The IHO is composed of its member states (represented by their respective hydrographic offices) with administration through the International Hydrographic Bureau with headquarters in Monaco. Direction of the Bureau is through directors elected by member states. The organization's function is to coordinate Hydrography and hydrographic activities of the member states. The IHO does not itself control significant hydrographic assets.
The organization's goals are stated as "support the safety in navigation and the protection of the marine environment" with support of coordinated and uniform hydrographic products and surveys and by improving techniques of member states for producing those products.