American Bureau of Shipping

American maritime classification society established in 1862

The American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) is an American maritime classification society established in 1862. Its stated mission to promote the security of life, property and the natural environment, primarily through the development and verification of standards for the design, construction and operational maintenance of marine and offshore assets.

ABS' core business is to provide global classification services to the marine, offshore and gas industries. As of 2020, ABS was the second largest class society with a classed fleet of over 12,000 commercial vessels and offshore facilities. ABS develops its standards and technical specifications, known collectively as the ABS Rules & Guides. These Rules form the basis for assessing the design and construction of new vessels and the integrity of existing vessels and marine structures.



ABS was first chartered in the state of New York in 1862 as the American Shipmasters’ Association (ASA) to certify qualified ship captains, or shipmasters, for safe ship operations during the Civil War. While ASA's certificates were not an official requirement for shipmasters, the certificate served as a recommendation for shipowners. Vessels that sailed with a certified ASA shipmaster were more likely to find favorable insurance coverage.

The ASA published its first technical standards, Rules for Survey and Classing Wooden Vessels, in 1870. In the late 19th century, wooden ships became obsolete and gave way to iron as a shipbuilding material. In response, ASA published its first Rules for Survey and Classing of Iron Vessels in 1877. Similarly, when iron gave way to steel, ABS Rules for Building and Classing Steel Vessels were established and published in 1890. These Steel Vessel Rules continue to be revised and published annually.

The ASA continued its program of certifying shipmasters until May 1900. By this time, federal law required that most sea officers be licensed by the United States government. As its business shifted from the certification of shipmasters to the classification of ships, the American Shipmasters’ Association renamed itself the American Bureau of Shipping in 1898. ABS would achieve modest growth over the next few years, classing 21% of all US-flag fleet by 1916. During World War I, the US-flag fleet swelled with newly acquired ships as well as newly... more

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