Rules of the Road: Qualship 21 rewards PSC-compliant yachts

Aug 7, 2019 by Capt. Jake DesVergers

Rules of the Road: by Capt. Jake DesVergers

Sovereign and other self-governing nations have the right to control any activities within their own borders, including those of visiting yachts. Authority and control over foreign-flagged ships in a country’s ports, used for verifying compliance with the requirements of the applicable maritime conventions, is called Port State Control (PSC).

In the United States, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) is tasked as the enforcement agency for PSC. In 2018, the USCG conducted 9,025 SOLAS safety exams with a total of 105 detentions and eight ISPS control actions. 

While PSC primarily exists to target and eliminate substandard vessels, the USCG also has a program called Qualship 21 to recognize and reward compliant vessels, as well as their owners and flag administrations, for their commitment to safety and quality. To encourage maritime entities to participate in the program, incentives such as certificates, name recognition, and a reduction in PSC examination frequency are offered. The criteria for inclusion are very strict and only a small percentage of all foreign-flagged ships that operate in the U.S. have earned the Qualship 21 designation. 

For the purpose of Qualship 21, the initial eligibility criteria are:

  • Must be a non-U.S. flagged vessel.
  • The vessel must be registered to a Qualship 21-qualified flag administration.
  • No substandard vessel detentions in the U.S. within the previous 36 months.
  • No marine violations or serious marine casualties, and no more than one Notice of Violation (NOV) ticket in the U.S. within the previous 36 months.
  • A successful U.S. PSC safety exam within the previous 24 months. 
  • Not owned or operated by any company (listed on vessel’s Continuous Synopsis Record) that has been associated with more than one PSC detention in U.S. waters within the previous 24 months. 
  • Vessels cannot have their statutory convention certificates issued by a “targeted” recognized organization (RO). Targeted ROs are those that have been assigned points for substandard issues in the U.S. Port State Control Matrix as listed in the most recent PSC Annual Report. 

The USCG reserves the right to restrict eligibility in the Qualship 21 program to any vessel because of special circumstances. This includes, but is not limited to, significant overseas casualties or detentions and pending criminal or civil investigations.

For flag administrations to qualify for the Qualship 21 program, they must:

  • Not have a three-year detention ratio greater than 1.0%. 
  • Have at least 10 PSC examinations in the U.S. in each of the previous three  years. 
  • Submit a Self-Assessment of Flag Administration (State) Performance to the IMO and provide a copy to the U.S. Coast Guard.
  • Submit an Executive Summary from their Member State Audit Scheme audit to the U.S. Coast Guard, or submit a letter or email attesting to the fact that they have not yet undergone the audit but have submitted their request to be audited.

As one could assume, the number of qualifying flag administrations is low. For 2019, the USCG identified 27 countries as eligible. They are:

  • Bahamas 
  • Belgium 
  • Bermuda 
  • British Virgin Islands 
  • Canada 
  • Cayman Islands 
  • China 
  • Croatia 
  • Curacao 
  • Denmark 
  • France 
  • Germany 
  • Gibraltar 
  • Hong Kong 
  • Isle of Man 
  • Italy 
  • Jamaica 
  • Japan 
  • Liberia 
  • Marshall Islands 
  • Netherlands
  • Norway 
  • Singapore 
  • Switzerland 
  • Taiwan 
  • Thailand 
  • United Kingdom

To have a specific ship or yacht enrolled in the Qualship 21 program, vessel owners and/or operators are required to submit the name of the vessel, IMO number, registered flag administration, company name, and company IMO number to the U.S. Coast Guard’s Office of Commercial Compliance (CG-CVC-2). After receiving this information, the Coast Guard will screen the information and make a determination of eligibility. 

Once accepted into the program, a Qualship 21 Certificate will be issued to the company and the vessel. The vessel will then be listed on the CG-CVC-2’s Qualship 21 web page.

Capt. Jake DesVergers is chief surveyor for International Yacht Bureau ( Comments are welcome below.