Commercial Vessel Compliance

12/13/2016: Polar Code – Implementation

Written by Lt. Chris Nichols, Office of Commercial Vessel Compliance

Over the past several years the Coast Guard has played an active role in the development of the International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters (Polar Code), which will enter into force on January 1, 2017. The Polar Code will apply to ships subject to the SOLAS Convention as well as Annexes I, II, IV, and V of MARPOL. With entry into force approaching the Coast Guard and maritime industry are preparing to ensure compliance with these new international standards.

The Polar Code is a goal-based standard that establishes functional requirements and regulations that are adaptable to a wide range of ship types and operations. The Code aims to holistically mitigate risks that are identified through mandatory ship specific operational risk assessments. In this way, the Code is very similar in approach to the International Safety Management (ISM) Code and the International Ship & Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code, which rely heavily on the owner/operator to develop processes that adequately address a ship specific operation.

One of the challenges of any goal-based standard, including the Polar Code, is that non-prescriptive provisions are subject to interpretation. The Coast Guard has received several questions regarding domestic applicability and interpretations of certain regulations. In an effort to provide additional guidance, the Coast Guard’s Office of Commercial Vessel Compliance (CG-CVC) has issued CG-CVC Policy Letter 06-16 which addresses:

  • Applicability to U.S. Ships
  • Survey and certification options for U.S. Ships
  • Additional guidance on Polar Class notations and ship categories
  • Guidance on performing operational risk assessments
  • Guidance on Port State Control for foreign-flagged vessels operating in U.S. Polar Waters


Finally, while the policy letter is intended to provide guidance on certain aspects of the Code and its implementation, the Coast Guard recognizes that there is no single solution for what will be considered “acceptable” in terms of meeting the functional requirements of the Code. As such, the Coast Guard looks forward to working closely with the industry to develop solutions to the risks derived through the course of operational assessments to ensure safe and environmentally responsible polar operations.

As the Polar Code entry into force date approaches, additional information will be posted on the Maritime Commons in the Polar Code series. Additionally, the Coast Guard will continue to publish notable policy and regulatory updates in the federal register.

This blog is not a replacement or substitute for the formal posting of regulations and updates or existing processes for receiving formal feedback of the same. Links provided on this blog will direct the reader to official source documents, such as the Federal Register, Homeport and the Code of Federal Regulations. These documents remain the official source for regulatory information published by the Coast Guard.

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