Hull Inspection 101: What You Need to Know
What is a Hull InspectionThe ‘hull’ refers to the watertight exterior of the ship. Either open ceilinged or enclosed with a deck, the hull is an integral part of a ship structure, since it is the first line of defense against leaks. With ship hulls covering such a large surface area and being in direct contact with the water, hull inspections are vital and should be conducted regularly. Due to the variety of related components, situations, and potential defects, there are two general categories of inspections.
GVI InspectionsIn broad categories, inspections can be broken into General Visual Inspections (GVI), and Close Visual Inspections (CVI). A GVI is a simple visual inspection of overall condition with a report following the inspection to report on the status of the structure.
GVIs are conducted from a moderate distance and provide a general overview of the hull status. Typically completed at approximately an arm’s length away from the component, operators are searching broadly for any defects or issues. While a mirror may be required to enhance visual access to exposed areas, a GVI is conducted under normally available lighting conditions. Daylight, flashlight or ROV lights are usually the only light used for GVI and sometimes nearby structures or objects may have to be moved out of the way to gain access.
A GVI looks to detect a number of things including:
- Physical Defects
- Biofouling (Accumulation of organics)
CVI InspectionsCVIs are crucial for hull maintenance. A detailed and close up visual examination, a CVI is used to identify areas requiring more in depth inspections. More specifically a CVI is an extensive examination of a specific area, section or component to detect and potentially identify damage, failure or irregularity.
CVIs typically make use of additional equipment to enhance the quality of the inspection. Normally natural lighting is supplemented with a direct source of targeted light such as auxiliary lights or flashlight. In particularly murky or turbid waters, imaging sonar tools can also be utilized.
Furthermore, CVI often entails surface cleaning to gain clear access to all components of the area being inspected. Specific tools such as probes, gauges and measuring tools are also often used to acquire further insight into the hull or structure. Finally, more extreme access procedures may be required to ensure close inspection to all aspects of the component being inspected.
The qualifications applicable to CVI can be both PCN or CSWIP. A CVI is suitable for a number of structures and components including:
- Sea Chests
Read more about the difference between GVIs and CVIs here.
Dry DockingHull maintenance is crucial to maximize the expected life cycle out of a vessel. However, external inspections can be difficult since the majority of the ship will be submerged. Dry-docking is a traditional method of conducting comprehensive hull inspections. This process is extremely time consuming and expensive to perform.
To dry-dock a vessel, the entire ship must be removed from the water and placed onto blocks. For large ships, this can be a complex and dangerous procedure, requiring a crew, heavy equipment, and a qualified dockmaster. In the event of a failing dry-dock block, the entire ship can capsize, resulting in catastrophic damage and danger to the crew. Due to the high cost, time usage, and potential complications, many are now opting for Underwater Inspections in lieu of Dry Docking.
UWILDUWILD also known as Underwater Inspection in Lieu of Dry-Docking is an arguably safer and more efficient alternative to the more conventional dry-docking method of marine vessel inspection. UWILD inspections entail inspecting the submerged part of the vessel while still in the water. Occasional dry-docking will always be necessary, however underwater inspections can help reduce the frequency, resulting in long-term time and cost savings.
To conduct a UWILD, the owner of the vessel must first ensure that they qualify. If there are outstanding recommendations for repairs to propellers, rudders, stern frames, sea valves or other underwater structures, dry-docking may be the only suitable option (ABS 2015). Once qualified, UWILDs have been performed by ABS certified divers traditionally. The divers will navigate under the hull of a ship to conduct visual inspections as needed. To further elevate the efficiency of UWILDs over dry-dockings, new equipment such as ROVs are rapidly becoming more popular to eliminate the need for dive teams.
To learn more about UWILD best practices, check out our full article here.
How Hull Inspections are Performed
Components to Inspect
Knowing the complete list of components to inspect on each vessel is integral for a thorough inspection. Ships can have a great variety of different designs, so pre-identifying the number and location of each key component can help reduce the time needed for inspections. The main vessel components to inspect are:
- General hull
- Shell Plating
- Sea Chests
Potential ConcernsQualified inspectors should know exactly what imperfections to be looking for during a hull inspection. This allows for potential issues to be caught quickly and ensures that no glaring issue is left unaddressed. The main concerns to watch for are:
- Cracks or Leaks
- Fouling from Aquatic Life
- Dents or Grooves
- Lodged Debris
- Any other irregularities
Evaluating ComponentsInspection services/programs, surveyors, and the Coast Guard all follow different grading procedures. All inspections should evaluate the general condition of the accessible parts of the hull structure, condition of coatings and corrosion prevention, and overall cleanliness of spaces and tanks within the hull.
The respective inspector will then assign whether the ship is in need of repair, requires further monitoring, or in good condition. For Coast Guard inspections, security inspections for contraband may also be conducted. This extra step monitors for potentially dangerous items, illegal goods, or unregistered crew members.
Why are Hull Inspections Important?
1. Ensure Structural IntegrityEvaluating ship hulls for structural integrity is essential for crew safety as well as logistic efficiency. Finding and addressing cracks, leaks, dents, corrosion, discoloration, or other irregularities ensures that all vessels on the water are in safe operating condition. According to the 2021 Safety & Shipping Review, there were 49 large class ships lost and 2,703 shipping incidents that year alone. With physical damage being the leading cause of incidents (40%), a large portion of these dangerous and costly situations may have been avoidable with thorough inspections/maintenance.
