Shipping in polar waters: Polar Code

Eric De Paauw

The IMO has adopted the International Code of Safety for Ships Operating in Polar Waters (Polar Code) and related amendments to make it mandatory under both the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL). The Polar Code covers the full range of design, construction, equipment, operational, training, search and rescue and environmental protection matters relevant to ships operating in the inhospitable waters surrounding the two poles. It entered into force on 1 January 2017. Get to know more about this new regulatory requirement in this blog and stay up to date with our update!


The two polar areas Arctic (North Pole region) and Antarctic (South Pole region), because of their relative isolation and harsh climate, are as affected by human activities as the rest of the world. The isolation also makes them more fragile to external influences, particularly by human activity. In this case, not only the environment needs to be protected, but also the safety of ships operating in the polar areas.


Operating around the polar regions has always been a matter of concern for the IMO. Poor weather conditions and the relative lack of accurate charts, communication systems and other navigational aids create challenges for mariners. The remoteness of the areas makes rescue or clean-up operations difficult and costly. Cold temperatures may reduce the effectiveness of numerous components of the ship, ranging from deck machinery and emergency equipment to sea suctions. When ice is present, it can impose additional loads on the hull, propulsion system and appendages.


In recent years merchant, cruise and offshore vessels have been operating in the polar areas more and more. These are challenges that need to be met without compromising either safety of life at sea or the sustainability of the polar environments.


As stated before, the Polar Code is intended to cover the full range of shipping-related matters relevant to navigation in waters surrounding the two poles – ship design, construction and equipment; operational and training concerns; search and rescue; and, equally important, the protection of the unique environment and ecosystems of the polar regions.



The Code will require ships intending to operate in the waters defined as the Antarctic and Arctic to apply for a Polar Ship Certificate, which would classify the vessel in one of three categories:


  • Category A ship – ships designed for operation in polar waters in at least medium first-year ice, which may include old ice inclusions;
  • Category B ship– a ship not included in Category A, designed for operation in polar waters with at least thin first-year ice, which may include old ice inclusions;
  • Category C ship – a ship designed to operate in open water or in ice conditions less severe than those included in Categories A and B.

To get a Polar Ship Certificate requires an assessment, taking into account the anticipated range of operating conditions and hazards the ship may encounter in the polar waters. The assessment includes information on identified operational limitations, and plans, procedures or additional safety equipment necessary to minimise incidents with potential safety or environmental consequences.


Polar water operational manual

Ships will need to carry a polar water operational manual, to provide the owner, operator, master and crew with sufficient information regarding the ship’s operational capabilities and limitations in order to support their decision-making processes. The chapters in the Code each set out goals and functional requirements. Read more specific details here.


The Code will not apply to ships less than 500GT, fishing vessels or those entitled to sovereign immunity.

Polar code and ship safety

Infographic Polar Code and Ship Safety

The IMO made the following infographic illustrating the ship safety requirements of the Polar Code.


Infographic Polar Code and Protection of the environment

The following infographic illustrates the environmental requirements of the Polar Code. 


We can offer the following solutions:

We can offer the following solutions:


EAL/FKM lip seals
In case you want to switch to an environmentally acceptable lubricant (EAL) instead of mineral oil, we offer EAL/FKM lip seals. Our new lip seal has an especially developed FKM lip seal compound which ensures more durability when using EALs.


When you want to switch, please take a look at these tips: Tips to convert from mineral oil to EALs.


The Supreme Ventus

This seal is not a water-based seal, but uses an air system to separate oil and water; it regulates pressure inside the shaft seal and stern tube. Any fluids that enter the shaft seal are drained into an internal drain tank. It guarantees zero-emission, an absolute minimum of wear and enables you to check the condition of the seal. Read more about the Supreme Ventus in: All you need to know about the Supreme Ventus.


Water lubricated Floating seal

The Water Lubricated Floating seal has been especially developed to prevent water leakage from your open water lubricated stern tube systems into your machine room. It is an environmentally friendly solution in line with VGP regulations which allows for in situ maintenance and Condition Monitoring. Read more about the Water Lubricated Floating seal. 


Water lubricated Fwd seal

The Water Lubricated FWD seal is especially developed to prevent water leakage from your open water lubricated stern tube system into your machine room. It’s an environmentally friendly sealing solution in line with VGP regulations which is repositionable to realign with shaft and has a optimised and extended seal lifetime. Read more about the Water Lubricated Fwd seal. 

More information

If you would like more information or have any questions please feel free to contact us.

Share this article on:

General phone number