Is your fleet's electrical system as safe as it could be?
Commercial ships take a beating out on the open ocean, and often the most delicate of their systems, the electrical system, takes the brunt of it. The US Coast Guard recently raised a warning about the most common problems they're seeing in commercial shipping, some of which can stop a ship in its tracks or even injure members of the crew. Before you ship out, make sure your crew has checked for these wiring issues.
Any sailor knows the corrosive effects of salt and water on every part of a ship, and the wiring is no exception. Over time, the insulation around wiring can be worn away and even strong metal conduit can oxidize when exposed to the salt and sea for long periods. Any wiring with the potential of exposure should be regularly checked, and replaced if damage is found.
Another hazard that's less commonly thought of is vibration and shaking. Due to the nature of sailing, ship travel is more likely to shake wires against a surface and rub them against each other. The insulation can be rubbed off and potentially short out important systems or even, in some situations, be a fire risk. Wiring should be checked carefully for signs of chafing and protected from vibration as much as possible.
Often ship systems are quickly removed and replaced with new ones, and this may require a rewiring. However, if the old wiring isn't properly dealt with, either by being removed or wired to a proper junction box, it's commonly viewed as "dead-ended." Dead-end wiring is a particular risk when it's energized, as that may expose the crew to risk of electrocution, drain ship's power, or blow out crucial systems with a short. Before shipping out, a full inspection for exposed wires and dead-ended wiring should be done.
When's the last time you inspected your ships' wiring?
Compromised Watertight Integrity
Finally, possibly the most dangerous issue is watertight integrity. When new wiring is installed, and it must pass through a bulkhead, improper waterproofing can allow water to seep into wiring or other parts of the ship. It can also serve as a problem for fire boundaries, making it a crew safety issue as well.
How Do I Protect My Ship?
Many vessel masters simply assume the fit-out exam will find all of these problems, but unfortunately, a fit-out can only do so much. Some of these problems require more time to find and more scrutiny that a ship-wide survey can offer. To better protect your ship, have regular inspections from an experienced marine electrician who knows the proper regulations and standards. Make sure at least one member of the crew is trained to deal with electrical problems to troubleshoot issues while at sea and allow you to dock without problems, and that the necessary electrical supplies are on board to troubleshoot issues and prevent safety issues. Above all, every member of the crew should keep an eye on the electrical systems. Any issues, no matter how minor, should be reported immediately and investigated quickly. With ship's electrical systems, the safety of the crew can be at stake, so vessel masters should plan accordingly.
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