Design & Engineering Standards

9/21/2017: Final Rule – Polar Ship certificates required for certain ships operating in Polar waters

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The Coast Guard published in the Federal Register the final rule “Adding the Polar Ship Certificate to the List of SOLAS Certificates and Certificates Issued by Recognized Classification Societies.”

This final rule adds the Polar Ship Certificate to a list of certificates that certain U.S. and foreign-flag ships will need to carry on board if they engage in international voyages in polar waters. This rule also enables the Coast Guard to authorize recognized classification societies to issue the Polar Ship Certificate on the Coast Guard’s behalf. The Coast Guard is taking this action because the International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) has been amended to require certain ships operating in Arctic or Antarctic waters to have a Polar Ship Certificate. This rule will help ensure that U.S.-flagged ships that need this certificate—commercial cargo ships greater than 500 gross tonnage and passenger ships carrying more than 12 passengers, that operate in polar waters as defined by SOLAS chapter XIV while engaged in international voyages—will be able to obtain it in a timely manner.

This final rule is effective Oct. 23, 2017.

Rule Background and Purpose

In 2014 and 2015, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted the International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters (Polar Code) and added its requirements to two existing IMO Conventions—SOLAS, and the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL)—in consideration of hazards and conditions unique to polar waters, and an expected increase in traffic in Arctic and Antarctic waters. These additional hazards include navigation in ice and low temperatures, high-latitude communications and navigation, remoteness from response resources, and limited hydrographic charting. Copies of the IMO Maritime Safety Committee and Marine Environment Protection Committee resolutions discussed in this paragraph are available in the docket.

The Polar Code took effect Jan. 1, 2017, and applies to all vessels constructed on or after that date. Beginning Jan. 1, 2018, the Polar Code will also start applying to existing vessels, based upon the date their SOLAS Certificates were issued.

One of the requirements for ships subject to the Polar Code is to carry a Polar Ship Certificate pursuant to SOLAS. The Polar Ship Certificate attests that the vessel has met applicable requirements of SOLAS. As a signatory to this convention, under Article I of SOLAS, the United States has an obligation to ensure compliance with SOLAS requirements.

This rule creates a certificate that newly constructed U.S.-flagged vessels, certified in accordance with SOLAS chapter I, will need in order to travel internationally within polar waters, beginning Jan. 1, 2017. Existing vessels will need the same certificate by their first intermediate or renewal survey after Jan. 1, 2018. U.S.-flagged vessels that do not carry a Polar Ship Certificate risk detention, denial of entry, or expulsion from the polar waters of other States.

This rulemaking is necessary to allow the Coast Guard to create the new Polar Ship Certificate and add it to the list of certificates required by SOLAS in 46 CFR part 2. Also, this rule allows the Coast Guard to authorize recognized classification societies to issue the Polar Ship Certificate on the Coast Guard’s behalf under 46 CFR 8.320.

Foreign-flagged vessels, certified in accordance with SOLAS chapter I and operating in polar waters, are also required to carry the Polar Ship Certificate. However, their certificates will be issued by the vessel’s flag state, or a person or an organization authorized by that flag state to issue the certificate. The Coast Guard will examine foreign-flagged vessels during Port State Control boardings to ensure that they are properly certificated.

View the Final Rule for more information, or contact Lt. Chris Rabalais, Systems Engineering Division (CG-ENG-3) at 202-372-1485, or via email at

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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