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U.S. Coast Guard QUALSHIP 21 Program and Application

What is QUALSHIP 21?

Coast Guard efforts to eliminate substandard shipping have focused on improving methods to identify poor-quality vessels (targeting schemes). However, regardless of the score that a vessel receives in our targeting matrix, all foreign-flagged vessels are examined no less than once each year. This provides few incentives for the well run, quality ship. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of vessels are operated responsibly, and are typically found with few or no deficiencies. Under our current policies, vessels operating at a higher-quality share nearly the same examination intervals as those vessels operating at lower-quality standards. These high-quality vessels should be recognized and rewarded for their commitment to safety and quality. Therefore, on January 1, 2001, the Coast Guard implemented an initiative to identify high-quality ships, and provide incentives to encourage quality operations. This initiative is called QUALSHIP 21, quality shipping for the 21st century.

 What is E-Zero?

Beginning July 1st, 2017, vessels enrolled in the QUALSHIP 21 program may also seek the E-Zero designation if they meet the requirements set forth below. The E-Zero program is a new addition to the existing QUALSHIP 21 program, and the intent of this program is to recognize those exemplary vessels that have consistently adhered to environmental compliance, while also demonstrating an immense commitment to environmental stewardship. These vessels will receive the E-Zero designation on their QUALSHIP 21 certificate.

 The Qualship21 Program & E-Zero Designation

The Qualship21 pamphlet and frequently asked questions document provide a full overview of the program including incentives, eligibility requirements and application instructions.

      - Qualship 21/E-Zero Pamphlet

      - Frequently Asked Questions

 Applying to Qualship21 & E-Zero

For those companies that believe their vessel(s) qualify for the USCG's QUALSHIP 21 Program or QUALSHIP 21 with E-Zero Designation applications must be made using the application below.   For vessels with existing QUALSHIP 21 certificate desiring to add the E-Zero Designation, please use the second application located below.  In order to receive the E-Zero designation, a vessel must be currently in QUALSHIP 21 and remained in the program for a minimum of the last three years to qualify.  All applications should be e-mailed to

- Application For QS21 Initial/Renewal and E-Zero Designation (Excel)

Application For Adding E-Zero Designation To An Existing QS21 Certificate (Excel)

Qualified Flag Administrations

The list of fully qualified flag administrations will be updated annually on June 30th. This date marks the beginning that any newly qualified flag administration's vessels may begin to enroll in the program and closes enrollment for vessels registered to flags that are no longer qualified. If a flag administration is no longer qualified for the program, any of their vessels currently enrolled in QUALSHIP 21 may remain in the program until their QUALSHIP 21 certificate expires.

 The following flag administrations have met all the requirements for full participation in the QUALSHIP 21 program (Valid through the end of June 2021):


Bahamas7/2020 - 6/2021
BermudaBritish Virgin Islands
CanadaCayman Islands
CroatiaCyprus *
Hong KongIsle of Man
JamaicaMarshall Islands
Republic of Korea *Singapore
ThailandUnited Kingdom
* Eligible 2021 Flags

The following Flag Administrations have shown a commitment to excellence in their level of compliance with international standards but do not meet the full requirements for QUALSHIP 21 eligibility. Specifically, they have not met the requirement of at least 10 port state control examinations per calendar year for the previous three years. The list below contains Flag Administrations that have had at least three port state control safety examinations in each of the previous three years and have not been subject to any Port State Control detention in that same time period:



New Certification Numbers on QS21 Certificates:

In March 2015, the U.S. Coast Guard began issuing Qualship 21 Program certificates to Flag Administrations, companies and vessels with a unique identification number. You may note on our website that we have begun to include these numbers next to the associate party. Please note that we will not issue new certificates to vessels with these identification numbers until their next renewal. The lack of a identification number on an existing current certificate does not make the certificate invalid. It will take two or more years for all of the Qualship 21 certificates, without identification numbers, to be replaced. If there is ever any question on the validity of any certificate associated with our Qualship 21 Program, you should contact the Qualship 21 Program coordinator by phone at +1-202-372-1587 or by e-mail at

* Due to the recent outbreak of COVID-19, QUALSHIP 21 certificates are not currently being processed.  Please ensure a hardcopy of the acceptance letter is onboard the vessel to present to Coast Guard authorities if needed.  We apologize for the delay in processing your certificate and hope to resume full operating capacity soon.



The United States Coast Guard’s QUALSHIP 21 program represents the most difficult quality certification to attain in the world.  The purpose of this Marine Guideline is to explain the QUALSHIP 21 program and provide guidance to vessel owners on how to have their vessel(s) designated within the QUALSHIP 21 program.


These guidelines are applicable to all owners of vessels that maintain a high-quality operation, routinely call at a United States (U.S.) port, and meet the specific eligibility requirements for the QUALSHIP 21 initiative.


In 2000, the U.S. Coast Guard developed an initiative to acknowledge the foreign flagged vessels that call in U.S. ports, whose careful safety management enables them to operate high-quality vessels safely, and to provide direct benefits to those vessels.  This initiative is called QUALSHIP 21, quality shipping for the 21st century.

