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 Super Yacht Machinery Space Safety 
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Joined: Mon Sep 13, 2010 1:47 pm
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Post Super Yacht Machinery Space Safety
by: T. E. Moss

The Engine Room and associated machinery spaces in Yachts, Super yachts and Mega yachts are safe and aesthetically pleasing places until you forget they can be very dangerous. Everyone wants to have a look at them with the polished chrome or brass fittings, dazzling dry white bilges and Stainless exhausts. Not everyone wants to work in them especially at sea. Responsibility for the safety and efficiency therein is often considered – “best left to someone else”. That someone else is the Chief Engineer. It takes people with both an awareness and an innate sense of care to keep machinery spaces not only “a place to be proud of” but also a safe place to work or visit. Advances in technology and expressions such as “Unmanned Machinery Spaces”, “hermetically sealed units”, “Oil Free Compressors” and intrinsically safe equipment, can understandably lead one to suppose that all is well - unless an alarm or a specialist surveyor indicates otherwise. Bluewater Yachting is an MCA approved industry leader dedicated to the teaching Y4, Y3 and Y2 Engineering courses in Antibes, Palma and Ft Lauderdale. This information is not designed to replace existing safety systems and documentation already available, but merely to complement them in a realistic and workable fashion and hopefully increase safety awareness.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency and International Safety Management Systems are rightly concerned with machinery space safety. This theme is consistently echoed in the syllabi detailed in MIN 208, the requirements stated in MGN 156 and each oral exam undertaken by Yacht Engineering Students. Much work is underway between the various agencies in the Maritime Engineering world to continuously improve standards of safety and it should start in the classroom. The statistics at sea for machinery space fire, flood, failure and injury do not make good reading; however there are many ways that Yacht Engineers, whether they are AEC, Y4, Y3, Y2, or Y1 trained personnel, can drastically reduce the likelihood of a dangerous or embarrassing situation occurring in the first place.

So how can things be improved? My 33 years experience in and around machinery spaces, which, incidentally should include all auxiliary equipment rooms, steering gear compartments, emergency generator rooms, battery charging facilities, air conditioning and refrigeration plant rooms, confined spaces, LPG, Gas and Petrol Stowages, to name but a few, is almost wholly based on common sense, education and certification. Common sense is an old fashioned expression, but what does it really mean on modern vessels? Clearly an awareness of surroundings, fundamental engineering understanding, a keen eye and an inquisitive mind all make for a good roundsman or watch keeper, but it is also a systematic and approved education and testing process that saves the day and maybe even the ship! Always question anything that sounds vague or unconvincing. “Never accept without proof” is a good start point and “Excellent – show me the results” have been very useful replies to woolly answers. Statements such as “Don’t worry the fuel quality is great and it’s low sulphur content as well” should ring alarm bells (for those of you familiar with MARPOL Annex 6 and SECA’s!). Fine, show me your product specification data and your Material Safety Data Sheet giving the exact details.

As I have got older, and maybe wiser, I have, even on buses or in commercial aircraft, considered the what ifs! What if the engine burst into flames, what if the bus skidded and turned over or the driver collapsed or the airplane cabin filled with smoke - what would you do? Perhaps this is taking things to far, and without becoming paranoid, careful consideration and mind exercising can prove most useful in the event of a real emergency. Engineers or not, those of you who have been involved in a real floods, fires, electrocutions or accidents whether at sea or ashore will agree - the adrenalin pump cuts in first, then the rapid thinking pump, then the shouting and doing pump. These then combine to produce quite astonishing reactions from even the quietest of employees. I often open the floor to student’s stories in the classroom environment at Bluewater to share our experiences. It is amazing what is learned whilst listening to other peoples experiences (especially where mistakes are made) and what I mean by learning is where memory recall is backed up with details and fact that demonstrate understanding. Not just listing the things you do in The event of a certain situation or drawing a diagram.

