“For Want of a Nail” is a popular nursery rhyme, dating back to the 14th century. It teaches our children that even the smallest, seemingly unimportant things can lead to big consequences. Failure of a superyacht air-conditioning system certainly falls under the wisdom of this adage.
We all know that at sea, it’s the “little things” that can hurt you, and the BIG events always start as little things. Therefore, it is especially important that the vessel leadership support the engineering team when it comes to maintaining the A/C system. Vessel A/C deserves the same tender loving care that is heaped upon other mission-critical systems in the pursuit of a successful charter experience. Propulsion, navigation, communications, and passenger comfort all contribute to a strong and positive vessel reputation.
Today’s marine A/C systems are simple in theory but complex in execution. A modern A/C system has become a sophisticated combination of variable speed electric motors, gas compressors, piping, pumps and valves, temperature, humidity and condensate controls, fans and louvers, and computers. Small fixes are cheap; catastrophic failures can cost hundreds of thousands in direct and indirect losses.
Running 24/7/365, the vessel A/C system is actually very robust and reliable so long as the engineering team is supported in their maintenance efforts surrounding this equipment. Daily checks of system refrigerant pressures and temperatures, seawater cooling flows, and electrical power consumption will provide a clear indication of the system’s overall health. If any one of these parameters begins to vary, the source of the deviation must be determined and corrected.
We all know that at sea, it’s the “little things” that can hurt you, and the BIG events always start as little things. It is especially important that the vessel leadership support the engineering team when it comes to maintaining the A/C system.
This is where the wisdom of the aforementioned nursery rhyme comes in. Most A/C failures are incremental; starting first as a small failure indicated by a decrease in cooling performance. A refrigerant leak, a failed temperature sensor, or a blocked pump suction are easily fixed if identified early on. More pernicious is the accumulation of moisture in a confined space.
For example, superyachts can produce several gallons of water a day at the individual room air coolers and this condensation must be evacuated from the ship. If it should start to pool and stagnate due to a blocked drain, it will become a veritable petri dish for bacteria. Mold and mildew set in, are extremely difficult to eradicate, and can have serious passenger health consequences.
Why all of this “apocalyptic wringing of hands”? When your chief engineer says that he needs some time to perform seasonal maintenance on the ship’s A/C systems, accommodate his request! Don’t write the second verse so that it becomes: “For want of a nail, the charter was lost.”
This article originally ran in the August 2021 issue of Dockwalk.