Before the very serious accident with the Titanic, occurred on 14 April of 1912, after colliding with an iceberg, the history had already recorded other serious maritime accidents. However, few have had the lasting impact of what happened with the Titanic and no other has received a prompt response of the international maritime nations in order to take measures that would contribute to safety of human life at sea. The Titanic´ crash led the international community to react immediately in finding answers that would help to prevent similar accidents from recurring in the future.

In this regard, the first international conference on the safety of life at sea was held in London in January of 1914 at the invitation of the British Government. This has been translated into approval, two years after the accident, of the first International Maritime Convention, the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, the SOLAS Convention, and it would certainly have been decisive, years later, to the establishment of the International Maritime Organization.

The first SOLAS Convention was adopted on 20 January of 1914, with a view to entry into force in July of 1915. However, it came into force later because of the war that broke out in Europe. Since then, there have been four other SOLAS conventions: the second was adopted in 1929 and entered into force in 1933, the third was adopted in 1948 and entered into force in 1952, the fourth was adopted in 1960, already under the auspices of the IMO and entered in force in 1965, and the current version was adopted in 1974 and entered into force in 1980. The SOLAS version of 1960 was the first major task for IMO since the Organization´s founding and represented a significant step in modernisation of the regulations and in the monitoring of technical developments in the shipping industry.

The intention would be to keep the Convention updated through regular amendments, but in practice this was found to be very slow. It has become obvious that it is impossible to ensure the entry into force of amendments within a reasonable period of time. In response to this difficulty, a completely new Convention was adopted in 1974, which included not only the amendments agreed up to that date but also a new amendment procedure - the tacit acceptance procedure – designed to ensure that the changes were made in a given period time, preferably short.

The SOLAS Convention is one of the three most important pillars of the international instruments, which regulate questions relating to maritime safety and pollution prevention, the other two are the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, the MARPOL Convention, and the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watch keeping for Seafarers, STCW Convention, and undoubtedly the most important convention in the field of maritime transport. By Decree No. 79/83 of 14 October, Portugal approved for ratification the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea of ??1974 (74 SOLAS) and by Government Decree No. 78/83 of 14 October, and Decree No. 51/99 of 18 September, approved the Protocols of 1978 and 1988 for accession the said Convention. The amendments to the 74 SOLAS  Convention on the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System and amendments relating to the introduction of new Chapters IX, X and XI, respectively by Decrees No 40/92, 2 October, and 21/98 of 10 July. It should be noted that Decree No. 19/2000 of 11 August amends some of the provisions in Chapters IX, X and XI in the Portuguese translation.

The development of new radio communications technologies has given to the IMO and the International Telecommunication Union conditions for design of the new telecommunications system, wherever the ship is located, which allows to send and receive distress messages. This new system, called the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS), was adopted at an international conference in 1988 and began operating on 1 February, 1999. The GMDSS is designed for ships engaged in international voyages: of a gross tonnage of 300 tons or over and for passenger ships.

Recognizing the importance of the GMDSS for the safety of human life at sea, the Portuguese State decided to extend the GMDSS to the remaining national ships, initially not covered by that system. In this sense, Decree-Law No. 174/94 of June 25 was approved.

Decree-Law No. 145/95 of 14 June was also approved under the GMDSS system, which regulated the rules contained in the amendments adopted in 1988, clarified the interpretation of some of them and defined exemptions and equivalents provided for in the SOLAS Convention. In order to comply with the obligation contained in Article 1 (b) of SOLAS, which states "Contracting Governments commit to promulgate all laws, decrees, orders and regulations and take such other measures that may be required to give full and complete effect to the Convention". The Portuguese Government approved Decree-Law No. 106/2004 of 8 May, which regulates the implementation of the SOLAS Convention in the national legal system.


 Scope of application

As a general rule, the SOLAS Convention applies to cargo ships of 500 gross tonnage or over and passenger ships on international voyages. The Chapter IV extends also the scope of the SOLAS Convention to cargo ships with a gross tonnage of 300 tonnes or over, while the Chapter V applies as a general rule to all ships with the exception of warships, naval auxiliaries and other ships owned or operated by a Contracting Government and used only on Government non-commercial service.

By Decree-Law No. 106/2004 of May 8, the Portuguese State extended the Annex to the Convention to all cargo ships flying the national flag, with a gross tonnage of 500 tons or over, on journeys between the Portuguese Continent and the Autonomous Regions of the Azores and Madeira and between these Regions.


Structure of the SOLAS Convention

The SOLAS Convention shall consist of a pleading and an Annex. The articles include 13 articles, which cover, in particular, the aspects related to general obligations, the procedure for adopting amendments, the way how a State can become a Party to the SOLAS Convention, etc. The Annex contains the technical rules, which are divided into 14 Chapters. The Chapters of the SOLAS Convention are:

  • Chapter I - General Provisions
  • Chapter II-1 - Construction - Subdivision and stability, machinery and electrical installations
  • Chapter II-2 – Fire prevention, fire detection and fire extinction
  • Chapter III - Lifesaving appliances and arrangements
  • Chapter IV - Radio communications          
  • Chapter V – Safety of Navigation
  • Chapter VI – Carriage of Cargoes
  • Chapter VII – Carriage of dangerous goods
  • Chapter VIII - Nuclear ships
  • Chapter IX - Management for the Safe Operation of Ships
  • Chapter X – Safety measures for high-speed craft
  • Chapter XI-1 - Special measures to enhance maritime safety
  • Chapter XI-2 - Special measures to enhance maritime security
  • Chapter XII - Additional security measures for bulk carriers
  • Chapter XIII – Verification of compliance
  • Chapter XIV - Safety measures for ships operating in polar waters.
 Compulsory Codes under the SOLAS Convention


  • International Code for Application of Fire Test Procedures (FTP Code)
  • International Code for Fire Safety Systems (FSS Code)
  • International Intact Stability Code (IS Code 2008)
  • International Code Life-saving Appliance Code (LSA Code)
  • International Maritime Code for Dry Bulk Cargoes (IMSBC Code)
  • International Code for the Construction and Equipment of Ships Carrying Dangerous Chemicals in Bulk (IBC Code)
  • International Code for the Construction and Equipment of Ships Carrying Liquefied Gases Bulk (IGC Code)
  • International Maritime Code for Carriage of Dangerous Goods (IMDG Code)
  • Code for the Safe Carriage of Irradiated Nuclear Fuel, Plutonium and High-Level Radioactive Wastes in Flasks on board Ships (INF Code)
  • International Code for the Safety of High Speed Craft (HSC Code 1994)
  • International Code for the Safety of High Speed Craft (HSC Code 2000)
  • Code for the Investigation of Marine Causalities
  • International Code for the Security of Ships and Port Facilities (ISPS Code).


 The SOLAS Convention and respective Amendments

The SOLAS amendments can be found here.