What Is the IMO Certification & Which Fabrics Have It?
What is the IMO Certification? Perhaps you’ve seen “IMO” listed in the Specifications table when browsing our vinyl fabrics and you’ve wondered what that means exactly. In this blog, we’re going to explain what IMO Certification is, how a fabric acquires it, the steps involved, why it’s important, and which Sailrite® vinyl fabrics have this valuable safety certification.
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations, and its primary function is to maintain a comprehensive regulatory framework for shipping, including maritime safety and environmental concerns, legal matters, technical co-operation and maritime security. The IMO organized a set of international treaties known as the International Code for Fire Safety Systems (FSS Code) under the SOLAS Convention, which are designed to reduce the risk of fire, as well as aid in emergency response, aboard commercial ships. Some of the early components of the FSS Code were devised after several high-profile maritime disasters in the early 20th century, including most notably the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912.
Fire safety at sea is crucial and of the utmost importance. Therefore, the IMO developed fire safety regulations that marine industries must pass if they want to be IMO Certified. These fire safety regulations are intended specifically for international commercial ships, such as cruise ships and commercial yachts. Under the IMO’s directive, the FSS Code treaties set minimum safety standards in the construction, equipment and operation of merchant ships. The IMO Certification is a fire test procedure for upholstered furniture to evaluate the flammability of a chosen fabric in seating applications in order to enhance the fire safety provisions on board commercial ships.
The IMO developed a Fire Test Procedure (FTP) Code, which contains procedures for testing the flammability of constructions and materials used on ships. Specifically, Part 8 of the IMO FTP Code tests the flammability of upholstery fabrics used on board commercial ships. The FTP Code uses standards set by the International Standards Organization (ISO) to determine the permitted flame retardancy of an upholstery fabric.
Here’s how the IMO fire safety test works: The fabric to be tested is paired with filling to create a small sofa with a 90-degree angle between the seat and the back of the sofa. A smoldering cigarette and match flame are the ignition sources used to test the fabric’s flammability. Two tests are performed with each ignition source. During the cigarette test, the fabric is not allowed to smolder in the preceding hour after the start of the test. For the match test, a gas flame equivalent to a lit match is held against the fabric for 20 seconds. No flaming is allowed to continue for more than two minutes after the removal of the flame.
If a fabric passes both these tests, it receives the IMO Certification. If it passes one test but not the other, or if it fails both tests, it is not considered IMO Certified. If it passes, the textile manufacturer is then permitted to display the prestigious IMO ship’s wheel emblem indicating they’ve passed this comprehensive fire safety test. These fabrics comply with standards required for use by the U.S. Coast Guard, Canada and Europe. An upholstery fabric that passes the IMO FTP Code is certified to be used in marine commercial applications.
At Sailrite, we carry several high-quality vinyl fabrics that have received the IMO FTP Part 8 Certification, meaning they passed both the cigarette and open flame safety tests. Sunbrella® Horizon®, Batyline Elios Heavy-Duty Fabrics, Naugahyde® All American and Morbern® Surf, Carrara, Bayside, Seabrook, Shock and Allsport have all earned the coveted IMO Certification for upholstery fabric. EverSoft™ Indoor/Outdoor vinyl fabric has also received the IMO Certification. You can use these vinyl fabrics in your boat cushion upholstery with confidence knowing that these fabrics are flame retardant and have met rigorous flammability safety standards.
Even though the IMO Certification is intended for commercial ships, it doesn’t mean you can’t use these vinyl fabrics for personal use. Upholstering cushions and other seating applications in an IMO Certified vinyl grants you peace of mind knowing the fabric you’ve chosen will be safer than other options in the textile industry. All of the brands and collections listed above can be used for marine exterior cushions. All of our IMO Certified vinyl fabrics can be used for RV and auto upholstery, and because these fabrics passed the IMO test, they’re approved for commercial seating applications for cruise ships, restaurants and the hospitality industry.
Now that you understand what the IMO Certification is and why it’s important, we invite you to explore our IMO Certified fabrics for your next vinyl upholstery project. Whether you’re re-covering boat interior or exterior cushions, jet ski seats, a golf cart or motorcycle seat, RV or auto upholstery, or even patio and indoor home seating, we have IMO Certified vinyl fabrics that meet all your needs. In addition to being flame retardant, these fabrics are all easy to clean and highly abrasion resistant, making them a great choice for your next upholstery DIY.
Footnote: We updated this blog in November 2023 to remove Soltis 86 and Ultrasuede, which were previously IMO certified.