To encourage quality vessel operations, the U.S. Coast Guard will provide a QUALSHIP 21 Certificate to all QUALSHIP 21 designated vessels, with a maximum two (2) year period of validity which corresponds to the vessel’s last U.S. Port State Control Safety and Protection Environmental Compliance exam.  QUALSHIP 21 freight ships will be eligible for a maximum of two (2) years of limited Port State Control oversight.  While annual exams of these vessel will be eliminated (and replaced with biennial exams), the U.S. Coast Guard may continue to examine these ships when overriding factors are present.  QUALSHIP 21 tank ships must still be examined once per year, but the annual / “mid-period” examination of a QUALSHIP 21 tank vessel may be reduced in scope.  QUALSHIP 21 passenger vessels will not be eligible for a reduction in any Port State Control exams. However, passenger vessels receiving the designation may find that it is a valuable marketing tool.

Personnel at the U.S. Coat Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C. perform an initial screening of vessels to determine QUALSHIP 21 eligibility.  The U.S. Coast Guard will send letters to eligible vessel owners, and invite them to participate in the initiative.  To qualify for the original list, owners will be required to answer a series of questions to verify that the U.S. Coast Guard screening of the vessel was correct.  However, if the vessel owner has not been sent an eligibility letter and they feel that their vessel qualifies with the below requirements, they may follow the below guidance on how to apply to the U.S. Coast Guard for the QUALSHIP 21 initiative.


1.0 Qualifying Requirements

1.1 To qualify for the QUALSHIP 21 initiative, the following eligibility requirements must be met:

.1 The vessel may not have been detained, and determined to be substandard, in U.S. waters within the previous 36 months;

.2 The vessel may not have any marine violations, no more than one (1) paid Notice of Violation cases (tickets), and no reportable marine casualties that meet the definition of a serious marine incident (Title 46 Code of Federal Regulations § 4.03-2) or major marine casualty (Title 46 Code of Federal Regulations § 4.40), in U.S. waters within the previous 36 months.  Casualty reports of crewmember or passenger injuries that are not in conjunction with any other criteria of a serious marine incident or major marine casualty will not be considered. For the purpose of the QUALSHIP 21 initiative, a marine violation is any violation of a law, regulation, or order that is enforced by the U.S. Coast Guard, and results in a final assessed monetary civil penalty by a hearing officer, or a judgment by the U.S. Attorney in a criminal proceeding;

.3 The vessel must have completed a successful, U.S. Port State Control Safety and Environmental Protection Compliance examination within 12 months of eligibility determination. A Port State Control Safety and Environmental Protection Compliance examination is defined as an examination of a non-U.S. flagged vessel for the purposes of assessing a vessel’s compliance with the relevant provisions of applicable international conventions, domestic laws and regulations, with a scope to the extent necessary to verify that no unsafe conditions exist.  The term successful means that the vessel did not leave port with any serious, outstanding deficiencies (e.g., are considered such a serious nature that they may warrant the detention of the vessel);

.4 The vessel may not be owned or operated by any company that has been associated with a substandard vessel detention in U.S. waters within 24 months.  A vessel is considered to be owned or operated by a company, if that company has been issued a U.S. Certificate of Financial Responsibility as the responsible operator of the vessel, and/or is listed on the vessel’s certificate of registry, and/or is the company responsible for the safe operation of the vessel as indicated on the vessel’s Safety Management Certificate;

.5 The vessel may not be classed by, nor have their statutory convention certificates issued by, a targeted Classification Society.  A Classification Society is targeted if points are assigned to them in the PSC Safety and Environmental Protection Compliance targeting matrix (refer to the List of Targeted and Non-targeted Classification Societies located at – scroll down on the left hand column and click on “Port State Control,” then “Foreign Vessel Safety,” then “List of Targeted and Non-Targeted Classification Societies,” then “Class Society Points Table” in the box labeled “Supporting Documents.”  This list is updated regularly). 

.6 The vessel may not be registered with a Flag State that has a detention ratio greater than or equal to 1.0%, determined on a three (3) year rolling average, and the Flag State must have a least 10 distinct vessel arrivals in each of the last three (3) years.

.7 The vessel’s Flag State must submit their Self-Assessment of Flag State performance to the IMO, and provide a copy to the U.S. Coast Guard. 

.8 The vessel may not be owned or operated by any company that is required by the U.S. Department of Justice to have an Environmental Compliance Exam.

1.2 Though not specifically mentioned in the above eligibility requirements, the U.S. Coast Guard reserves the right to restrict eligibility in the QUALSHIP 21 initiative to any vessel because of special circumstances, including, but not limited to, significant overseas casualties or detentions, and pending criminal or civil investigations.

2.0 Application

2.1 Vessel owners that believe that they have vessels eligible for QUALSHIP 21, and that have not been notified by the U.S. Coast Guard, should send an email to HQS-PF-FLDR-CG-543@USCG.MIL  In the email, the vessel owner should provide sufficient documentation to establish their eligibility for the initiative. 

 (This article is for informational purposes only.)

Source: LISCR 


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