A Guide to Ship Surveys and Inspections

a guide to ship surveys and inspections

Keeping your team safe and your ships maintained comes with quite a few requirements. One of these necessary actions is an annual ship survey to ensure your vessels are in compliance with the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the agency responsible for ensuring the safety and security of shipping vessels and the protection of the marine environment through pollution prevention efforts.

Whether you’re the owner of a large shipping company or a ship officer, you need to be familiar with the surveys and inspections necessary to maintain your vessel’s efficiency, safety, and compliance. Beyond that, proper vessel operations can make a huge difference in sustainability efforts to protect marine environments from the negative impacts of shipping.

Below, we’ll review the essential information about ship surveys and certifications so you can prepare your fleet.

Why Are Ship Surveys and Inspections Important?

Keeping a ship seaworthy is key for marine operations. Having reliable, safe vessels ensures you can meet your goals — but why exactly are ship surveys and inspections necessary?

To answer that question, you first need to understand the difference between a survey and an inspection:

  • Inspection: A ship inspection investigates the general surface-level condition of a ship, noting damage, wear, and other noticeable issues that could impact its seaworthiness. Issues visible on the surface like mold growth, water damage or rot, and prominent holes in the hull are common items noted on vessel inspections.
  • Survey: While inspections are surface-level, marine surveys are intensive and comprehensive. They are an extremely detailed assessment of a vessel’s seaworthiness and safety, and they are carried out by an official surveyor. To remain in compliance with IMO’s Conventions, Codes, and other instruments, all vessels need annual surveys and have to carry certificates to verify their continued compliance. 

Ship surveys and inspections are important because they help ship officers understand the condition of their vessels and help them recognize what areas might need immediate or future maintenance. These investigations are also helpful for determining the value of a vessel, which might be important for insurance and other investment considerations.

How Often Are Ship Surveys Required?

Ship surveys are required annually — however, there are situations where you might need to recertify your vessel before the annual date. If there are major maintenance concerns or failures in critical equipment, like hull breaches, major safety incidents, or propulsion or steering mechanical failure, another survey may be conducted after the repairs to ensure the ship is seaworthy.

It’s also best practice to have a ship surveyed if you’re considering buying it to ensure you know all about its condition before finalizing the sale.

types of ship inspections and surveys

Types of Ship Inspections and Surveys

There are many different types of ship inspections and surveys you need to conduct to ensure your vessels are compliant, safe, and efficient. Having these inspections done helps your bottom line by ensuring your ships are in the best working order and are as safe as possible for the crew and officers on board.

The following are some examples of ship inspections and surveys you might need to conduct on your vessels.

1. Annual

Performing annual surveys is a necessary part of keeping your vessels in compliance. Since different classes of ships have different components and purposes, an annual survey may look a little different for different ships. While the major systems will receive a thorough inspection to ensure compliance and safe operation, vessels may have other survey requirements based on their class.

Most ship surveys include checking that the ship has all necessary manuals onboard and that safety instructions like fire control plans are clearly posted. However, an oil tanker requires specific inspections, such as:

  • Testing and examining cargo piping and ballast tanks
  • Verifying the vessel has proper corrosion protection in its crude oil tanks
  • Examining all areas for potential oil or water leakages
  • Testing remote controls for components like fans and oil fuel pumps

2. Dry Dock

A dry dock survey involves bringing the vessel out of the water so the surveyor can inspect all the elements of a ship, including those that would usually be below the water line. Saltwater can cause reactions in some metals that lead to issues like corrosion and deterioration, so the dry dock survey is a good opportunity to verify the hull’s stability.

Surveyors can use technology like ultrasonic thickness testing to send ultrasound waves through the ship’s metal components, giving them a picture of the structural integrity of the hull.

3. Safety Construction

The safety construction survey inspects all the structural elements of a vessel in close detail. The surveyor will check for things like excessive corrosion on the deck and hull to ensure the integrity of the vessel is not compromised. Other elements a safety construction survey will check for include:

  • Watertight doors
  • Draining systems
  • Bilge pumping
  • Fire protection and fixed fire-fighting equipment

4. Load Line

A load line survey checks various components of the ship’s structure to ensure the hull is watertight below the freeboard and weathertight in all areas above it. Items surveyors check for in this survey include cracks in the hull, locking bars, side scuttles, and the function of watertight hatch openings. 

5. Cargo Ship Safety Equipment

The cargo ship safety equipment survey will analyze the management, compliance, and effectiveness of the safety systems on the vessel. The surveyor will ensure safety manuals such as the muster list and stations, lifejacket instructions, survival craft launching instructions, and fire control plans are visible and accessible. Other safety systems the surveyor will check include:

  • Fixed fire-fighting equipment
  • International shore connections
  • Fire detection systems
  • Emergency lights and alarms

6. Terminal Safety

Emergency response is vital for ships, and a terminal safety survey can determine whether a vessel is prepared to respond to emergencies before, during, and after cargo transfer operations. This survey checks that safety and navigation systems are operational and also examines the propulsion and steering gear. Failing a terminal safety survey can result in the blacklisting of the vessel.

keep your ship inspection-readdy with vls environmental solutions

Keep Your Ship Inspection-Ready With VLS Environmental Solutions

The key to meeting and exceeding the requirements for ship surveys and remaining compliant with all necessary regulations is continued maintenance and upkeep of your fleet. At VLS, we provide environmental remediation and ongoing support for marine operations. Keeping your ships inspection-ready at all times can prevent costly interruptions before, during, and after a ship survey. 

Our services include corrective and preventive maintenancegas free services, and remediation and other industrial services. To learn more about our marine services, contact us online or give us a call at 877-861-8588.

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