What is the ISPS Code?

The International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS Code) is a set of mandatory regulations developed to enhance the security of ships and port facilities. The rules were created in response to the perceived threats to ships and port facilities in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in the United States. The code gives the owners and crew of ships and operators of port facilities a constant risk management responsibility. ISPS went into effect on July 1st 2004

Who has to comply with the Code?

All commercial vessels over 500grt engaged on international voyages and the port facilities that berth them. This includes yachts that charter. (In the USA ship yards have been exempted from the ISPS code requirements although there is ongoing debate as to the validity of exempting the in water dockage areas available at the shipyard)

Who certifies the yachts as compliant?

Each flag state will be responsible for certifying vessels under their own flag. Some flag states will assign classification society’s survey duties however most major yacht registries have their own team of ISPS auditors.

What happens if I don’t comply?

Port state control has the right to request proof of ISPS compliance or exemption from every vessel that enters National waters. If the master is unable to show the suitable certification entry may be refused or the vessel detained until suitable certification is achieved. On July 1st, the first day of ISPS, six commercial vessels were refused entry into Fort Lauderdale by the coast guard.

Who determines where’s safe?

Your flag state will inform the Company Security Officer (CSO) of the security level for areas around the world using a scale from 1 to 3. The first official security levels were published on June 30th and most of the world was at level 1 which means that "normal" minimum security precautions should be taken. There are a number of nations at level 2 which means that additional appropriate security measures should be taken. Nowhere in the world is currently at level 3 which is only used if an attack is probable or imminent. At any time the captain and Ship Security Officer (SSO) can make a local assessment and increase their onboard precautions however only the flag state or governing bodies can change the official level.

How do ISPS security levels compare to the Homeland Security Advisory System?

The Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS) has five colour coded levels and the US coast guard has published three MARSEC levels to match the HSAS. When the HSAS system is at green, blue or yellow this equals level 1. HSAS at orange is equivalent to level 2 and finally when the advisory system goes to red this would be equivalent to level 3. Therefore when the security advisory system is raised to orange, which has happened in the past during public holidays, yachts will have to provide additional security measures onboard.

What are the steps to compliance?

1. Complete a Ship Security Assessment (SSA) of the vessel. The assessment identifies points of entry, security equipment and means of securing the vessel.

2. Write a Ship Security Plan (SSP) based upon the assessment detailing how you assess and respond to risks. The plan should reflect the three different security states.

3. Train your crew. Each yacht must have at least one SSO and it is recommended that the majority of the crew complete training for "personnel with security responsibilities".

4. Train your shore based representative as the CSO. They will be responsible for shore based support and liaison with the flag state. Most yachts of this size already have ISM in place and ISPS is a logical "add on" for ISM managers.

5. Once your SSP is approved by the flag state they will send an auditor to verify that the system is actually operating onboard and if successful issue a five year International Ship Safety Certificate (ISSC) to the vessel.

We carry firearms onboard. Does this help?

Nowhere in the ISPS code does it reference the carriage of firearms as a means to vessel security. Hiring a 250lb deckhand called "Bubba" will serve little purpose either. Successful ISPS implementation is a cerebral approach to security through risk assessment and preventative measures that block unauthorised access to your yacht.

Which countries are policing the ISPS code?

The ISPS code was developed by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), a branch of the United Nations. All member states will police ISPS code compliance which means that wherever you are cruising, you will need to comply if you are a commercial yacht over 500GRT. Some areas are more prepared for ISPS than others but if you run a large yacht and have not been asked to show certification yet, you should expect to within the next few months. In addition to inspection by port state control inspectors for the major yacht registries are travelling to the more popular yacht marinas and should they have reason to doubt that the yacht’s security plan is being followed they have the right to board the vessel and ask questions.

Once I have the certificate, what else do I need to do?

ISPS is an ongoing 24/7 security system and needs to be operated year round. If flag state inspects the vessel and finds that the crew is not maintaining the systems as outlined in the Ship Security Plan (SSP) then the International Ship Security Certificate (ISSC) is revoked until corrective measures have been implemented and proven for a period of three months. Unlike ISM there are no non-conformities allowed with ISPS. Upon the first non-conformity the certificate is invalidated, resulting in the loss of chartering rights. Whilst ISPS is new it is important to understand the international pressure being applied to see its successful implementation and no yacht or port facility should underestimate the time burden required to successfully comply with the code.

Where can I get help?

Castlebank Security provide a complete ISPS service from assessment through planning and submission for certification to implementation. We also provide on-going support with training, drills and audits.

Castlebank Security are also ideally situated and qualified to act as your Company Security Officer – often for a fraction of the cost charged by yacht management companies.


CSO – Company Security Officer

HSAS – Homeland Security Advisory System

IMO – International Maritime Organisation

ISM – International Safety Management Code

ISPS – International Ship and Port Facility Security Code

ISSC – International Ship Security Certificate

SSA – Ship Security Assessment

SSO – Ship Security Officer

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