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IMO Polar Code

How does the Code apply to my ship?

The Polar Code is a functional, goal-based code. It applies to ships differently, depending on how a ship is constructed and how it will be operated in polar waters.

Fit for purpose?

A key objective of the Polar Code is to ensure a ship is fit for its intended operation in polar waters. The Code does not provide a one-size-fits-all solution. The Code’s requirements derive from the capabilities a ship will need to have to carry out its intended operations safely and responsibly. This is highly dependent on where, when and how it will operate in the polar regions and what environmental conditions it will likely encounter while there.

Polar operating profile

The first step in understanding how the Code applies to your ship is to define its polar operating profile. This includes where the ship is intended to operate, what seasons it will operate there and what type of activities the ship will conduct. Ideally, the profile is tailored to reflect the ship’s known or planned range of operations in the polar regions. If this isn’t known, then a generic operating profile can be formulated instead.


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Operational risk assessment

Next, you need to conduct the operational assessment required by the Polar Code (Part I-A § 1.5).

It is a type of risk assessment that:

  • defines the anticipated range of operating and environmental conditions for the area and season of operations,
  • identifies the relevant hazards associated with the ship’s polar operating profile,
  • identifies the capabilities the ship requires to perform satisfactorily under these conditions,
  • assesses the ship’s design and equipment arrangement against these capabilities, and
  • identifies additional technical and operational measures needed to comply with the Polar Code.

Certain key choices in a ship’s polar operating profile and key conclusions from the operational assessment will determine which parts of the Polar Code apply to your vessel. 

These are:

  • operation in ice,
  • operation in low air temperature,
  • operation in high latitude, and
  • maximum expected time of rescue.

Operation in ice

The Polar Code assigns a ship to one of three categories – Category A, B or C – based on the type of ice for which it is designed to operate, if any. A ship’s category determines the applicability of some requirements and regulations in the Code, as some apply to a Category A ship only, others to Category A and B ships for example. 

A ship’s ice class is used to determine its polar ship category. The Polar Code does not associate a ship’s category with geographic operating areas. Rather, a ship owner should ensure that the ship’s ice class is appropriate for the anticipated ice conditions and operate it within those limits.

Operation in low air temperature

Low air temperature adversely affects human and equipment performance, survival time and material properties. The Polar Code divides ships into two categories with respect to air temperature: those intended to operate in low air temperature, and those which are not.

A ship intended to operate in low air temperature means a ship intended to undertake voyages to or through areas where the lowest Mean Daily Low Temperature (MDLT) is colder than –10°C. For such a ship, a Polar Service Temperature (PST) shall be specified and shall be at least 10°C colder than the lowest MDLT for the intended area and season of operation in polar waters.

The Polar Code contains specific requirements for a ship intended to operate in low air temperature. These include general requirements that systems and equipment required by the Code must be fully functional at the PST. Survival systems and equipment also must be fully operational at the PST during the maximum expected time of rescue.

Operation in high latitude

Operating in high latitudes limits the performance and availability of standard navigation and communication systems, and may affect the quality of ice imagery information. The Polar Code requires additional communications and navigation equipment for vessels proceeding to high latitudes.

Maximum expected time of rescue

Remoteness and the lack of infrastructure in the polar regions affects the availability and timeliness of rescue and assistance to ships in distress. Ships operating in remote polar waters must be prepared to wait for some days before SAR resources arrive on scene. The Polar Code requires a ship owner to determine the maximum expected time of rescue for their intended operations in polar waters. This determines the type and amount of survival equipment the ship must carry on board. 

The Code requires that this must be at least five days. When operating in some remote areas, it may be considerably more than five days. 

Setting this value for a ship is a key element of the operational risk assessment required by Part I-A § 1.5 of the Code.

Determining individual requirements

Once the polar operating profile and operational risk assessment have been performed for a ship, we can determine which requirements in the Polar Code apply to it.

Some requirements must be met by design measures and some by operational procedures. For others, the owner may choose either design or operational measures, or a combination of both, to comply. There is no single prescribed solution for what is considered “acceptable” in meeting many of the functional requirements of the Code. In this way, the Polar Code is similar in approach to the International Safety Management (ISM) Code and the International Ship & Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code, which rely heavily on the owner/operator to develop processes that adequately address a ship and operation.

IMO Polar Code requirements determination 

DNV is ready to assist you in this process. We can help you define a polar operating profile, conduct the operational assessment, determine which parts of the Code apply to your ship, and evaluate alternative design and operational measures to comply with them.

Related downloads and links


Polar ship categories

Download the PDF and explore how the different Polar Ship categories are specified


Training requirements for ships operating in polar waters

Download the PDF providing an overview of requirements for different ship types