What is SOLAS V and who does it apply to?

SOLAS stands for Safety of Life at Sea. It’s an international agreement that sets basic minimum criteria for all seafarers from signatory nations, dependent on the size and type of vessel. SOLAS V relates to vessels under 150 GT (gross tonnage) used for pleasure purposes.

SOLAS V regulations cover a variety of issues including;

  • Voyage / Passage Planning
  • Radar Reflectors
  • Danger Messages
  • Lifesaving Signals
  • Distress Messages
  • Misuse of Distress

Under the regulations, vessels used for pleasure purposes (under 150 GT) must comply with SOLAS V. The regulations are listed above. 

In more detail, the regulations state the following;

Radar Reflectors

Regulation 19
2.1 All ships irrespective of size shall have:
2.1.7 if less than 150 gross tonnage and if practicable, a radar reflector or other means, to enable detection by ships navigating by radar at both 9 and 3 GHz; 

In practice, this means that you should fit the largest radar detector you can practicably install as high on the mast as stability and other practical issues will allow. Modern shipping uses radar for collision avoidance and being seen is critical if you are to avoid disaster!

Lifesaving Signals

Regulation 29
An illustrated table describing the life-saving signals* shall be readily available to the officer of the watch of every ship to which this chapter applies. The signals shall be used by ships or persons in distress when communicating with lifesaving stations, maritime rescue units and aircraft engaged in search and rescue operations.
* Such lifesaving signals are described in the International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue (IAMSAR) Manual Vol.III, Mobile Facilitie, and illustrated in the International Code of Signals, as amended pursuant to resolution A.80(IV).

These regulations can be purchased online or at most chandleries. You regularly see them on the wall in the heads - available for leisurely perusal by crew when ‘at rest’..

Danger Messages

Regulations 31 & 32
The essence of Regulation 31 is that a pleasure craft skipper has a responsibility to pass on information about navigation dangers (if they have not already been reported) to the Coastguard by any means possible. 

Examples of navigational dangers include a dangerous derelict or other dangerous obstructions, tropical storms, winds of Force 10 or more for which no warning has been received. The Coastguard is in turn required to promulgate any danger information received.

Regulation 32 deals with details of information to include in danger messages and gives examples of typical danger messages. Sufficient information about any navigation dangers you experience or witness (For example: position, nature of danger, time seen/witnessed, any other useful information) should be passed on to enable other shipping in the area to avoid it. This text is taken from the RYA.

Distress Messages

Regulation 33 - Distress Situations: Obligations and procedures
1. The master of a ship at sea which is in a position to be able to provide assistance on receiving information from any source that persons are in distress at sea, is bound to proceed with all speed to their assistance, if possible informing them or the search and rescue service that the ship is doing so. This obligation to provide assistance applies regardless of the nationality or status of such persons or the circumstances in which they are found. If the ship receiving the distress alert is unable or, in the special circumstances of the case, considers it unreasonable or unnecessary to proceed to their assistance, the master must enter in the log-book the reason for failing to proceed to the assistance of the persons in distress, taking into account the recommendation of the Organization, to inform the appropriate search and rescue service accordingly.
1.1. Contracting Governments shall co-ordinate and co-operate to ensure that masters of ships providing assistance by embarking persons in distress at sea are released from their obligations with minimum further deviation from the ships' intended voyage, provided that releasing the master of the ship from the obligations under the current regulation does not further endanger the safety of life at sea. The Contracting Government responsible for the search and rescue region in which such assistance is rendered shall exercise primary responsibility for ensuring such co-ordination and co-operation occurs, so that survivors assisted are disembarked from the assisting ship and delivered to a place of safety, taking into account the particular circumstances of the case and guidelines developed by the Organization. In these cases the relevant Contracting Governments shall arrange for such disembarkation to be effected as soon as reasonably practicable.

2. The master of a ship in distress or the search and rescue service concerned, after consultation, so far as may be possible, with the masters of ships which answer the distress alert, has the right to requisition one or more of those ships as the master of the ship in distress or the search and rescue service considers best able to render assistance, and it shall be the duty of the master or masters of the ship or ships requisitioned to comply with the requisition by continuing to proceed with all speed to the assistance of persons in distress.

3. Masters of ships shall be released from the obligation imposed by paragraph 1 on learning that their ships have not been requisitioned and that one or more other ships have been requisitioned and are complying with the requisition. This decision shall, if possible be communicated to the other requisitioned ships and to the search and rescue service.

4. The master of a ship shall be released from the obligation imposed by paragraph 1 and, if his ship has been requisitioned, from the obligation imposed by paragraph 2 on being informed by the persons in distress or by the search and rescue service or by the master of another ship which has reached such persons that assistance is no longer necessary.

5. The provisions of this regulation do not prejudice the Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules of Law Relating to Assistance and Salvage at Sea, signed at Brussels on 23 September 1910, particularly the obligation to render assistance imposed by article 11 of that Convention.*

6. Masters of ships who have embarked persons in distress at sea shall treat them with humanity, within the capabilities and limitations of the ship.
* International Convention on Salvage 1989 done at London on 28 April 1989 entered into force on 14 July 1996.

Voyage / Passage Planning

Regulation 34 - Safe navigation and avoidance of dangerous situations

1. Prior to proceeding to sea, the master shall ensure that the intended voyage has been planned using the appropriate nautical charts and nautical publications for the area concerned, taking into account the guidelines and recommendations developed by the Organization.*
2. The voyage plan shall identify a route which:
2.1. takes into account any relevant ships' routeing systems
2.2. ensures sufficient sea room for the safe passage of the ship throughout the voyage
2.3. anticipates all known navigational hazards and adverse weather conditions; and
2.4. takes into account the marine environmental protection measures that apply, and avoids, as far as possible, actions and activities which could cause damage to the environment
*Refer to the Guidelines for Voyage Planning, adopted by the Organization by Resolution A.893(21)

See also our notes on How to prepare a passage plan.

Misuse of Distress signals

Regulation 35
1. The use of an international distress signal, except for the purpose of indicating that a person or persons are in distress, and the use of any signal which may be confused with an international distress signal are prohibited.

This regulation simply reiterated the fact that distress signals have a life saving role and should not be misused. Doing so could put your own or someone else's life at risk. Know your distress signals and when to use them.