The feasibility of probabilistic design methods to overcome conservatism associated with deterministic design methods for unstiffened cylindrical composite shells has been shown, but studies are frequently based on assumptions regarding relevant uncertainties due to the lack of available data. The reliability based calibration method suggested here relies on extensive measurements regarding the statistical characteristics of thickness, fibre volume fraction, fibre orientation, material stiffness and geometric imperfections of 11 previously tested cylinders. Furthermore, the stiffness of the potting of tested cylinders is estimated using Finite Element Analysis and the introduction of a pre-stress state through the potting process investigated. Following a sensitivity study, Bayesian inference is used to update the information of relevant uncertain variables. Monte Carlo simulation is employed to compute the distribution functions of the buckling load, and these are used to calibrate structural safety factors at a chosen reliability level. A multiplicative error model is established to compute safety factors covering the model uncertainty inherent to the approach. In combining these two safety factors in a Bayesian sense, a transparent, updatable safety-factor concept is developed, leading to less conservative design loads than currently considered.