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Rules of the Road: Prevalence of remote surveys prompts guidelines

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Rules of the Road: by Capt. Jake DesVergers

Inspections and surveys on board a yacht are commonplace. These include visits by the flag administration, the classification society, insurance, and port state control. When the inspections are planned, perhaps around some down time or during a shipyard period, they usually do not interfere with the yacht’s schedule.

But what about those situations in which the yacht is remotely located or short on time? Technology has found a solution: introducing surveys without surveyor attendance.

Now, don’t get overexcited in thinking that you’ll never see a surveyor or inspector on board again. In these early stages, each situation is being reviewed on a case-by-case basis. It really depends on the scope of work to be completed.

Remote survey techniques have been in use for many years. They normally combined the use of photos, emails, video, Skype and/or Facetime.

However, new advances in technology, plus data storage and transfer, have opened more options. As the benefits of this capability have become more consistent, the use of these technologies has also become more common and widespread. Thus, several flag administrations and classification societies have issued guidance notes on requests for surveys without attendance.

At present, a remote survey is mostly defined as an inspection without surveyor attendance. Understandably, remote surveys are being used for smaller tasks, such as verifying if a repair has been undertaken or ensuring minor damage has been rectified. In cases involving large cargo ships, we also see the use of drones to assist surveyors with accessing difficult or dangerous parts of a vessel.

According to the chief surveyor at Lloyd’s Register (LR), while remote surveys aren’t always the answer to everything, they can ensure that there are fewer attendances on a vessel and a reduction in the number of interventions that may be required throughout the year. This is a huge advantage for owners and operators and has significant benefits for LR’s surveyors, he says.

Analyzing collected data is the major task of any surveyor. Preparing for and undertaking an inspection can be time-consuming for both the crew and surveyor. Remote surveying techniques can facilitate a more efficient collection of that data, while allowing surveyors to focus their energies on the interpretation of the evidence.

From this surveyor’s personal opinion, remote surveys can remove the inherent hassles and stress of travel. It can also eliminate the scheduling needs and safety risks of flying, driving or boat transfer. My favorite example is the “quick” trip from Fort Lauderdale to Nassau. The flight is about 50 minutes. Now, add travel to the airport, check-in, security, departure time, flight time, immigration and taxi. Then double that for the return. Assuming no delays, such as the usual afternoon thunderstorm, it is a minimum of five hours for just the travel. Remove the travel aspect, and a job that takes 30 minutes can be completed much more efficiently for all parties.  

While a wide range of surveys can be managed through video and picture evidence, it is critically important that the right technology for the situation is used. For a surveyor to validate the data and evidence collected, the associated imagery must genuinely represent what is being observed. Traditionally in an inspection or survey, the only person who can guarantee that is the surveyor, who has the experience of knowing exactly what they want to see or are seeing.

Currently, the following types of surveys will be considered for remote verification:

  • Tail shaft survey extension.
  • Continuous Machinery Survey (CMS) items.
  • Documentary verification.
  • Boiler survey extension.
  • Occasional underwater examination.
  • Issuance of recommendations related to minor deficiency.
  • Postponement of recommendations related to a minor deficiency.
  • Rectification of open deficiencies.
  • Surveys not ordered together with annual surveys.

It’s important to note that periodical surveys, such as the annual survey of a yacht, are not currently part of the remote survey allowances. The complexity of this type of inspection requires a surveyor to physically visit the yacht.

Capt. Jake DesVergers is chief surveyor for International Yacht Bureau (yachtbureau.org). Comments are welcome below.

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