SNV Story No. 4: Management system ahoy!

ISO 28701 – Management system for safety and sustainability in inland navigation

Inland waterway transport is becoming increasingly popular around the world. This is a development that can be traced to countries setting ambitious goals for shifting transport to water as well as to the general growth in demand for this form of travel. However, this trend is also facing challenges such as lower water levels, a new awareness of the need for sustainability, a shortage of licensed skippers and the absence of a joined up management system. All of this suggests that it’s high time for a change of course that would include adopting a uniform standard on all inland waterways and accelerating decarbonisation. The new draft standard Safety and Sustainability Management System ISO/CD 28701 is based on the ESG principles and unifies existing regional regulations in an international system that lends itself to a certification framework. We spoke with Sascha Gill, who is one of the initiators of the standard as well as convenor of the ISO/TC 8/SC 7/WG 1 working group.

Too much on the go at once, too many rules, not enough internationality
A ship’s captain on the high seas faces a great challenge in the form of the ocean itself. A ship’s captain on a river has to contend with elements of greater diversity, including traffic, bridges, low water, shallows, narrow traffic routes and so on. Every ship at sea is subject to the international SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) standard of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). And what standard does an inland waterways captain have to follow? “It is unfortunately the case that there is still no internationally applicable standard. Depending on the river, the operation of a ship may be subject to national law, regional ordinances or the regulations of a specific river commission. For example, the CCNR (Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine) has very clear regulations. However, as the name suggests, those regulations only apply to the Rhine. This situation is particularly challenging for companies that operate internationally and employ people from different countries. General management systems such as ISO 9001 for quality or ISO 45001 for occupational health and safety are not specific enough for navigation on inland waterways, so such certifications are rarely sought in regard to ships operating on rivers”, Sascha Gill explains. The implications of all of these factors are easy to imagine : Employees who are on the move on various stretches of water have to constantly make adjustments to the way they do their daily work. Companies with a global fleet need to make changes to their ships, their crews and their processes in order to accommodate am immense variety of regulations. This situation will become even worse with the anticipated increase in European traffic as the EU climate protection package “Fit For 55” is placing a clear focus on inland waterways as a transport network for goods.

Traffic on EU inland waterways
in 2023: 16,000 ships
2050: 25,000 ships

Setting sail for internationally certified safety and sustainability
There is one person who has overall responsibility for everything that happens on a ship: the captain. Everyone who works in this role brings their personal experiences to the job and derives their own rules for ensuring safety. There are also many small companies involved in commercial river shipping, many of which operate with just one vessel. “Let’s take the example of evacuation. Evacuations are carried out differently depending on the captain, the individual company regulations, the region and the experience of the crew. If a crew member or captain changes ship, company or place of work, everything can suddenly be completely different. This often doesn’t have an immediate impact on safety, but it’s confusing and involves a lot of work for staff as well as those on land who are tasked with ensuring safety”, says Sascha Gill. “In offshore shipping, the rules are optimised to better protect people and the environment each time an accident occurs. This is certainly due in part to the way that such events garner a great deal of attention in the media as well as the existence of the International Maritime Organization, which concerns itself with such matters. Policymakers also optimise the applicable rules when river navigation incidents occur, but such rules usually only apply locally and have no global impact. The motivation of the initiators of the new management system was to close this enormous gap as quickly as possible and to develop a certifiable system”. In addition to sustainability aspects and safety, the increasingly strict accounting requirements also play a vital role. In future, every company will have to provide transparent reporting in regard to its economic, environmental, and social commitment in addition to its key financial figures. In most cases, the management teams in the industry lack the required knowledge as well as clear guidelines and recommendations for action. A sector-specific standard will close this gap, providing users with practical solutions on how to collect and process the relevant information according to local rules.

Language problems lead to misunderstandings
There is no uniform language spoken on European rivers, which poses an enormous challenge for international employees. An international standard will create clarity in daily work routines. A crew moving from one vessel to another or from one body of water to another must find it easy to locate and understand the most important regulations as well as how to apply them.

ISO gives the go-ahead for an MSS
The initiators submitted a request to the responsible technical committee (ISO/TC 8/SC 7) for the development of a new Management System Standard (MSS). “Based on the outlined need for action, it wasn’t difficult to get approval for a new MSS. The crucial factors were the urgency, the carefully prepared draft and the fact that the new MSS is not a product in competition with previous solutions such as the MSS for quality (ISO 9001), occupational health and safety (ISO 45001), environment (ISO 14001), energy (ISO 50001) or risk management (ISO 31000)”. It was also important to clearly delineate the MSS in terms of its intended use. The scope of the standard to be developed “ISO/CD 28701 Safety and sustainability in inland navigation” is defined to encompass:

  • Commercial navigation
  • On inland waterways (rivers, lakes, etc.)
  • Cargo, cruise, ferry and passenger vessels
  • With a length of more than 24 metres and
  • Land operations that support such ships

The new management system standard will be designed in such a way that it can be rolled out and implemented by companies both large and small in a pragmatic manner. A key component of the toolbox will be the risk assessment, which is clearly described and will be the starting point for the measures to be taken. The system also incorporates local law. This is particularly important in Europe, as the legislation on the Rhine is very precise and extensive. The draft standard ISO/CD 28701 does not compete with local rules but instead ensures that all regulations are applied across the board. The new MSS therefore constitutes an accessible management tool.

