Many misconceptions float around the idea of maritime risk assessment. One of them is the belief that it is yet another administrative burden — and one that does little else than to ‘show’ to the authorities that risk assessment on board ship has been carried out.

Truth be told, it is not merely another paperwork to be filled. Instead, it’s an all-important cluster of measures to control hazards onboard the ship. It’s a fact that the frequency of maritime accidents has gone down due to several reasons — including new regulations, technological advances, better accident management, etc. Still, the need for risk analysis and prevention remains intact.  

What is Risk Assessment on a Ship?

The definition of risk assessment can vary widely from one context to another. But the commonly applied definition of it in the maritime industry is the one provided by the Formal Safety Assessment (FSA) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). It defines maritime risk assessment as “The process whereby decisions are made to accept a known or assessed risk and/or the implementation of actions to reduce the consequences or probability of occurrence.”

How to Conduct Risk Assessment on a Ship?

If you consult multiple publications on the marine risk assessment process, you will come across various answers. The five-step process is the most widely accepted when it comes to conducting a risk assessment for the shipping industry.

  1. Hazard identification

It all begins with identifying the hazards. Simply put, a hazard refers to any practice, situation, or substance that can potentially result in harm. The probability of someone getting harmed constitutes the risk, along with the possible consequences of the harm.

A physical situation such as a collision between your vessel and a fishing vessel could constitute a hazard in the marine industry. Or it could involve a crane operation where the load might suddenly drop. A benign-looking oily rag catching fire could be another material scenario.

hazard identification process cannot be clearly defined, in all fairness. Hence, this is something that needs to be visited periodically. You need to ensure you have a reliable team in place to assist you with the risk analysis onboard a ship.

  1. Estimating the Risk

Safety is directly linked to the degree of absence of risk. Given that a risk-free activity does not exist, an action is regarded as safe when the associated levels of risk are within the permissible limits. Then again, how are we to know whether the level of risk is acceptable? When working in the industry, you should be able to estimate the vessel risk to carry out the risk assessment on your own. 

You could draw up a Risk Estimator matrix highlighting the ‘Consequences’ and ‘Likelihood’, respectively on the x- and y-axes. Your ship’s safety management system (SMS) could define additional controls and the levels at which they become applicable. There is also the option of assigning values to ‘Frequency’ and ‘Consequence’, then calculating the risk by multiplication of the two factors.

In some cases, companies feel consequence is more closely tied to risk than frequency. Then, the calculation of risk changes too.

  1. Controlling Serious Risks

Here, we evaluate the various options that can be used to control the estimated risks. There is a straightforward principle to be followed when it comes to risk controls – focus on removing the threat. Even where complete risk removal is not possible, you must focus on reducing it down to what is known as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP). 

  1. Identifying benefits, implementing actions, and establishing responsibilities

Once you estimate and identify the steps for risk assessment on a ship, you need to go a step further and implement them in real life. It is also important to assign accountability for each identified action to further minimize the risk.

  1. Risk Monitoring

Several defining factors could change during the course of the implementation process, so constant monitoring, review, evaluation, and modification of the first three steps in this procedure are crucial. It is also vital to close the job with well-documented feedback, mentioning if the chosen control measures were enough to mitigate risk. Next time you plan a similar activity, you can simply refer to this feedback document.

Risk monitoring involves taking stock of the most relevant risks, which include:

  • Any issues concerning the health and safety of people on board
  • Property of the shipping company and others
  • The environment

Types of Risk Assessments on a Ship

Formal risk assessment: You work as a team in a formal risk assessment scenario. Start the meeting with a detailed hazard assessment, complete all the risk analysis steps as detailed above, and log down the process in a specific form.

Informal risk assessment: This is complementary to the formal process. Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that it can replace a formal risk assessment. This is more an individual task based on the daily activities a person is tasked with.

Qualitative Risk Assessments: In qualitative risk assessment, simple methods are used for risk evaluation. There is no need for advanced skills, and the assessment can be done using non-numerical techniques. Risk matrices used on ships are a relevant marine risk assessment example.

Quantitative Risk Assessment: On the other hand, complex methods are used in quantitative risk assessments and involve special software capable of precisely calculating the numerical value of the risks. There is specially developed software for use in highly hazardous operations. High levels of knowledge and skills are required.

Semi-Quantitative Risk Assessment: There is also something called semi-quantitative risk assessment that sits somewhere in between both extremes. Here, numerical values help calculate the risks without using any special applications or software.

Ways of Handling the Risk Onboard

Once you have done a risk analysis and identified a potential danger on board a ship, there are four ways to handle it.

  1. Simply avoid the risk

If the work in question cannot be left unfinished, this is not the best option but is often the only route to take, keeping in mind safety concerns. For example, if a ship has to be abandoned in rough weather, you cannot avoid it and choose to weather out the storm.

  1. Reducing the potential risk impacts

Here, you can focus on reducing either the consequence of risk or the likelihood of loss from the risk or both. More often than not, the probability of the risk occurring will decrease, but there could be instances when the consequence alone is reduced. Taking extra precautions is often the best way to achieve this.

  1. A third party takes up the risk

Although not the most common option with seafarers, there is the option of bringing in third-party contractual technicians or specialists and transferring some of the risks to them. An example of risk transfer strategy is maritime companies getting insurance solutions to protect certain aspects of their operation such as machines or equipment. 

  1. Retain the risk

The last way to deal with a risk is to retain it and continue proceeding with the project as planned. This is certainly not the best option except when the risk is low and there’s not much that can be practically done.


Risk assessment onboard a ship is not a one-time affair because risk is never constant or absolute. It’s an ongoing process that needs to be reviewed and tweaked regularly to identify, address, and mitigate existing as well as evolving risks. For tanker companies specifically, continuously assessing and comparing performance against TMSA metrics can help anticipate and avoid risks while keeping their operations aligned with the highest industry and safety standards. To learn more about how Shipmate can support your maritime operations against existing and future risks, get in touch with us.