What is Class ?

The maritime sector is an internationally regulated industry with its own set of defined rules and regulations. These rules have been developed over time and are constantly revised and completed with new legislation in response to new trends or world-wide environmental and/or social concerns. As a professional in the yachting industry, you may have come across the phrase “this yacht is out of class” or “the yacht is undergoing a class survey or inspection”. Have you ever questioned what does this word “class” relate to?

The term class makes reference to the maritime classification societies. Classification Societies are following the terms of the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA):“organisations which develop and apply technical standards for the design, construction and survey of ships and which carry out surveys and inspection on board ships”. There are more than fifty classification societies worldwide that define their activities as providing some form of marine classification services with varying states of recognition from country to country. In the European Union for example there are only 11 recognised Classification Societies. Class societies employ a very wide array of specialised staff; naval architects and marine engineers who may be experts not only in mechanics but also in piping, electricity or materials and, of course, marine surveyors.

Classification Societies have been in existence for over 260 years and their creation can be dated back to the 1750’s when marine insurance underwriters and merchants based at Edward Lloyds coffee house in London developed a system for the independent technical assessment of the ships presented to them for insurance cover. Following their informal meeting, a Committee was born in 1760 and the earliest existing result of this initiative was the birth of the Lloyds Register Book. The Register Book, established in 1764, funded surveyors to list, rate and class the condition of ships. The original purpose was thus to evaluate insurance risk and not the safety or seaworthiness of the ship as it has developed over time.
The Lloyds Register Book, after resolving a dispute with a rival shipping register in 1834, united and the Lloyd’s Register of British and Foreign Shipping was formed, today simply referred to as Lloyds Register (LR). Rules for construction and survey were published that same year.
In the early survey days the Societies’ aim was to classify the condition of each ship on an annual basis using the letters A, E, I, O or U in relation to the quality of the construction and its determined continued state of soundness or absence thereof. The ships equipment was also classified as G – Good, M – Middling or B – Bad. Over the years the letters G, M and B were replaced by numbers, 1,2, and 3. The numbering system was subsequently modified to A1 giving rise to the well-known term A1 or first or highest class.

It must be noted that in today’s modern world a ship either meets the relevant Class Society Rules or does not with the consequence that it is either “in” or “out” of “class”.
With the increase in international marine trade and the development of steam ships, vessels built in iron and steel instead of wood, the necessity for classification became apparent and classification societies were established in other major maritime nations. For example, the French Bureau Veritas (BV) founded in 1828, the Italian RINA (previously Registro Italiano Navale) in 1861 and the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) in 1862 who are all familiar names within the yachting industry. Additionally, Det Norske Veritas (DNV)in 1864 following the adoption of common Rules for ship construction by Norwegian insurance societies in the late 1850s. Today, a whole myriad of worldwide classification societies exist and operate globally.

Following the recommendation of the International Load Line Convention of 1930 for collaboration between Class Societies to secure “as much uniformity as possible in the application of the standards of strength upon which freeboard is based …”, the major Class Societies formed the International Association of Classification Societies or IACS in 1968. At present, the IACS has consultative status with the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and remains the only non-governmental organisation with Observer status which is able to develop and apply Rules. Classification Societies have been recognised by the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) as well as the 1988 Protocol to the International Convention on Load Lines and thus continue to play a vital role within the yachting industry.

Time now to check if you have class!