International Association of Classification Societies (IACS)

A non-governmental organisation in the shipping industry, a classification society establishes and maintains technical standards for construction and operation of marine vessels and offshore structures. The primary role of the society is to classify ships and validate that their design and calculations are in accordance with the published standards. It also carries out periodical survey of ships to ensure that they continue to meet the parameters of set standards. The society is also responsible for classification of all offshore structures including platforms and submarines.

Flag states maintain a ship register in which all ships that sail under their flag need to be registered. Classification societies are licensed by flag states to survey and classify ships and issue certificates on their behalf. They classify and certify marine vessels and structures on the basis of their structure, design and safety standards.

A classification society’s workforce comprises of ship surveyors, mechanical engineers, material engineers, piping engineers, and electrical engineers. Surveyors employed by a classification society inspect ships at all stages of their development and operations to make sure that their design, components, and machinery are developed and maintained in accordance with the standards set for their class. The process covers inspection of engines, shipboard pumps and other vital ship's machines. They also inspect offshore structures such as oil rigs, submarines and other marine structures.

Today there are more than fifty classification societies in the world.

International Association of Classification Societies (IACS)

Thirteen largest marine classification societies in the world are the members of the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS).

IACS was founded in Hamburg, Germany on September 11, 1968. The classification standards set by the thirteen member societies of IACS are covering more than 90% of the world's cargo carrying ships’ tonnage. Origins of the IACS are dating from the International Load Line Convention of 1930 and its recommendations. The convention recommended collaboration between classification societies to secure "as much uniformity as possible in the application of the standards of strength upon which freeboard is based…".

Following the Convention, RINA hosted the first conference of major societies in 1939 - attended by ABS, BV, DNV, GL, LR and NK - which agreed on further cooperation between the societies.

A second major class society conference, held in 1955, led to the creation of working parties on specific topics and, in 1968, to the formation of IACS by seven leading societies. In 1969, IACS was given consultative status by the IMO. Its membership has increased since that time to the current thirteen members.

IACS provides guidance and technical support and develops unified interpretations of the international statutory regulations developed by the member states of the IMO. Once adopted, these interpretations are applied by each IACS member society, when certifying compliance with the statutory regulations on behalf of authorising flag States.

IACS has consultative status with the IMO, and remains the only non-governmental organisation with status as the observer which also develops and applies technical rules that are reflective of the aims embodied within IMO conventions. The connection between the international maritime regulations, developed by the IMO and the classification rule requirements for a ship’s hull structure and essential engineering systems is codified in the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS).

Council governs IACS. On the Council each Member of IACS is represented by a senior management executive. The position of Chairman of the Council is rotated between the members on an annual basis. Reporting to the Council is the General Policy Group (GPG), made up of a senior management representative from each member society. The GPG develops and implements actions giving effect to the policies, directions and long term plans of the Council. The chair of GPG is taken by the Member holding the Council chair. Much of the technical development work of IACS is undertaken by a number of working parties (WP), the members of which are drawn from the technical, engineering, survey or quality management staff of the member societies.

Any classification society that satisfies the conditions of membership can apply for membership. All members of IACS are required to demonstrate continued compliance with quality standards as determined by periodic audits.

To promote maritime safety and clean seas, IACS and its individuals carry out research and development on marine-related topics, providing technical support and verifying compliance with published standards.

The list of classification societies, members of IACS:

  • American Bureau of Shipping, ABS 1862, SHBA
  • Bureau Veritas, BV 1828, France
  • China Classification Society, CCS 1956, China
  • Croatian Register of Shipping, CRS 1949, Croatia
  • Det Norske Veritas, DNV 1864, Norway
  • Germanischer Lloyd, GL 1867, Germany
  • Indian Register of Shipping, IRS 1975, India
  • Korean Register of Shipping, KR 1960, Korea
  • Lloyd's Register, LR 1760, United Kingdom
  • Nippon Kaiji Kyokai, NK 1899, Japan
  • Polish Register of Shipping, PRS 1936, Poland
  • Registro Italiano Navale, RINA 1861, Italy
  • Russian Maritime Register of Shipping, RS 1913, Russian Federation