartments, the degree of subdivision, requirements for machinery and electrical installations and goal-based standards for oil tankers and bulk carriers.
  • Chapter II-2 – Fire protection, fire detection and fire extinction
  • Chapter III – Life-saving appliances and arrangements – Includes requirements for lifeboats and jackets depending on the type of vessel.
  • Chapter IV – Radiocommunications – Incorporates the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS)
  • Chapter V – Safety of navigation – Applies to all ships on all vessels. This chapter makes it mandatory for vessels to carry safety equipment including voyage data recorders and automatic ship identification systems
  • Chapter VI – Carriage of Cargoes – Applied to cargo ships (except those carrying liquids or gases in bulk’
  • Chapter VII – Carriage of dangerous goodsCovers solid form, liquid chemicals and liquified gases cargo that needs to comply with various international regulations. Also contains special regulations for irradiated nuclear fuels, plutonium and high-level radioactive wastes.
  • Chapter VIII – Nuclear ships
  • Chapter IX – Management for the Safe Operation of Ships
  • Chapter X – Safety measures for high-speed craft
  • Chapter XI-1 – Special measures to enhance maritime safety
  • Chapter XI-2 – Special measures to enhance maritime safety(Regulation XI-2 /3 and Regulation XI-2 /5)
  • Chapter XII – Additional safety measures for bulk carriers
  • Chapter XIII – Verification of compliance
  • Chapter XIV – Safety measures for ships operating in polar waters

COLREG (International Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea), 1972

Replacing the Collision Regulations of 1960, COLREG was adopted around the same time as SOLAS. It basically provides the ‘rules of the road’ when it comes to operating a vessel at sea – similar to the Highway Code. There are 5 parts to COLREG:

  • Part A – General
  • Part B – Steering and sailing rules
  • Part C – Light and shapes
  • Part D – Light and sound signals
  • Part E – Exceptions

This legislation covers everything from ensuring a water keeper is vigilant of their surroundings, that a risk of collision is minimised as much as possible and the importance of maintaining a safe speed. Many of the regulations included here vary depending on the type of vessel. In addition, seafarers will find information on here on how to determine responsibility between vessels depending on the activity taking place, restrictions on manoeuvrability and whether a vehicle is under command. A thorough and clear understanding of COLREG is vital for ensuring navigational safety at all times at sea.

STCW (International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers), 1978

Adopted in July of 1978, the STCW is an International standard setting out the minimum requirements for training, certification and watchkeeping for all seafarers. Before this, these specifications were set out by each government, leading to misleading and non-uniformed requirements as vessels travelled between ports. This convention dictates how much training an individual needs to have before operating a vessel, thereby placing a degree of expectation that the chosen person will be able to effectively minimise navigational hazards. The chapters covered here include:

  • Chapter I – General Provisions
  • Chapter II – Master and deck department
  • Chapter III – Engine department
  • Chapter IV – Radiocommunication and radio personnel
  • Chapter V – Special training requirements for personnel on certain types of ships
  • Chapter VI – Emergency, occupational safety, medical care and survival functions
  • Chapter VII – Alternative certification
  • Chapter VIII – Watchkeeping

Understanding safety at sea is one of the most important things a seafarer can do. And recognising the legislation available to help regulate it helps keep the seas safe for everyone involved. Here at Pinpoint Electronics, safety is one of our key priorities. We provide a wide variety of marine safety PPE alongside AIS Man Overboard Devices and Personal Locator Beacons to support your vessel. We are also manned by a team of highly experienced marine experts who are on hand to support your requirements for marine electronics and safety.