Guide to Superyacht Inspections and Surveys

7 April 2021 By Ted Morley
Captain on the bridge

Capt. Ted Morley was raised aboard a schooner and has made a career working on board vessels ranging from superyachts to super tankers. During his tenure at sea, he worked his way up from seaman to master. He currently holds a USCG Master’s License, Unlimited Tonnage as well as several foreign certificates. Capt. Morley actively participates in maritime advisory committees in the U.S. as well as overseas and is involved in regulatory policy review in the U.S.. 

Today’s yachts are truly small ships and must comply with many of the same regulations — one of those areas pertains to the inspection and survey area. An inspection is typically a review of the physical condition of a specific item or a series of items to determine their serviceability and functionality. These inspections may be conducted by a vessel’s flag state, classification agency, crew, insurance underwriter, or a port state. Inspections may also include port state inspections, which are conducted to verify that the foreign-flagged ships calling at ports comply with mandatory rules and regulations. 

The Coast Guard may examine, inspect, or re-inspect at any time. If during this re-inspection there is any failure to comply with any requirement, they will notify the Master and state what is required. Certain regulations, such as manning levels, apply to both inspected and uninspected vessels. A vessel may not be operated unless those requirements are met. Inspections are typically conducted to protect the state’s resources, ensure safe marine transportation in state waters, and to determine whether ships operating in state waters pose a substantial risk of harm to the environment or the public. 

The Coast Guard may examine, inspect, or re-inspect at any time. 

During a substantial risk inspection, inspectors will typically engage meaningfully with vessel crews to discuss the operating company’s safety management system as it relates to marine safety and pollution prevention. Inspections may also pertain to corrosion conditions and even bunker fuel quality checks, certificates and letters of compliance, oil pollution records, load lines, readiness and watch procedures, watch logs, engineering equipment test records, emergency procedures, fire plans, damage control plans for flooding or grounding, and pollution prevention.  

A survey is typically a more stringent process that will review the technical condition of a vessel and ensure that it meets regulatory, safety, and class rules. Depending on flag, class agency, and tonnage, there will be a range of surveys and inspections required. Certain inspections and surveys are mandatory while others may be dependent on age, condition, or service history. There are different types of surveys, and may include: hull survey, special survey, annual survey, dry dock surveys, safety construction survey, and load line survey.

A ship’s officer should keep in mind that most of the inspections and surveys cover regulations and procedures prescribed in various conventions such as SOLAS and MARPOL, along with further recommendations in codes such as CFRs, ISM, ISPS, FFA, and LSA. Having an up-to-date knowledge of procedures and maintaining readiness of equipment falling directly under your responsibility is the first checkpoint before any survey or inspection. 

This column originally ran in the April 2021 issue of Dockwalk.


More from Dockwalk