The Triton

Editor's Pick

Rules of the Road: No exceptions to limits on sulfur


Rules of the Road: Capt. Jake DesVergers

There are lots of priorities in yachting: food, drinks, carpets, air conditioning, toys, cleaning supplies – the list is endless and subjective to the particular person involved. These priorities depend upon the owner, charter guests, captain and crew. And they can change daily or every few minutes.

However, a universal need for every vessel – yes, even for sailboats – is fuel. It must be of sufficient quantity and quality. 

For merchant ships, the main type of “bunker” is heavy fuel oil (HFO). It is derived as a residue from crude oil distillation. Crude oil contains sulphur,  which, following combustion in the engine, ends up in the ship’s emissions. It goes out the stack and into the air.

For yachts, the primary fuel oil is marine diesel. Some larger yachts use intermediate fuels and various blends.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) established regulations to reduce sulphur oxide, or SOx, emissions from ships. They first came into force in 2005 under Annex VI of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL). Since then, the limits on SOx have been progressively tightened.

SOx are present in marine fuels. They are known to be harmful to human health and a proven cause of respiratory symptoms and lung disease. In the atmosphere, SOx can create various problems, including acid rain. Its effects can harm crops, forests and aquatic species. This toxic rain also contributes to the acidification of the oceans. Limiting SOx emissions from all vessels, including yachts, will improve air quality and protect the environment.

Starting on Jan. 1, 2020, the limit for sulphur in fuel oil used on board all vessels will be reduced from the current 3.5% to 0.5% m/m (mass by mass). This will significantly reduce the amount of SOx emissions emanating from ships. It should also have major health and environmental benefits for the world, particularly for populations living close to ports and coasts. This new regulation is commonly referred to as “IMO 2020.”

For those vessels operating in an IMO-established Emission Control Area (ECA), there is a further reduced limit for SOx content. It is currently set at 0.1%. The ECA locations are the Baltic Sea; the North Sea; the North American area, which comprises coastal areas off the United States and Canada; and the United States Caribbean Sea area, which comprises Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea are in discussion to designate that area, or a part thereof, as an ECA. Fuel oil suppliers in these ECAs already deliver products that meet the 0.1% limit. Examples are marine distillate and ultra-low sulphur fuel oil blends.

Now, does IMO 2020 only apply to commercial vessels? No, the MARPOL regulations apply to all ships and yachts – everything on the water. From a certification viewpoint, only ships and yachts of 400 gross tonnage and above must possess an International Air Pollution Prevention (IAPP) Certificate. 

With IMO 2020 in place, what must a ship or yacht do to comply? MARPOL regulations limit the sulphur content in fuel oil. This means that ships and yachts need to use fuel which is low in sulphur. In an effort to achieve a compliant fuel and maintain sufficient worldwide supplies, refineries may blend fuel oil with a high (noncompliant) sulphur content with fuel oil that has a lower content than the required threshold. The new combination would be below the required level. Additives may also be included to enhance other properties, such as lubrication.

On some ships and larger yachts, the vessels will limit the air pollutants by installing exhaust gas cleaning systems, also known as “scrubbers.” This is an accepted alternative method to meet the sulphur limit requirement. These scrubbers are designed to remove SOx from the ship’s engine and exhaust gases.

Many newer ships and yachts are being built with engines that can use alternative fuels. This includes biofuels and liquified natural gas (LNG). There is also an initiative to design completely electric propulsion.

As with every new regulation, the question is raised: Is that date set in stone? Yes, it is confirmed. There can be no change to the Jan. 1, 2020,  implementation date, as it is too late for any amendments or revisions to be approved for postponement. Be ready.

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

Related Posts...
Rules of the Road: by Capt. Jake DesVergers Safety equipment Read more...
Rules of the Road: by Capt. Jake DesVergers Sovereign and Read more...
Rules of the Road: by Capt. Jake DesVergers In May, Read more...
Rules of the Road: by Capt. Jake DesVergers Many workplaces Read more...
Rules of the Road: by Capt. Jake DesVergers Inspections and Read more...

Share This Post

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please answer the question below to leave a comment. * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Editor’s Picks

Lionfish Challenge eliminates 23,000 fish

Lionfish Challenge eliminates 23,000 fish

During the fourth annual Lionfish Challenge, held May 18 to Sept. 2, 23,451 lionfish were taken out of the ocean. There were 349 people …

Triton Expo 2019 draws big crowd

Triton Expo 2019 draws big crowd

As yachts begin to arrive in town for the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, more than 1,000 yacht captains, crew, and business …

Latest in the charter fleet: Balista with NJ; Excellence with Denison

Latest in the charter fleet: Balista with NJ; Excellence with Denison

M/Y Balista, a 153-foot (46m) Cantieri Di Pisa in 2013, available for winter charter in the Bahamas and Caribbean, and summer charter in …

Loon, Lady Rose take top crew awards

Loon, Lady Rose take top crew awards

Yacht crew were recognized for excellence in 21 categories during the Crew Awards by Acrew on Saturday. About 400 yacht captains and crew …