Guidelines on the Application of the IMO International Safety Management (ISM) Code

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Guidelines on the Application of the IMO International Safety Management (ISM) Code


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The International Safety Management (ISM) Code is a key mandatory requirement for merchant ships, and the safety management system (SMS) is a critical mechanism for ensuring safe and environmentally responsible operations on board ships.  ISM-related deficiencies are in the top three most-reported deficiencies by port state control authorities globally.  

The ICS Guidelines on the Application of the IMO International Safety Management (ISM) Code helps shipping companies comply with the code and provides practical guidance for designated persons ashore (DPAs) and crew to develop, implement and maintain an effective, user-friendly SMS. 

The sixth edition adds a brand new chapter on internal audits, to assist companies with ongoing compliance, reduce delays at port and stay on top of continuous improvement goals. Packed with helpful tools and tips from some of the world’s leading shipping companies, it includes an enhanced toolkit of checklists for familiarising crew, writing procedures and checklists, and conducting internal audits, with templates for standard operating procedures and questions to assist the internal auditor during interviews of shore and ship based personnel. 

It is strongly recommended that a copy is in every shipping company office and carried on board every ship worldwide. This includes shipping company executives, DPAs, masters and all other personnel – shipboard and shore-based – with ISM-related responsibilities. The sixth edition replaces and supersedes the Guidelines on the Application of the IMO International Safety Management (ISM) Code, Fifth Edition

Additional Information
Author International Chamber of Shipping
Publisher International Chamber of Shipping Publications
Edition Sixth Edition
Publication month 2024 - May
ISBN 978-1-913997-58-8
Shipping Weight 800g

Editorial note
Chapter 1
1.1 Context
1.2 Objectives of the ISM Code
1.3 Objectives of the safety management system
1.4 Stakeholders
1.4.1 Internal stakeholders
1.4.2 External stakeholders
1.5 Complexity
Chapter 2
Elements of an effective SMS
2.1 Introduction
2.2 Safety and environmental protection policy
2.3 Commitment
2.4 Communication
2.5 Roles
2.5.1 Senior management
2.5.2 Designated person ashore
2.5.3 Other shore-based personnel
2.5.4 The master
2.5.5 Other shipboard personnel
2.6 Resources
2.6.1 Training
2.6.2 Familiarisation
2.6.3 Training and familiarisation terminology
2.6.4 Crewing
2.7 Risk assessments
2.7.1 Risk assessment process
2.7.2 High risk activities and permits to work
2.7.3 Acceptable risk
2.7.4 Risk matrices
2.7.5 Deciding on the need for a risk assessment
2.7.6 Generic and task-based risk assessments
2.7.7 Competence for carrying out risk assessments
2.8 Procedures
2.8.1 Procedures for shipboard operations
2.8.2 Procedures for emergency situations
2.8.3 Procedures for the maintenance of ship and equipment
2.8.4 Procedures for reporting, investigating and analysing non-conformities, accidents
and hazardous situations
2.9 Documentation
2.9.1 Documents and data relevant to the SMS
2.9.2 Document management and control
2.9.3 Documentation review
2.10 Verification
2.10.1 Internal audits
2.10.2 External audits
2.10.3 Implementation of corrective and preventative actions
2.10.4 Master’s reviews
2.10.5 Management reviews
Chapter 3
Tools for an effective SMS
3.1 Simplifying the SMS
3.2 Developing procedures and checklists
3.2.1 Selecting the type of procedure and checklist
3.2.2 Writing procedures and checklists
3.2.3 Structuring and presenting procedures and checklists
3.3 Creating effective management and leadership
3.3.1 Interpersonal communication
3.3.2 Communication of company policies
3.4 Assessing risks
3.4.1 Useful tools for effective risk assessments
3.4.2 Risk assessment process for fleet and operational risks
3.4.3 Managing risks from changes to equipment and systems
3.4.4 Managing risks from shipboard personnel changes
3.5 Using technology
3.5.1 Using technology for automation
3.5.2 Using technology to maintain the SMS
3.5.3 Using technology to support the effective use of procedures and checklists
3.5.4 Using technology to support effective training
3.5.5 Using technology to support effective maintenance
3.5.6 Using technology to support key shipboard operations
3.6 Using data
3.6.1 Collecting and using data to support the SMS
3.6.2 Lagging and leading indicators
3.6.3 Understanding trends and statistics
3.7 Learning lessons
3.8 Learning from success
3.8.1 Repeating success
3.8.2 Resilience
Chapter 4
Internal audits
4.1 Types of audit
4.2 Responsibilities of the DPA, master and the internal auditor
4.2.1 Role of the DPA
4.2.2 Role of the master
4.2.3 Role of the internal auditor
4.3 Ensuring that an internal auditor is competent, and assigning auditors
4.4 How to conduct an audit
4.4.1 Using technology to support the audit and verification process
4.5 Scheduling an audit
4.6 Preparing and planning an audit
4.6.1 Information required before the audit
4.7 Conducting the audit
4.7.1 The opening meeting
4.7.2 The audit
4.7.3 The closing meeting
4.8 Preparing the audit report
4.9 Corrective actions and follow-ups
Appendix A New crew familiarisation form
Appendix B Checklist on writing procedures
Appendix C Checklist on writing procedural checklists
Appendix D Standard operating procedure template
Appendix E Procedural checklist template
Appendix F Checklist on preparing for an internal audit
Appendix G Checklist for internal auditor when conducting the audit
Appendix H Potential audit questions to help the internal auditor
Appendix I References


More than 25 years have passed since compliance with the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) International Management Code for the Safe Operation of Ships and for Pollution Prevention (ISM Code) first became mandatory for shipping companies operating most types of merchant ship.

This latest edition of the International Chamber of Shipping’s (ICS) Guidelines on the Application of the IMO International Safety Management (ISM) Code contains new guidance that draws on the industry’s experience of putting into practice the Code’s provisions since 1998. It has been extensively reviewed by designated persons ashore (DPAs) from both smaller and larger companies to ensure that the guidance is relevant to all operators.

The publication aims to help shipping companies operating ships in all sectors and trades develop, implement, maintain and improve their ISM Code-mandated safety management system (SMS), and to support the continuous improvement of the safety and environmental management skills of their shore-based and shipboard personnel.

The SMS provides an essential and flexible framework for delivering safe, secure, efficient and environmentally sound ship operations, and for coping with and managing the ever-growing body of international, regional, national and other requirements that affect ship operations. Given that the industry is now familiar with the ISM Code and its requirements, the focus for this latest edition is to provide more guidance on the practical implementation and continuous improvement of the SMS. It does not set out or suggest that there is only one way to develop, implement, maintain or improve an


With much of the ISM Code’s focus being on safety management, it can be easy to overlook the fact that the ISM Code is equally concerned about the environment, specifically pollution prevention. As well as improving the safety of ship operations, an important function of the SMS is to organise and manage the company’s efforts to prevent pollution from its ships, particularly through compliance with relevant environmental rules and regulations.

The sixth edition includes new and updated guidance to help shipping companies fulfil their safety and environmental obligations, including:

  • A chapter on internal auditing, so that the SMS can be further improved on an ongoing basis;
  • An example programme of drills and exercises over a year, to help companies prepare and train for all emergencies;
  • An updated publications list to help companies develop and update their SMS, split into department and ship types;
  • Examples of standard operating procedures and checklists;
  • Templates for standard operating procedures and checklists;
  • New checklists to help companies write procedures;
  • A new crew familiarisation checklist;
  • New checklists to help companies conduct internal audits;
  • Questions to help internal auditors with the internal audit; and
  • Updated graphics.