International Standards for Man Overboard Detection Released

Man Overboard Detection ISO Standards

Cruise ships are constantly subjected to environmental and weather changes, and climate and waves tend to become rough and hazardous as a ship enters deep waters. During these difficult times, there is a high chance that a person might fall overboard.   A man-overboard event might occur due to various reasons, such as unexpected ship movement, a loss of balance, slippery deck floors,  and in some cases people might deliberately jump off the ship in an attempt to commit suicide.

Until recently, this type of event went unmonitored, and was typically reported by word of mouth.  Eight years ago, the United States government formally identified the need for increased measures to detect MOB situations when it released the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act (CVSSA) of 2010.  The act applies to cruise ships carrying more 250 passengers on international voyages in which passengers embark or disembark in any US port.  It calls for automatic man-overboard detection/monitoring systems within 18 months of the technology becoming available.   In response to this mandate, on February 13, 2018, ISO, an independent, non-governmental international organization which brings together experts to share knowledge and develop voluntary, market relevant International Standards to provide solutions for global challenges, announced that standards for man overboard detection technology have now been released.

In their news release, ISO states

The safety of [cruise] ships is rarely put into question, yet an average of 21 “man overboard” incidents occur every year2, fueling an industry that develops detection systems to raise the alarm and locate the victim as soon as possible. Up until now, there have been no internationally agreed requirements to evaluate the effectiveness of such systems.

The new publicly available specification ISO/PAS 21195, Ships and marine technology – Systems for the detection of persons while going overboard from ships (Man overboard detection), provides internationally agreed technical specifications for systems designed to detect a person who has gone overboard from a passenger ship. It covers how the system is expected to perform in a range of environmental conditions and incident profiles.

Robin Townsend, Chair of ISO/TC 8/SC 1, the ISO subcommittee that developed the standard, said this is the first document of its kind to standardize and clearly define technical specifications for such systems in the cruise ship industry.

“With everyone working from the same set of requirements, manufacturers can more easily evaluate safety, effectiveness and performance of the systems,” he explained. “This also provides a strong foundation on which new technologies can be developed.”

The announcement was met with much anticipation from PureTech Systems as it has designed its own man overboard detection system, tested in both northern cold water and warm subtropical cruise routes, using opposing geospatial thermal cameras for very high detection rates while exhibiting few false alarms.

Eric Olson, Vice President of Marketing at PureTech Systems, who also serves on the man overboard ISO standards technical committee added, “We are encouraged by the movement the U.S. Government and the ISO committee to raise the issue of safety on board cruise vessels and push to encourage the development and deployment of safety systems that can quickly detect and notify crew members of overboard situations.”

International standards for Man Overboard DetectionISO/PAS 21195 was developed by technical committee ISO/TC 8, Ships and marine technology, subcommittee SC 1, Maritime safety and provides a standard set of requirements, so manufacturers can more easily evaluate safety, effectiveness and performance of the systems.  The standard is currently classified as a Publicly Available Specification (PAS), with the next steps being the finalization of the document into a full International Standard.  This is done through feedback and input from relevant stakeholders, such as those in the cruise ship industry, systems developers or advocacy groups.

If you would like to provide input into the man overboard standard, you can send your comments / concerns to Eric Olson at or contact a regional ISO member.

Want to learn more about issue of man overboard and how detection systems, like those by PureTech Systems, are helping to solve the problem?  Check out our white paper on man overboard detection.

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