I am a great believer in aide-memoires or aides-memoir to be correct. The important fact is that they are not a sign of weakness or lack of memory, they are there purely to trigger the right reactions in the right order and make sure things are not overlooked. The manner in which subsequent actions are executed is largely down to the individual and his or her experience, aptitude and confidence. I am also a supporter of the view that those working in machinery spaces should have a special aptitude, suitable and training to build confidence which enables individuals to be able to cope with extraordinary situations that may occur in such places. Having said that some of the best fire fighters I have encountered have been Chefs and some of the worst cooks have been engineers. So how do we manage the risk? Safety is everyone’s business. Good quality training and regular testing are invaluable in identifying shortcomings in both personnel and equipment. Where is the nearest safe exit? Where is the nearest portable or fixed fire-fighting equipment? is it in date?, has it been tested?, will it do what you want it to do the day you really need it? The administration of safety in machinery spaces invariably comes down to well kept documentation, good leadership and regular practice. These features are considered in some quarters, to be an encumbrance rather than a safeguard for the future. I recently stayed in a hotel where several of the portable fire extinguishers I looked at (in passing) were either out of date for test, undercharged or had the anti-tamper tags missing. On reporting my findings to reception I was treated with some suspicion rather than thanks.

On ships in the past I have found discussing such emotive issues with senior figures much easier by the use of an expression along the lines of “Sir, I cannot guarantee the safety or reliability of this equipment until we have proven it” This approach can also help to produce the necessary funds to buy equipment or spares, especially when used in conjunction with well prepared trend analysis. A simple graph with a trend line heading into an “unable to charter zone” can be most effective. The difficulty of course nearly always lies with time, inconvenience and motivation – this is where a good Chief Engineer worth his salt will lead the way. He finds the time, he makes the effort. Even when re-fuelling the boat, why not make bunkering a whole ship evolution, break out the fire fighting gear, and check the MARPOL equipment and personnel responsibilities against the SOPEP (the what? – see what I mean!). Involve everyone, get the newest person onboard to let off a fire extinguisher for real (preferably not a dry powder inboard) under supervision of course, the right way up and in the right direction, what colour is the right one, oh dear they are nearly all red now ! Make learning fun but productive, encourage competition, prove a fire and bilge pumps capacity by checking the discharge pressure and length of water jet against manufacturers specifications forward versus aft!

Meanwhile back to the dreary subject of paperwork, ensure the ships general orders and engineering departmental orders have been written, read and signed for by each member of the engineering team? How many copies of C.O.S.W.P are there onboard, COS what? Isn’t that the Adjacent over the Hypotenuse? Try to make sure that weighty tome it isn’t being used to bolster up the inboard side of the junior engineers mattress in case of beam sea conditions! It is also good practice to have Start/Stop routines posted next to each piece of equipment; it is amazing the number of fires and floods that are successfully dealt with by someone knowing how to stop feeding the problem with either the fuel, air or electricity supply. I saw a statistic not long ago which suggested over 90% of electrical fires onboard vessels are extinguished by merely isolating the supply. Imagine how effective that practice would be in the event of a leaking hydraulic pipe at 4000 psi spraying onto an incandescent surface! Of course keeping the air conditioning boundary doors closed in the summer is an educational process as well, but leaving the forward or aft WT integrity doors open at sea is a recipe for disaster. The Oil Record Book, Engine room log and Weekly abstract are the first places to record events pertaining to the undertaking (or lack of) safety, training, education and testing to produce an auditable trail that demonstrates reasonable steps are being taken. The utilisation of a clear watch and muster list for all eventualities and a clear machinery status board can be very effective in improving safety awareness and improve watch handovers – merely by provoking discussion and defining responsibilities. Individuals should be encouraged to use all their senses to detect when things are not right, question unusual circumstances and follow instincts, be nosey, even if that means going in search of the smell of rotten eggs. If it’s not from the galley, then it could be from an anaerobic Sewage Treatment Plant slowly filling the boat with Hydrogen Sulphide, or batteries overcharging releasing Hydrogen into the air conditioning and ventilation systems.

Finally, your Safety Management System should be working in harmony with you to provide solutions and best practice and help arrange surveys and inspections in a coordinated and timely manner – make good use of them and the Designated Person Ashore. At the risk of just producing a list (what’s the difference between List, Heel and Loll? One of them is particularly dangerous) produce your own top 10 concerns and discuss them with the Captain/Owner/ISM and air your views and be pro-active. A clean well educated and confident boat is generally a safe boat. Bluewater yachting can cater for all your Training Needs and make your machinery spaces a safer place to work.

About The Author
T E Moss MBE MSc CEng CMarEng MIMarEST FIET has 33 years experience in the Yachting Industry as an Engineer. Currently he is a Senior Engineering Instructor at Bluewater Yachting in Antibes. For more information visit our website at

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Mon Mar 01, 2010 10:06 am
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