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What is Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS)?

Aug 4, 2007

There is much discussion about SOLAS, so I did some research to find out what exactly it is. SOLAS describes two different regulations – one is the "International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea", the other is the Public Law 89-777 from 1966, popular name: "Safety at Sea Act" or "Safety of Life at Sea Act". The international convention called SOLAS applies only to ships engaged on international voyages. That means, the Delta Queen is not directly effected by this. What effects the Delta Queen though is the Safety at Sea Act (P.L. 89-777). P.L. 89-777 includes that passenger vessels "having berth or stateroom accomodations for 50 or more passengers" have to be compliant with the SOLAS regulations of 1960 and some ammendments. (Thanks very much to the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium and Dubuque County Historical Society for sending us a copy of P.L. 89-777). The DQ was granted a two-years delay in enactment in an amendment directly to this law, and again a two-years delay was issued in 1968. 1970 was the year of the first big "Save the Delta Queen" campaign. Despite all efforts (see for details) the campaign almost failed. Eventually the Delta Queen got a new 3-years exemption. After that an exemption was re-issued several times, including the exemption that is now expiring in November 2008.

International Convention SOLAS The "International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea" exists already since 1914. This first version was passed in response to the Titanic disaster in 1912. Since then there had been several versions and since 1948 the International Maritime Organization (IMO) develops and maintains SOLAS.

The relevant version for the Delta Queen was adopted in 1960 and entered into force in 1965. An amendment from 1966, which is referred to in the Safety at Sea Act P.L. 89-777, deals with special fire safety measures. The actual version or SOLAS, dating back to 1974, came into effect in May 1980 (full text: What seams to be important for the Delta Queen – because she's not effected by that – is that only since the 1974 SOLAS the convention is being extended and altered by amendments, but there are not completely new versions. A more detailed history of SOLAS can be found on the Metal Safe Sign Int. website. SOLAS 1974 is special because its regulations can become national law without ever passing the US Congress or the desk of the President. It's based on a so called "tacit acceptance" which means if a country doesn't contradict within a given time frame it comes into effect automatically. This is a very interesting procedure, being more and more used for international treaties to speed up the process as it forces countries to act instead of waiting decades until the last of the member countries' parliament has taken care of a treaty to come into effect. Florida based maritime attorney Rod Sullivan is discussing this issue more in detail in his blog entry The IMO and the “Tacit Acceptance Procedure” . SOLAS 2010, effecting many of the older cruise ships, consists of some amendments made in 2006, going into effect on July 1, 2010. They contain new and stricter safety regulations especially for passenger vessels.


14 Responses to “What is Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS)?”

  1. Charles Greene Says:

    What precisely is “restricted use” when referring to combustible materials? Nowhere do I see an explicit forbidding of the use of wood in a superstructure. Virtually anything is combustible under the right conditions. (e.g. 9-11) At some point common sense needs to put the bureaucrats in their place.

    Below is from SOLAS 1974″

    “Chapter II-2 – Fire protection, fire detection and fire extinction
    Includes detailed fire safety provisions for all ships and specific measures for passenger ships, cargo ships and tankers.

    “They include the following principles: division of the ship into main and vertical zones by thermal and structural boundaries; separation of accommodation spaces from the remainder of the ship by thermal and structural boundaries; restricted use of combustible materials; detection of any fire in the zone of origin; containment and extinction of any fire in the space of origin; protection of the means of escape or of access for fire-fighting purposes; ready availability of fire-extinguishing appliances; minimization of the possibility of ignition of flammable cargo vapour.”

  2. john teska Says:

    This is crap. I would love to take a trip on the delta queen next year. that demos for ya. KEEP OUR HISTORY ALIVE AND UNDER STEAM!!!!!

