Safety Management Systems (SMS)

A Safety Management System (SMS) is a tool used to help keep people, vessels and the environment safe. It encourages the development of a safety culture where people don’t think about safety because it has become second nature.

An SMS includes a set of documents about how a vessel is operated safely and how risks are controlled. It details the policies, practices and procedures for operating a commercial vessel. It states what is done on a vessel and how it is done safely. It becomes part of the way people do their jobs.



Who needs an SMS?

The Marine Safety (Domestic Commercial Vessels) National Law 2012 requires all operators of all commercial vessels to have and implement an SMS or a Safety Management Plan.

The SMS must be documented and tailored to the vessel. It must identify any significant risks associated with the operation of the vessel and specify the controls employed by the owner to manage those risks. In other words, knowing what could go wrong and doing something to prevent it.

What are the benefits?

The majority of incidents on board a vessel occur because of human factors.

Having a functioning SMS can help reduce accidents and incidents because it provides:

  • A framework for regular drills and training
  • Clear roles and responsibilities for crew members and any personnel ashore
  • A system for recognising and reporting hazards, assessing risks and putting controls in place,
  • Tools to improve the day to day operation of the vessel.

Who is responsible?

The Marine Safety (Domestic Commercial Vessels) National Law 2012 requires all operators of all commercial vessels to have and implement an SMS or a Safety Management Plan.

The SMS must be documented and tailored to the vessel. It must identify any significant risks associated with the operation of the vessel and specify the controls employed by the owner to manage those risks. In other words, knowing what could go wrong and doing something to prevent it.

Who is responsible?

Both the owner, or designated person, and the master of the vessel are responsible for making sure that a vessel has an effective SMS. The owner or designated person is responsible for making sure that:

  • The vessel and crew are working safely and are not polluting the environment
  • Communication and reporting between the vessel and shore is effective
  • All records relating to the vessel are kept. (For example, vessel log, maintenance, training, drill and hazard identification)
  • The vessel has everything it needs to operate safely and not pollute
  • There is a regular review of the SMS.

The master is responsible for making sure that:

  • The vessel, crew and passengers are safe
  • The designated person knows about any vessel defects, accidents and hazardous events
  • SMS related duties and responsibilities are allocated to on board personnel
  • The SMS is working and reporting any problems to the owner or designated person.


How to develop an SMS

To assist operators to comply with SMS requirements, RMS has developed a plain English SMS Guideline, sample SMS documents and a number of sample forms and checklists that can be tailored to individual vessels. Templates for flip charts that cover Operational and Emergency Procedures are also available.

By following the 12 steps in the SMS Guideline, developing an SMS is straightforward. Everyone who works with the vessel, both ashore and on board, should be involved. Remember that an SMS should be tailored to reflect what happens on a particular vessel.

What happens after you have written your SMS?

Roads and Maritime Services may contact you to arrange a visit to your vessel. The SMS team may review your SMS documents and records, including drill and training records. The team may observe operational procedures and conduct emergency drills with your crew. The SMS team may give feedback and may suggest ways to improve your system.

Roads and Maritime may conduct periodic reviews of your SMS and operations. This may be at the same time of the vessel's survey.

Need help?

Roads and Maritime holds information sessions in Sydney and regional NSW for commercial operators to explain what is involved in developing an SMS. To find out more about these sessions or any SMS matter, contact the SMS team on 02 9563 8400 or email smsteam@rms.nsw.gov.au

Documents and resources

Refer to the resources below for guidelines and sample documents relating to SMS. Further resources can be found on the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) website - AMSA Safety Management Systems.

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