Classification: Who's Who of Classification Societies

20 January 2015
Class surveyors are trained and certified in accordance with programmes established by the class organisations they work for

A classification society (also known as ‘class’) publishes class rules and technical requirements in relation to design, construction and survey of ships. They also have the authority to apply those rules; verify compliance during construction and periodically through a ship’s life; publish a register of classed ships; and are authorised by a flag administration, as defined by SOLAS, and listed in the IMO database.
Although some owners and builders find classification rules onerous, Paul Martin, principal engineer Det Norske Veritas (DNV), describes them as ‘a system for safeguarding life, property and the environment at sea.’

The societies are also often authorised to act on behalf of various flag administrators to verify that a yacht complies with any appropriate MARPOL, SOLAS, MCA and associated codes.

Class surveyors are trained and certified in accordance with programmes established by their organisations, and periodically undertake refresher and specialist courses. These surveyors are mostly qualified engineers or naval architects.

Yachts designed and built to the appropriate rules of a society apply for a Certificate of Classification from that society, which issues it upon completion of surveys


‘My job is one of verification against a set of requirements during design, construction and operation of the yacht,’ says Martin. DNV’s head offices are in Norway, but the organisation – like all classification societies – has surveyors, like Martin, stationed around the world, who work with customers to ensure compliance throughout the lifetime of the classified vessel.
Yachts designed and built to the appropriate rules of a society apply for a Certificate of Classification from that society, which issues it upon completion of surveys.

Yachts holding such a certificate should not be construed as having a warranty of safety, fitness for purpose or seaworthiness. The certificate just shows that the yacht was constructed according to the societies’ rules. However, maintaining a yacht ‘in-class’ reduces its insurance premium and increases its resale value.

As independent, self-regulating bodies, classification societies have no commercial interest in design, building, ownership, operation, management, maintenance, repairs, insurance or chartering.

Classification society powers

A classification society may assign service notations and some societies define limiting areas for navigation (i.e. coastal waters).

Class may be suspended when:

  • The ship is not operating according to its rule requirements;
  • If it goes to sea with less freeboard than assigned (that’s why load line marks are painted on each hull);
  • When the owner fails to request a survey after damage;
  • When a survey hasn’t been completed by its due date; or
  • When repairs, alterations or conversions affecting class are carried out without requesting a surveyor.


The International Association of Classification Societies (IACS), based in London, represents ten of the most famous societies, including Lloyd’s Register (LR), Det Norske Veritas (DNV), Bureau Veritas (BV), Registro Italiano Navale (RINA), and the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS).

The IACS was given consultative status with the International Maritime Organization (IMO), and remains the only non-governmental organisation with observer status which is able to develop and apply rules.

Motoryacht Leander in drydock, during its Lloyd's classification survey, which it passed

The Societies

Lloyd’s Register of Shipping

Also known as Lloyd’s Rules (LR), Lloyd’s Register was the first classification society to be created, and one of the first to take an interest specifically in the classification of yachts.

It is not related to the insurance underwriters Lloyd’s of London. Lloyd’s Rules for ships derived from principles of naval architecture and marine engineering, and govern safety and operation standards.

Lloyd’s Rules govern many topics, including: Vessel construction materials, ship structural requirements and minimum scantlings by type, operation and maintenance of main and auxiliary machinery and operation and maintenance of emergency and control systems.


Det Norske Veritas originated with Norwegian insurance societies in the late 1850s and has developed rules and standards for technical requirements and acceptance criteria for ships, high-speed light craft, naval surface craft and offshore units, and was instrumental in developing the new UAE yacht registration code.

Registro Italiano Navale

The Italian classification society RINA is a private body founded in Genova in 1861 for the maritime transport sector. Specialists in cruise ships and yachts, about 25 per cent of the yachts currently in construction are on RINA’s books. More than 980 pleasure craft are classed with RINA, amounting to about 160,000GT. It is not related to the Royal Institute of Naval Architects in the UK (also known as RINA).

Germanischer Lloyd

Germanischer Lloyd (GL) was formed in 1867. It is not related to Lloyd’s Register of Shipping. GL develops state-of-the-art rules, procedures and guidance for ship owners, ship yards and the maritime supply industry in order to offer commercially sound answers, putting particular emphasis on efficiency and environmental issues. It executes plan certifications as well as construction certification.

Bureau Veritas (BV)

Bureau Veritas assesses ships for conformity with specific sets of rules, mainly determining structural soundness and reliability of machinery on-board. BV also provides ship and marine equipment certification on behalf of flag administrations.

American Bureau of Shipping

ABS was founded in 1862, and is based in Houston, Texas, with affiliates in 70 countries. ABS rules address many of the standards relating to overall strength, stability, machinery, safety equipment and pollution. Auditors specialise in management and security systems, particularly those conforming to the ISM and ISPS Codes.

Smaller registries

Lesser used registries are:

  • Chinese Classification Society (CCS)
  • Indian Register of Shipping (IRS)
  • Korean Register of Shipping (KR)
  • Nippon Kaiji Nyoki (NK)
  • Polish Register of Shipping (PRS), and
  • Russian Maritime Register of Shipping (RS) Originally published: Boat International 287 ( May 2010)

Bugsy Gedlek

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