What Does ‘Grandfathering’ of a Fishing Vessel Mean to Me?

The ALP (Rudd) government introduced in 2008 a range of policy initiatives to streamline major government transport management and infrastructure arrangements across Australia to reduce red tape, reduce cost and maintain services. This was obviously focused on rail, road and air but in the broadbrush of the transport portfolio, it also included marine safety.

In 2009 the Commonwealth and State governments agreed to appoint the Australian Marine Safety Authority (AMSA) as the national regulator for marine safety. Part of the agreement was that State marine authorities would continue to manage and deliver services under a single set of legislation directed by AMSA. This approach would streamline the myriad differing rules and allow seamless recognition of vessel operations and crew certifications across state boundaries.

Following extensive consultations with industry between 2010 – 2012 the national system commenced under the Marine Safety (Domestic Commercial Vessel) National Law Act (2012) on 1st July 2013.

How did a Vessel get Grandfather status?

As part of the transition to the new National marine safety management system all governments’ agreed to allow existing vessels in operation as at 1st July 2013 to continue operating under the design, construction and survey requirements that existed before the new introduction of the new National System. See, for example, section 8 of Marine Order 503 which recognises the standards to which that the vessel was constructed.

This was labeled as ‘grandfathering’ arrangements.

The rules about grandfathering can be found in Marine Order 503 can be found at:


Grandfathering’ is not a new concept and is used in general day-to-day activities to assist the transition from an old to a new way of doing things. This might mean grandfathering lease agreements for a building over a period of time to let them run the course of the business arrangement before requiring the owner to take up the new rules for the next lease.

Under the new National marine safety arrangements grandfathering was introduced to save existing vessel operators from having to invest immediately in the cost to bring their vessels into line with new vessel construction/stability standards and safety and equipment requirements under the new rules.

Under grandfathering status a vessel must continue to comply with the construction and stability standards that applied to the vessel when it was last surveyed prior to 1 July 2013.

On-Board Safety Management and Safety Equipment Standards are Not Grandfathered

Grandfathering does not exempt a vessel owner from having to comply with the general safety management duties of an owner set out in the new national laws including the requirement to develop and implement a safety management system (SMS) to cover the vessel’s operations (see NSCV Part E/Marine Order 504).

Under initial regulatory plans for the new National system discussed during early consultations, AMSA made it clear that safety equipment standards were NOT to be grandfathered.

From 1st January 2018 the safety equipment on all owners of existing grandfathered vessels will need to start upgrading to contemporary safety equipment standards triggered on occurrence of a certain event (eg next periodic survey).

Go to NSCV Part C (7A) to check what safety equipment is required for your vessel: https://www.amsa.gov.au/vessels-operators/regulations-and-standards-vessels/national-standard-commercial-vessels

Vessel survey requirements will not be ‘Grandfathered’ after 1 July 2018

From 1 July 2018, all vessels will move to the new survey regime. This means that periodic survey requirements (how often a vessel needs to be surveyed) will no longer be grandfathered.

This change will result in a significant reduction in minimum survey requirements for most fishing vessel operators. Some operators of <12m vessels in sheltered waters may also now be eligible for non-survey.

However, a few operators of vessels in sheltered waters may see a slight increase in survey requirements.

See the AMSA website for more information on the survey changes. www.amsa.gov.au

What Happens if a Vessel Loses ‘Grandfather’ Status?

A vessel may lose it’s grandfathering status in two ways;

  • if the vessel’s operations are changed to an area outside the geographical restrictions that apply to the vessel’s current Certificate of Survey or Certificate of Operation.
  • if the vessel is altered/modified to such an extent that it is deemed to be a ‘transitional vessel’

Alterations or modifications that would result in the vessel being a transitional vessel are listed in Schedule 1 of MO503 and include:

  • removing, repositioning or modifying any portion of fixed ballast,
  • removing or adding lifting equipment, trawl apparatus, net reels, refrigeration equipment, fish or any other tanks,
  • fitting additional fuel or water tanks,
  • installation of berths or extra berths;
  • increase in propulsion power that invalidates the assumptions and calculations used for structural or stability design approval;
  • variation to lightship displacement of at least 4%;
  • variation to lightship LCG by at least 2%;
  • increase in windage profile of the vessel;
  • a change to the vessel’s structure or watertight integrity including any of the following: hull alteration; change to vessel dimensions; alteration of the passageways or means of access to the vessel or its spaces; fitting of, or alteration to, a deck or watertight bulkhead.
  • other than a like for like replacement of equipment or fittings, a change to any of the following for the vessel: fixed fire system; stern gear; gas system; electrical power and generators.

The new standards that apply when any of these alterations or modifications occur are identified in Schedule 2 of MO503.

An AMSA accredited marine surveyor vessel will assess any alterations/modifications to a vessel. If deemed to be a change identified in Schedule 1 of Marine Order 503, the vessel will be considered a ‘transitional vessel’ and current standards will apply to some or all aspects of the vessel.

What is Transitional Vessel Status?

The transitional vessel arrangements outlined above came into effect on 1 January 2018. They allow owners to make certain alterations/modifications to their existing grandfathered vessel without having to meet all the standards that apply to a ‘new vessel’.

Eligible vessels will become a ‘transitional vessel’. The amendment provides an alternative more flexible set of rules for ‘existing vessels’ that may be triggered when modifications take place to an grandfathered vessel.

A transitional vessel is required to meet, either:

  • the standards contained in Table 1 of Schedule 2, of Marine Order 503; or
  • the latest version of the standards for new vessels (usually NSCV), set out in section 4(2) of Marine Order 503.

Go to: https://www.amsa.gov.au/vessels-operators/regulations-and-standards-vessels/marine-order-503-existing-vessel-transitional