Watertight Integrity: Voluntary Safety Standards and Good Marine Practices

Image: Alaska Marine Safety Education Association.

Your vessel is a means of transportation to your work site, but it’s also the place where your work is conducted, your meals are prepared, and it serves as your home away from home. Unlike your permanent home, which is bolted to a foundation, you work home is floating on water.

Although your vessel was designed and built to keep the water outside your vessel, not in it, it’s up to everyone on the vessel to preserve and maintain it to keep your watertight envelope.

There are a number of ways to preserve your vessel’s integrity. Some of these are found in the U.S. Coast Guard’s Voluntary Safety Standards & Good Marine Practices on their commercial fishing safety website at https://www.dco.uscg.mil/NCFSAC/ This website and the USCG District 13’s website, https://www.fishsafewest.info/, contain a number of useful suggestions and tips on keeping the ocean out of your vessel.

Suggestions from the Coast Guard’s commercial fishing Voluntary Safety Standards include under Material Condition:

“Maintain existing weathertight/watertight closures and function as designed. Ensure all dogs/closing devices are operable and gaskets are in place and not painted or deteriorated. The knife edges of watertight closures should provide a proper seal and be periodically tested. Any penetration of a watertight bulkhead or deck should be installed in such a manner to maintain the watertight integrity of the bulkhead or deck. Any alterations should be restored to a condition that ensures its watertight integrity. Through-hull fittings should be installed with a shut-off valve located as close to the hull penetration as practicable and be constructed of a material compatible with the hull material and suitable for marine use.

An internal survey should be conducted twice in a five-year period (or as required by your insurance underwriter), not to exceed three years between surveys. The internal survey should be conducted by a qualified marine surveyor if reasonably available from an organization accepted by the Coast Guard. The survey should include verifying the structural integrity/condition of the frames and stiffeners, piping, scuppers and freeing ports. Deficiencies found during the internal survey should be corrected to the satisfaction of the attending marine surveyor or vessel owner within a stipulated time frame. An out-of-water survey should be conducted by a qualified marine surveyor from an organization accepted by the Coast Guard or by the vessel owner. Wood boats should be surveyed twice in any five-year period not to exceed three years between surveys. All other vessel types should be surveyed at least once every five years. The following items should be examined to verify their structural integrity and service condition: propeller, shafts/seals, sea valves, rudders side shell/planking, tanks, voids, cofferdams and chain locker. Deficiencies found during the out-of-water survey should be corrected to the satisfaction of the attending marine surveyor or vessel owner within a stipulated time frame.” 

Under the heading of Flooding Prevention, the voluntary standards note that “each vessel should maintain a damage control kit onboard, as appropriate for the vessel.”

“It should include, but not be limited to, the following items,” the document states. “Conical soft plugs sized as per the vessel’s seacocks, soft wood lumber and wedges, grease tape (fashioned from burlap or landscaping membrane and covered in industrial grade grease), manila twine, sheet rubber or neoprene gasket material, hand tools (hatchet, hammer, screwdriver, C clamps, hand saw, hack saw, disposable flashlights, battery-powered head-mounted light), hose clamps and wire ties, water impervious patching material and/or underwater epoxy, oakum and rags and duct tape.

“In addition to any required dewatering pump, each vessel should also maintain onboard a portable dewatering pump which meets the requirements of 46 CFR 28.255 if space allows and fuel for the pump (that) can be safely stored on the vessel.”

The standards continue, “The pump should have an independent power source. Each vessel should have written instructions and (a) policy regarding watertight/weathertight closures. It should include an at-sea policy for maintaining and verifying weathertight/watertight integrity and the status of such closures. It should also include a preventive maintenance schedule for each watertight/weathertight closure.”

Prior to operating the vessel on a voyage, it’s stated that “the individual in charge of each vessel should complete a pre-departure check to include, but not limited to the evaluation of weather and bar conditions, that gear, catch and hatches are secured, the vessel is not overloaded and that scuppers and freeing ports are clear.

“In addition, visible portions of shafts and rudder posts should show no or little leakage and vessel tanks and holds should be filled in such a manner to limit free surface effect. Any discrepancy found during the check should be corrected prior to the vessel getting underway. The individual in charge must ensure the seaworthiness of the vessel. Results of the pre-departure check should be recorded.”

The voluntary standards also say that “a watch alarm should be installed in the pilot house and be used at all times when underway. It should be set on no more than 15-minute intervals, depending on operating area and be suitably audible to alert other individuals who may be responsible for operation of the vessel. The voluntary standards also suggest high water alarms, bilge pump(s) and dewatering system(s).”

The voluntary safety standards cover a number of other commercial fishing issues. A review of these standards will help the owner get ideas for improving their equipment and onboard procedures. It is a good list to measure against your own working operations.  

The Alaska Marine Safety Education Association (AMSEA) has a mission is to reduce injury and death in the marine and freshwater environment through education and training provided by a network of marine safety instructors. The Sitka, Alaska-based organization has been offering marine safety training to commercial fishermen and thousands of other mariners since 1985.

More information on marine safety topics can be found at www.amsea.org