IMO Conventions

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IMO Conventions





The creation of IMO coincided with a period of tremendous change in world shipping and the Organization was kept busy from the start developing new conventions and ensuring that existing instruments kept pace with changes in shipping technology.  It is now responsible for more than 40 international conventions and agreements and has adopted numerous protocols and amendments.
These pages are devoted to IMO Conventions specifically.  It may be useful to also refer to the Researchers Guide pages on Information Resources on Treaties in general.

Adopting a convention



The IMO website should be consulted for information on the latest amendments or editions.  Requests for amendments which are not yet published may be made to the national administration whose responsibility it is to disseminate IMO information.
IMO Member States, Non-Governmental Organisations and Intergovernmental Organizations( IGO’s) have access to them through the IMODOCS database.


The information in brackets refers to the articles of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, 23 May 1969.


  "an international agreement concluded between States in written form and governed by international law, whether embodied in a single instrument or in two or more related instruments and whatever its particular designation" (Article 2, paragraph 1[f]).
  a State which has consented to be bound by the treaty and for which the treaty is in force (Article 2, paragraph 1[g]).
  a person (esp. a diplomat) invested with the full power of independent action.
Date of acceptance
  when a state becomes a party to a treaty; may mean either by "signature subject to acceptance" (analogous to ratification) or by acceptance without prior signature (analogous to accession). The text of the treaty usually establishes which meaning of "acceptance" is meant.
Date of accession
  when a state becomes a party to a treaty of which it is not a signatory. The right of accession is independent of the entry into force of the treaty; that is, a state may accede to a treaty which has not yet entered into force.
Date of adoption
  when states participating in the negotiation of a treaty agree on its final form and content. This usually occurs before signature.
Date of denunciation
  when a state expresses that it is no longer willing to be bound by a treaty.
Date of entry into force
  when a treaty becomes binding upon the states which have expressed their willingness to be bound by it. This is usually triggered by a clause in the text of the treaty saying something like "this treaty shall enter into force when n states have signed it ..."
Date of ratification
  when a state makes a final formal expression of its consent to be bound by a treaty. This usually occurs after signature.
Date of reservations
  when a state makes "a unilateral statement, however phrased or named, ... , when signing, ratifying, accepting, approving or acceding to a treaty, whereby it purports to exclude or to modify the legal effect of certain provisions of the treaty in their application to that State" (Article 2, paragraph 1[d]). Important note: the United Nations Treaty Database contains information about national reservations to particular treaties.
Date of signature
  when a state expresses its consent to be bound by a treaty. Such consent is expressed "when (a) the treaty provides that signature shall have that effect; (b) it is otherwise established that the negotiating States were agreed that signature should have that effect; or (c) the intention of the State to give that effect to the signature appears from the full powers of its representative or was expressed during the negotiation."
Date of succession
  when a newly constituted state becomes a party to a treaty by expressing its willingness to be bound by international agreements that were entered into by a predecessor state or states. E.g. Russia might state its willingness to be bound by treaties entered into by the former Soviet Union.
Further information can be found in the United Nations Treaty Reference Guide and in the Researchers Guide: Treaties - General.

Depositary Information on IMO Conventions


Entry into force

Action Dates (Entry into force dates)

Tacit acceptance procedure

National legislation implementing IMO Conventions

References to national government gazettes or official journals is made in the Sources and Citations of IMO Conventions.
A list of websites for National law gazettes, treaty collections and journals is available on the website of the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law, Heidelberg

See also:
Country sources and government gateways
Globelaw International and Transnational Law - National Legal Resources
Findlaw Findlaw international search engine
GLIN Global Legal Information Network: National laws
Hieros Gamos
WWLIA Worldwide Legal Information Association(Canada, Australia, NZ, USA in particular)

The following libraries also hold collections of national maritime legislation:
Institute of Maritime Law - University of Southampton
World Maritime University (WMU)
IMO International Maritime Law Institute (IMLI) - Malta

In addition, national maritime law associations may be able to help:
Association Francaise du Droit Maritime (France)
British Maritime Law Association
Canadian Maritime Law Association
Croatia (not yet in English)
European Maritime Law Organisation
Hong Kong Maritime Law Association
Latvian Maritime Law Association
Maritime Law Association of Australia and New Zealand
Maritime Law Association of the United States
Maritime Law Association of Slovenia
Maritime Law Association of South Africa

See also the List of Maritime Law Associations members of the Comite Maritime International (CMI)

Signature, ratification, acceptance, approval and accession

Signature subject to ratification, acceptance or approval

Model Legislation

IMO has developed model legislation for specific regions in co-operation with the countries concerned.  They are available on the website in the Technical Cooperation Pages:

Status of IMO conventions

The current status of signatories, contracting states (date of signature or deposit of instrument, date of entry into force or succession), declarations, reservations and statements, number of contracting states etc is available from the Legal and External Affairs Division at IMO, in the following annual compilation:

"Status of Multilateral Conventions and Instruments in respect of which the International Maritime Organisation or its Secretary-General performs depository or other functions, as at 31 December 2002. London, IMO."
Status of Conventions - Summary
Status of Conventions by country

Status of Conventions: Latest Ratifications
Complete List of Conventions and summaries
Conventions in Development
Conventions,  amendments, related documents and where to find them


IMO performs Secretariat duties for its convention; however, the Secretariat for the International Convention on Arrest of Ships (Arrest, 1999) and for the International Convention on Maritime Liens and Mortgages is held jointly with the UN.

IMO performs secretariat duties and depository functions to the London Convention (Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, 1972, as amended). The depository functions of the parent Convention are assigned to the Government of Mexico, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America.  Information on the London Convention is available on the London Convention website.

