Voyage Data Recorders


Passenger ships and ships other than passenger ships of 3000 gross tonnage and upwards constructed on or after 1 July 2002 must carry voyage data recorders (VDRs) to assist in accident investigations, under regulations adopted in 2000, which entered into force on 1 July 2002.

The mandatory regulations are contained in chapter V on Safety of Navigation of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, 1974 (SOLAS).

Like the black boxes carried on aircraft, VDRs enable accident investigators to review procedures and instructions in the moments before an incident and help to identify the cause of any accident.

VDR requirements

Under regulation 20 of SOLAS chapter V on Voyage data recorders (VDR), the following ships are required to carry VDRs:

• passenger ships constructed on or after 1 July 2002;

• ro-ro passenger ships constructed before 1 July 2002 not later than the first survey on or after 1 July 2002;

• passenger ships other than ro-ro passenger ships constructed before 1 July 2002 not later than 1 January 2004; and

• ships, other than passenger ships, of 3,000 gross tonnage and upwards constructed on or after 1 July 2002.

VDRs are required to meet performance standards "not inferior to those adopted by the Organization".


Performance standards for VDRs were adopted in 1997 and give details on data to be recorded and VDR specifications. They state that the VDR should continuously maintain sequential records of preselected data items relating to status and output of the ship's equipment and command and control of the ship. The VDR should be installed in a protective capsule that is brightly coloured and fitted with an appropriate device to aid location. It should be entirely automatic in normal operation.

Administrations may exempt ships, other than ro-ro passenger ships, constructed before 1 July 2002, from being fitted with a VDR where it can be demonstrated that interfacing a VDR with the existing equipment on the ship is unreasonable and impracticable.

Regulation18 of SOLAS chapter V on Approval, surveys and performance standards of navigational systems and equipment and voyage data recorder states that:

The voyage data recorder (VDR) system, including all sensors, shall be subjected to an annual performance test. The test shall be conducted by an approved testing or servicing facility to verify the accuracy, duration and recoverability of the recorded data. In addition, tests and inspections shall be conducted to determine the serviceability of all protective enclosures and devices fitted to aid location. A copy of a the certificate of compliance issued by the testing facility, stating the date of compliance and the applicable performance standards, shall be retained on board the ship.