Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS)

Passenger vessels and vessels over 300 tons are required to comply with the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) treaty of 1974.  The original version of this treaty, enacted in 1941, was in response to the sinking of the RMS Titanic. Today's treaty and implementation still focus on responding to vessels in distress, but automatic rescue beacons and satellite communications have replaced the historic Morse code keys and manually fired flares.

This Treaty and its implementation were the first major tasks after the International Maritime Organization was created in 1960. The SOLAS process recognized the accelerating rate of technical development in seafaring. The IMO knew it needed to keep the Convention up to date, but the traditional amendments procedure for international treaties were too slow to keep up with the needs of safety of life. In 1974, a new Convention, the current one, which adopted the prior amendments but  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 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 which 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.