In a special category of ferries, High-Speed Craft (HSC) are constructed from lightweight materials like aluminium or glass fibre rather than steel, the traditional material for a ship. Because the reduced weight enables higher operating speeds, the ferry sector has been regulated in separate categories – steel ships and HSC – since the 1990’s.

The use of alternatives to steel is generally not permitted unless the particular ship has been exempted from the requirements. The lightweight ferries are not exempted but regulated under their special section of international safety requirements, the HSC Code. This places particular focus on the evacuation and rescue of passengers and the different risks associated with fires.

Ships that want to be governed by the HSC Code must have a minimum design speed, typically around 25-35 knots depending on their size. For traditional ferries, there is no minimum (or maximum) speed requirement, but the usual norm is between 15-25 knots.

Historically, the HSC business model has addressed markets where quick crossings are important, so the minimum speed requirement has not been an issue. However, in more recent years there have been ever-increasing demands for lower greenhouse gas emissions and greater engine efficiency. Slower speeds and lighter weights are important factors in this respect. As such, it does not make perfect sense to force a new lightweight design to install the level of engine power that would only be needed if it were intended to run fast. Installing a lot of power should of course be allowed but, in view of the environmental considerations, it should not be mandated.


Interferry has established an industry consortium with HSC manufacturers Austal and Incat, and classification society DNV GL. The group has commissioned a study in which Seaspeed Marine Consulting has reviewed the HSC Code and identified any implications of removing or adjusting the current minimum speed requirement.

The original plan was to present the findings to the IMO Maritime Safety Committee at the MSC102 meeting scheduled for May 2020, but this was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the timeline has changed, the way forward remains the same.


The presentation will be made whenever MSC102 is reconvened. It will seek support from Member States for a submission to MSC103 asking for a new agenda output to review the HSC Code’s minimum speed requirement.

Reference: INTERFERRY HSC Code White Paper (SMC 560 01 Issue 02)