MSOL Marine Article - written by Capt. Joe Berta
This article originally appeared in Professional Boatbuilder Magazine's 20 year anniversary issue
#120 August / September 2009
Marine Surveying and Common Sense
To cite applicable standards is fine - so long as the surveyor understands, from first hand experience, exactly what he or she is looking at!
For twenty some years I have in my reports addressed the problem of safety deficiencies as: “Non compliant to common sense safety and” the relevant classification society, coast guard agency or voluntary standards organization. Back when I started, standards organizations did not encompass what they do today and a surveyor or shipwright had to make decisions derived from his or her own expertise and experience. I still write my reports exactly so, using the words “common sense safety” first and then refer to the relevant standard. I think it’s my responsibility as a surveyor to possess the skills and thought power to make decisions about something being safe or not safe aboard a vessel on a common sense basis first and foremost, notwithstanding my reliance on formal recommendations of a standards organization. Because standards tend to distort due to interpretation, lacking one’s own ability to readily recognize a safety deficiency on a common sense basis, can be disastrous.
Two perfect examples have come to me of late. One was where I surveyed a new motoryacht in 2007 being delivered to my Client from a reputable builder. There were a few issues but on top of the list were a number of brass household plumbing type in-line check valves, incorporated into the discharge lines of all bilge pumps while the system employed a common manifold. Non compliance to both the relevant ABYC Standard and common sense safety were very clear to me, and I asked for the deficiency to be corrected in accordance with the ABYC Standard. Much to my surprise, staff at a reputable yard and two (2) surveyors, one hired by the yard and one by the broker, all had expressly declared the bilgepumping system to be ABYC compliant and needing no repair.
In my opinion, simply by showing the image of a brass valve in a dewatering system to a person possessing common sense and average expertise in our industry should result in that person condemning what they see:
My second example came recently when I hired an apparently long established and well credentialed, accredited marine surveyor to provide me with an Insurance Survey for my own personal recreational vessel. This gentleman had spent 6 hours aboard in the span of two days and when I received the paperwork the blunders were some numerous that the surveyor had discredited himself to the point of embarrassment. To mention only the worst, the wood composite superstructure of my trawler was mistaken for mild steel construction and the shroud plates of my mast, which are clearly and very obviously mechanically fastened through the sides of the wood epoxy house, were described as “welded tangs”. The report however did not lack in a good number of quoting of standards, such as lack of an appropriate reboarding device, a hose not double clamped, AC receptacles on the weather decks not GFI, etc…
Here, I clearly saw a definite lack of experience outside of the written pages of standards.
I have heard statements that it is not possible to practice the profession of marine surveying without having 100% intimate knowledge of the Standards, which I tend to agree with, but can we practice marine surveying relying blindly on our data base of the standards without the ability to recognize something defective that may not be in that data base or may not exactly fit the standard’s scenario?
It would appear we are seeing a generation of tradesmen and surveyors conducting business relying solely on being able to spew forth the numbers relating to the standards, possessing no apparent field experience, and, as in the case of the check valves are unable to appropriately interpret even some of what they base their expertise on.
At first, we may be quick to point the finger at the standards producing body and call for more precise language to eliminate ambiguity. I did. But, then I realized that we would be foolish to think that we will ever be able to write standards that can not ultimately be twisted around and falsely interpreted by someone lacking actual hands on experience and common sense thinking.
There is a definite trend toward putting more filler into survey reports and less information that does not evolve from standards based observation. This to me translates to incompetence on the individual level and the standards wrongfully used as a crotch to lean on for those who lack field experience. Think about it; there will always be a newborn deficiency not yet fitted with a standard and discovering those is what a real Surveyor does.
I fear for our industry – no matter how you slice it, brass check valves have no place aboard any vessel and neither is a place for a surveyor in the industry who can not stand on his own, alongside of the standard producers, as an efficient finder of deficiencies through professional experience and common sense.
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