Marine safety management systems

Transport Canada does not always provide effective oversight of marine transportation companies transitioning to safety management systems, while some companies are not even required to have one.

Added to the Watchlist on 14 June 2012


Implemented properly, safety management systems (SMS) allow vessels and marine transportation companies to identify hazards, manage risks, and develop and follow effective safety processes. In the marine community, the value of SMS has long been recognized.

Since July 2002, all vessels over 500 gross tonnage that sail in international waters have had to meet the requirements of the International Safety Management Code and implement an SMS. However, this does not apply to vessels that operate domestically in Canada, including the hundreds of passenger and commercial vessels over 500 tonnes.1 Transport Canada (TC) has proposed regulatory amendments that would apply only to commercial vessels over 24 metres or carrying more than 50 passengers. Vessels over 24 metres but less than 500 tonnes (excluding vessels certified to carry more than 50 passengers) would not have their SMS certified and audited.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) has repeatedly emphasized the advantages of safety management systems in the marine industry, citing deficiencies in many occurrences over the last 14 years.2

Following a 2002 investigation of four fatalities, the TSB recommended that TC ensure small passenger vessels have an SMS.3 In addition, after a 2006 investigation into the loss of a crew member aboard a sail-training vessel,4 the TSB advocated the adoption of effective SMS for both domestic and foreign sail-training vessels.

Strong initiatives are required to address the issue of risk awareness and risk mitigation– both of which can be addressed through a formal, systematic approach to safety. TC, vessel operators, and marine management companies must work together to ensure that operating risks are identified and reduced to a minimum through the introduction of effective SMS.


Transport Canada should require all commercial vessels to have SMS, and all SMS should be certified and audited.

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  1. Source: Transport Canada.
  2. TSB investigation reports M99L0126, M98C0004, M03W0073, M03L0026, M02W0135, M02W0061, and M10C0043.
  3. TSB Investigation Report M02C0030 and Recommendation M04-01.
  4. TSB Investigation Report M06F0024.