2. Improve Port SecurityWaterways are becoming an increasingly popular method of contraband transportation due to the low cost and lighter security in comparison to air. Seizures of cocaine aboard commercial ships and private vessels world-wide more than tripled over the past three years, to 73.2 metric tons in 2019 from 22.4 metric tons in 2017 (source). In many situations, the ship crew will be completely unaware of the illegal goods aboard. Conducting dedicated security checks during hull inspections is an essential part of preventing dangerous substances from entering countries.
3. Discover Invasive SpeciesApproximately 42 percent of threatened or endangered species are at risk due to invasive species (source). If undetected, many invasive species like Zebra Mussels, Green Crabs, or Killer Algae can cling to the side of ship hulls and unintentionally be distributed around the globe. Once established in a foreign ecosystem, invasive species quickly reproduce and cause irreparable harm to the natural environment. This carries a heavy burden on biodiversity as well as aquaculture production. If these species can be identified and removed during hull inspections, these concerns can be eliminated before they happen.
4. Monitor Paint StatusMonitoring and maintaining paint integrity is a proven method of reducing overall maintenance costs. Antifouling paint is commonly used on ship hulls as protection against corrosion, organic growth, and improved water flow for better efficiency. After identifying degradation points in exterior vessel paint, inspectors can advise for reapplication to prevent corrosive damage or the entry of invasive species.
5. Optimize Maintenance SchedulingBeing knowledgeable of the quality status of any large asset is essential for effective maintenance scheduling. Without consistent inspections, scheduling maintenance is an estimation at best. In a best case scenario, this can lead to overspending on unnecessary treatments/repairs. At its worst, this may result in the neglect of deteriorated components, causing an incident.
Benefits of Using a Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) for Hull Surveys
Emergency ResponseIf a vessel collides with an object on the seafloor during operation, an emergency inspection is needed. This is to ensure that the vessel is still safe to be aboard and does not compromise the safety of the crew. Traditionally, ships would be required to navigate to the nearest dry-docking port immediately for a visual inspection. This yields a high cost, potential danger, and renders the vessel completely useless for an extended period.
With the introduction of ROVs, ship crews are able to quickly deploy the vehicle to survey for damage in mild to moderate currents. Requiring no certifications to operate, any qualified crew member can use the ROV to inspect for damage and evaluate the integrity of the hull. This limits dry-docking to only necessary situations, while simultaneously putting no crew members in danger for an underwater inspection.
Record inspectionsROVs are equipped with the ability to record video and save images instantly to either SD cards or external computers/hard drives. This enables for proper evaluation after the initial inspection rather than relying on a single passover of a diver. Rotating camera heads allow operators to orient the camera vertically and simply drive the ROV forward for a seamless video of the entire ship bottom. HD camera technology combined with integrated flood lights allows for even minor irregularities to be recognizable through the ROV.
Thickness TestingDealing with corrosion is an integral part of ship upkeep. Conducting regular thickness tests is the key to optimizing maintenance schedules and minimizing vessel downtime. Along with sonar, ROVs can also integrate with ultrasonic thickness gauges. This enables them to evaluate the thickness of steel on tanks, hulls and other metal surfaces. The probe simply presses on the surface to provide effective measurements even through paint coatings or marine growth.
Mauverbility / NavibaltyPowerful thrusters, small form factors, and adjustable control sensitivities result in an extremely easy to maneuver inspection system. ROVs that are configured with vectored or vertical thrusters provide superior navigation through currents and also enable multiple planes of movement for comprehensive scans of the hull.
SonarMaritime environments can make obtaining clear visuals difficult, particularly at ports where frequent movement can stir up silt from the bottom. While most ROVs come standard with high quality lighting, turbid conditions can render camera visuals useless. In these instances, ROVs can easily be equipped with imaging sonars to provide clear perspective even through the murkiest environments.
Minimize Risks to DiversThe most important benefit of utilizing an ROV for hull inspections, is the elimination of danger for divers. Diving under a large vessel can put divers in extremely precarious positions. Container ships are divided into seven sizes: small feeder, feeder, feedermax, Panamax, Post-Panamax, New Panamax and ultra-large. Ultra-large vessels can measure up to 160ft wide and 50ft deep. With no method for immediate resurfacing, equipment failure during an underwater inspection can be a lethal situation.
Additionally, even when a ship is anchored, it still retains the ability to adjust positions with the current. If a diver is underneath conducting an inspection, a shift can result in a direct collision with the diver. On top of the specific dangers of navigating under ships, divers are also at risk of the regular concerns of pressurization during diving. When an ROV enters the water in lieu of a human, all of these risks are effectively eliminated.
Maximizing Hull Inspections with Deep TrekkerDeep Trekker offers three different ROV models to suit any budget. All three models are equipped with powerful thrusters, high definition cameras, intuitive controls, and are extremely portable. Trade spending thousands of dollars on professional dive teams or dry-docking for one of Deep Trekker’s comprehensive ROV packages.
For quick eyes underwater, the DTG3 is the most portable and cost-effective ROV from Deep Trekker. It can battle up to 2 knot currents and houses a 270 degree panning HD camera for smooth scans underneath ship hulls. Unable to effectively integrate with sonar due to its compact two-thruster design, the DTG3 is best suited for calm, clear environments.
The REVOLUTION ROV from Deep Trekker utilizes six thrusters in a larger, more robust body for optimal power through complex environments. The four vectored and two horizontal thrusters enable three different planes of movement to navigate in unorthodox patterns while maintaining a clear visual.
This larger design is best suited for hull inspections when combined with the M3000 imaging sonar. This is the best-in-class option for extremely detailed, up-close inspections through murky conditions. The enhanced 4K camera is also recommended for identifying smaller defects, and the thickness gauge or CP probe can also be integrated for hull structural evaluations.
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