Registration with the United Nations and United Nations Treaty Series

The Sources and Citations to IMO Conventions provides the reference to the United Nations Treaty Series.

Publication of the Conventions

The text is published in various forms:

  • Certified copies; they are deposited in the archives of the IMO Secretariat. Each Foreign Minister is sent a copy in the relevant language with a note verbale attached.
  • In document form, they generally first appear as a resolution by the relevant main Committee, or as an Assembly Resolution; they are subsequently published as a publication for sale.

Travaux Préparatoires include working papers, draft resolutions etc. prepared for the conferences and meetings, usually in the context of information consultations.

Official Records of Conference are not systematically published by IMO; those available are listed in the IMO Publications Catalogue.

The full text of IMO Conventions is generally not available on the IMO website as they are sales items.  These can be purchased from the Publishing Service.

However some free electronic access (PDF read-only files) to some conventions has been established as a pilot scheme, in response to a request to IMO's Technical Co-operation Committee.  Registration is free; some documents are not available in all languages.

The text of IMO Conventions found on Internet are generally neither complete nor up to date.

IMO Conventions

A. Convention on the International Maritime Organization, 1948

The Full text of the Convention on the International Maritime Organization, 1948 is available from the Avalon Project and the Australian Treaty Series.

For amendments see Sources and citations on the IMO Convention

How to purchase the IMO Convention

In 1948 an international conference in Geneva adopted a convention formally establishing IMO (the original name was the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organization, or IMCO, but the name was changed in 1982 to IMO).  More on the 1948 Convention.

The IMO Convention entered into force in 1958 and the new Organization met for the first time the following year.  More on the history of IMO can be found in "IMO 1948-1998: a process of change".

The treaty establishing the Organization is published in the Basic Documents (Vol. 1) IMO Publication 2004 edition (Publication No.: IA001E, ISBN: 92-801-4156-2).

B. Conventions on Maritime Safety

  • The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS)
    The SOLAS Convention in its successive forms is generally regarded as the most important of all international treaties concerning the safety of merchant ships.
    The History of Safety at Sea (P. Boisson).

    SOLAS 1914
    Full text is available in PDF format (10.9MB).
    The first version of SOLAS was adopted in 1914. It included chapters on safety of navigation, construction, radiotelegraphy, life-saving appliances and fire protection.  These subjects are still dealt with in separate chapters in the 1974 version.
    The Convention was to enter into force in July 1915, but by then war had broken out in Europe and it did not do so, although many of its provisions were adopted by individual nations.
    More on the 1914 Convention SOLAS: the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, 1974 in Focus on IMO.

    SOLAS 1929
    Full text is available from the Australian Treaty Series.
    In 1927 proposals were made for another conference which was held in London in 1929.  This time 18 countries attended.  The conference adopted a new SOLAS convention which followed basically the same format as the 1914 version but included several new regulations.  It entered into force in 1933.
    One of the two annexes to the convention revised the international regulations for preventing collisions at sea (Collision Regulations).
    More on the 1929 Convention SOLAS: the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, 1974 in Focus on IMO.

    SOLAS 1948
    Full text is available from the Australian Treaty Series.
    By 1948 the 1929 convention had been overtaken by technical developments and the United Kingdom again hosted an international conference which adopted the third SOLAS Convention. It followed the already established pattern but covered a wider range of ships and went into considerably greater detail.
    More on the 1948 Convention SOLAS: the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, 1974 in Focus on IMO.
    Sources and citations on SOLAS 1948 Convention.

    SOLAS 1960
    Full text is available from the Australian Treaty Series.
    The 1960 Convention - which was adopted on 17 June 1960 and entered into force on 26 May 1965 - was the first major task for IMO after the Organization's creation and it represented a considerable step forward in modernizing regulations and in keeping pace with technical developments in the shipping industry.
    The intention was to keep the Convention up to date by periodic amendments but in practice the amendments procedure incorporated proved to be very slow. It became clear that it would be impossible to secure the entry into force of amendments within a reasonable period of time.  As a result, a completely new Convention was adopted in 1974.
    More on the 1960 Convention SOLAS: the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, 1974 in Focus on IMO.
    Sources and citations on SOLAS 1960 Convention.

  • SOLAS 1974
    The SOLAS 1974 Conference was held in London from 21 October to 1 November and was attended by 71 countries.  The Convention which was adopted is the version currently in force and it is unlikely to be replaced by a new instrument because of the new tacit amendment procedure which is included in Article VIII.
    The new Convention included not only the amendments agreed up until that date but a new amendment procedure - the tacit acceptance procedure - designed to ensure that changes could be made within a specified (and acceptably short) period of time.
    Instead of requiring that an amendment shall enter into force after being accepted by, for example, two thirds of the Parties, the tacit acceptance procedure provides that an amendment shall enter into force on a specified date unless, before that date, objections to the amendment are received from an agreed number of Parties.
    As a result, the 1974 Convention  (SOLAS, 1974) which entered into force in 1980 has been updated and amended on numerous occasions.

    More information on SOLAS 1974.
    Additional Information on SOLAS 1974 in "Focus on IMO."
    For amendments see Sources and Citations on SOLAS 1974
    How to purchase SOLAS

  • International Convention on Load Lines (LL), 1966
    For amendments see Sources and citations on Load Lines
    How to purchase Load Lines

C. Conventions on Prevention of Marine pollution

Free electronic access to MARPOL in PDF read-only files has been established, as a pilot scheme, in response to a request to IMO's Technical Co-operation Committee. Registration is free.
For amendments see Sources and citations on MARPOL
How to purchase MARPOL

D. Conventions on Liability and compensation

E. Conventions on Other subjects


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