The first draft clearly sets the course
Thanks to a sound and thoughtfully composed first draft of roughly 30 pages, the entire development process has been amazingly fast. “While compiling the draft, we systematically made our way through the ten logical topic areas, that is, the ISO sections of an MSS. We created everything from scratch, with nothing that was simply copied from an existing MSS. I was really impressed by the speed with which the Swiss Association for Standardisation (SNV) assisted and drove the decision-making process. Coming from Austria, I expected that standardisation work would proceed at a more leisurely pace. The systematic approach will allow us to more quickly make a contribution to safety and decarbonisation”. Since work began in June 2022, the working group fleshed out the complete management system in just a few meetings. It is due to go into effect in 2024, at which point interested parties will be able to start getting certified. The interest is great because the prospect of certification also increases the attractiveness of a provider. The target group of the new standard is wide-ranging – from shipping companies to skippers, from safety companies on land to owners of a single vessel.

Focal points of ISO/CD 28701
Certifiable, internationally applicable, increases safety on board, contributes to decarbonisation, based on ESG principles, supports non-financial reporting

What was your biggest surprise in the standardisation work?
“That the way that wide swaths of the public see standards is no longer in keeping with the times. Standards help get things done, bring structure to processes and achieve clear results. Up until now, I only knew standards from the perspective of a user. Now that I have worked in putting them together, I realise that the world of standards has become much more modern, with higher-level social and environmental issues also being addressed. Unfortunately, this concept has not yet hit home with the general public. My message to everyone is to bring fresh eyes to their engagement with the ISO and its regulations. When properly applied and understood, they clearly add value for everyone”.

Fact sheet on standard ISO/CD 28701

Launched: 2020
Published: planned 2024
Number of pages: draft currently at 30 pages
Initiator: IG River Cruise
Convenor: Sascha Gill
Applicability: international
Status: under development as of 30 June
More information on ISO/CD 28701

The 10 sections of an MSS according to ISO
Referenced standards
Terms and definitions
Context of the organisation
Performance evaluation

A word with Barbara Guder, Programme Manager at SNV

Can you provide a brief overview of the most important differences between a “normal” ISO standard and a Management System Standard (MSS)?


ISO standard

Management System Standard (MSS)


Regulates tangible and intangible items such as products, procedures, measurement methods, processes and services.

Is a management and control instrument that helps organisations to perform better.


ISO 668 “Freight containers – Classification, dimensions, gross weight”
ISO 3874 “Freight containers – Handling and securing”

ISO 9001 for quality management
ISO 14001 for environmental management
ISO 50001 energy management

Target group

For organisations that come into contact with the topic of standards.

For all sectors of the economy, for various types and sizes of organisations.


Approx. 25,000 ISO standards

Approx. 100 ISO-MSS


None required

Yes, required (internal/external)


Possible, rare

Yes, usually the utmost priority

Are there higher standards for launching an MSS?

Yes, there is an additional hurdle for an MSS. A new MSS project needs to go through an approval process at ISO. In addition to the regular application, a detailed Justification Study must be prepared, in which the argument for why there is a need for a new MSS is made. At this point, the first draft standard should already have been sent.

How long have ISO management systems been in existence?
The first ISO standard for a management system will soon be 40 years old. It was originally launched in 1987 and continues to be the best-known standard worldwide – the ISO 9001 quality management standard.

How can I get certified?
External, independent bodies provide certification according to ISO MSS and issue the relevant certificates; the ISO organisation is not involved.

More about ISO MSS

Sascha Gill

He is responsible for environment and sustainability at CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association) Europe. In his previous positions at Viking Cruises and as a representative of IG River Cruise, he helped initiate the new management system draft ISO/CD 28701 and convened the responsible ISO working group. Sascha Gill holds a PhD in Economics from Nottingham Trent University and an MBA from Oxford Brooks University.

Sascha Gill is responsible for environment and sustainability at CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association) Europe and convened the ISO/TC 8/SC 7/WG 1 working group.

Sascha Gill is responsible for environment and sustainability at CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association) Europe and convened the ISO/TC 8/SC 7/WG 1 working group.

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