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Safety Management Systems

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?

All commercial vessels in NSW must have an SMS.

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

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.  

Safety Management Systems

What are the benefits?

The majority of incidents onboard 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; and
  • Tools to improve the day to day operation of the vessel.

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; and
  • 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 onboard personnel; and
  • 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 Safety Management Systems Guideline,  sample SMS documents and a number of sample forms and checklists that can be tailoredto individual vessels.Templates for flip charts that cover Operational and Emergency Procedures are also available. These documents are in WORD and can be downloaded.

By following the 12 steps in the Safety Management Systems Guideline, developing an SMS is straightforward. Everyone who works with the vessel, both ashore and onboard, 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?

RMS 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.

RMS may conduct periodic reviews of your SMS and operations.  This may be at the same time as a vessel’s survey.

Need help?

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 9563 8793 or email

Useful Downloads

All vessels

Class 4 vessels


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