  3. Update: no decision yet Says:

    […] – read about the details of the Safety at Sea Act and SOLAS […]

  4. Rod Sullivan Says:

    The “Florida based maritime attorney Rod Sullivan…discussing this issue more in detail” actually was a marine engineer on the Delta Queen’s sister paddle-wheeler, the Mississippi Queen, way back in 1980 and 81.

  5. This is why the Delta Queen is more than just an old boat Says:

    […] What is Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS)? […]

  6. The Delta Queen at Maysville, Kentucky « The Delta Queen Pano Blog Says:

    […] These are a few images from what could be her last trip here to Maysville as her exempton to the SOLAS will expire on 10/31/08 unless granted another reprieve. Enjoy this short Pano Essay onboard the […]

  7. Bob Lantz Says:

    Not much discussion on the actual scope of whatever these changes that are required to bring the old gal up to code. Is this something that will kill all stern-wheeled ships because of their configuration, or is something unique about the DQ that makes the modifications so expensive that it would essentially be rebuilding it.

    Most codes and standards are actually the minimum required for safety. With safety being a somewhat relative term related to your tolerance for risk. Most people trust their own judgement and take far more risks than they allow others to take for them. If I were to be boarding a vessel of any type, if I knew it didn’t met the current codes and standards, I’d feel better knowing at least the general nature of the deviations so that I could decide for myself if I was comfortable with them. Something you sleep in not meeting fire codes doesn’t have a good sound to it.

  8. Franz Neumeier Says:

    Bob, the only thing that doesn’t comply with the (1966) law is the fact that parts of the Delta Queen’s super structure is made from wood. To change this would mean completely rebuilding the boat’s superstructure which very obviously is not an option.
    Check for the safety features on the Delta Queen that are meeting all the high, modern standards. The Delta Queen received exemptions from Congress for over 40 years because she’s so safe despite the fact that her superstructure partially is from wood (structurally relevant parts have a hidden steel support structure!). The Delta Queen owners have improved safety standards over the years, always in compliance or on request of the Coast Guard who always issued Certificates of Inspection for the Delta Queen, and never was in doubt about the Delta Queen’s safety.
    This whole thing is not about safety. It’s about a corrupt politician that plays dirty political games, taking revenge to the owners in the name of a Union.
    One more remark: It’s part of the law that passengers are signing a waiver stating that they’re very well aware of the fact that the Delta Queen’s wooden superstructure doesn’t comply with the law. So there is no donbt about the fact that the every single passenger knows about the risks and decides for himself.
    How many Americans are sleeping in woode houses every night? Have they ever signed a waiver that made them aware of the fire hazard of a wooden house? Shall we tear down all wooden houses because of their wooden structure? That’s what Rep. Oberstar is asking for with the Delta Queen. Just ridiculous, in my opinion.

  9. Chicago Boyz » Blog Archive » Big Wheel Cease from Turnin’ Says:

    […] Delta Queen has long operated under an exemption to the Safety of Life at Sea convention, known as SOLAS. (Technically, SOLAS only applies to international voyages; however, the Safety at Sea Act (P.L. […]

  10. Rickyrab Says:

    As for the Delta Queen, does it good sprinkler system? Are rescue systems able to save lives? Are there adequate lifeboats and life preservers and fire protection systems? If so, then the DQ should be safe.

  11. admin Says:

    @Rickyrab: Check out – Yes, the Delta Queen has a great safety concept with all the bells and whistles you need to make her totally safe. Otherwise she won't have been able to get Coast Guard Certificates of Inspection again and again over so many years.

  12. Beau Hampton Says:

    As a crew member on over 50 cruise ships  before working on the Mississippi and Delta Queens I can say from expierience that the safety and fire prevention measures on the Delta Queen were greater than any ship I had been on. The training and operational precedures would  more than satisfy any international inspection. I am a Merchant Marine and think it's sad that the crew of the Delta Queen should

  13. LUCAS Says:

    i will like to get  a weekly information about SOLAS

  14. ariane arciaga Says:

    what is the requirements to join the trainning