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There are over 100,000 vessels actively engaged in international trade and activity. They play a key role in keeping today’s global society functioning – from transporting the oil that powers the cars on our roads, to shipping the food that fills the plates on our tables. Ship maintenance and repair is extremely important to the maritime industry as it helps to ensure the smooth flow of the world fleet with minimal disruption. After all, a ship that doesn’t work, can’t do its job. Furthermore, regular ship repair and maintenance can help to:

  • Boost crew morale
  • Lower operational costs
  • Reduce the chance of on-board accidents
  • Ensure compliance with relevant legislation
  • Minimise the likelihood of unexpected repairs and maintenance



What is ship repair and maintenance?


Ship repair and maintenance is a proactive, planned process. It involves regularly inspecting a vessel’s key on-board systems and carrying out any necessary works to ensure these are kept in optimum working condition. This is typically done in port, or at a dry dock.



Why is ship maintenance so essential?


Ship maintenance is essential for a variety of reasons, including both ‘human’ reasons (e.g. ensuring crew safety) and ‘business’ reasons (e.g. improving efficiency to drive profitability). Let’s look at five of the main factors which make ship maintenance an essential task for the maritime industry.


Safety of crew


The on-board safety of crew should always be of paramount importance. Regular inspections of a vessels' equipment can help to spot any potential issues early, thereby allowing them to be rectified before they cause an accident, injury, fatality, or other serious issues. Ship maintenance will usually involve regular inspections of all the vessel’s safety-critical systems, such as:

  • Hull
  • Lifeboats
  • Electrical systems
  • Navigation equipment
  • Fire suppression systems
  • Emergency power systems

Proactively checking for wear, damage, or malfunction ensures the vessel is in optimum working condition. In turn, this helps to mitigate risk and ensure the safety of the crew while on-board.


Vessel lifespan


A vessel’s lifespan is directly related to its profitability (i.e. the longer the vessel is operational, the longer it can operate, and the more money it can generate for the ship owner). Regular ship maintenance extends the vessel’s lifespan, ensuring it is not just seaworthy, but in optimal working order. Hull and machinery inspections, along with routine maintenance tasks (e.g. oil changes and alignment checks) help to maximise a vessel’s lifespan and performance by:

  • Avoiding unexpected breakdowns
  • Minimising the chance of malfunctions
  • Reducing downtime
  • Ensuring the vessel is reliable
  • Preventing fuel wastage
  • Lowering operating costs, thereby improving profitability and ROI





Commercial maritime vessels have to comply with various international and national regulations, covering everything from safety to environmental protection. Complying with these standards is essential, and helps ship owners to:

  • Avoid fines and penalties
    Ship maintenance programmes should always include regular inspections and repairs of the on-board safety equipment and pollution control devices. By meeting national and international maritime safety authorities standards, ship owners can help avoid violations that could lead to fines, reputational damage, or suspension of operations.

  • Meet insurance requirements
    Commercial vessels must have the relevant insurance in order to operate legally. Insurance companies will typically ask for proof that the ship is subject to regular and comprehensive maintenance processes before offering coverage or settling a claim.

  • Maintain necessary logs and records
    Maritime regulations require ship owners to keep strict maintenance logs and records, which can be made available during safety inspections and audits. By keeping accurate records, ship owners are able to demonstrate their compliance with regulations and provide evidence of the maintenance that they have performed.



Operational efficiency


Good ship repair and maintenance procedures include the regular inspection and repair of all on-board systems, such as propulsion, electrical, plumbing, and HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) systems. Ensuring these are work at optimal levels helps to maximise a vessel’s operational efficiency by:

  • Reducing fuel consumption
    Regular maintenance and inspections (particularly hull and propeller cleaning) ensure vessels are in optimum working order. In turn, this boosts efficiency and reduces fuel consumption, which is not only positive for the environment but also delivers cost savings.

  • Minimising the risk of equipment failures
    Better functioning equipment minimises the risk of breakdowns. This is particularly important for safety and navigation equipment that is required for compliance reasons.

  • Avoiding costly unplanned downtime
    Well maintained equipment allows for more reliable operations that avoid interruptions to the vessel’s scheduled operations and maintain good profitability.



Environmental/corporate responsibility


The shipping industry is increasingly aware of the need to protect the oceans and marine ecosystems in which vessels are operating. This process is known as ‘the green transition’. Ship maintenance and repair can help to protect and preserve the marine environment by:

  • Lessening vessels’ environmental footprint
    Properly maintaining a ship’s energy systems (e.g. lighting, propulsion, HVAC) helps to minimise its energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Likewise ensuring proper waste management systems and using ‘green’ technologies will help lessen the ship’s impact on the marine environment.

  • Complying with regulations
    A rigorous maintenance programme should include checking a ship’s emissions systems to ensure they are properly functioning. This is essential for meeting international regulations and avoiding fines for violating these.

  • Reducing the chance of accidental pollution
    Oil spills, discharging sewage, and other accidental pollution can cause significant ecological damage to marine habitats. Ensuring waste management treatment systems are well-maintained can help to avoid such issues.