Marine Operating & Maintenance Manuals – 10 years on and no progress

This report was received in response to the CHIRP request for feedback on the current quality of technical and operating manuals supplied on ships.

Report Text:

I would like to share my recent experience on this subject.
I am a second engineer officer with 38 years’ experience serving onboard a two year old freight ferry sailing under XX classification.
The following criticisms are by no means limited to the vessel’s main propulsion manufacturer. Virtually every technical manual onboard sub-standard in one or more ways as described below.

1. Manuals poorly translated from their original language. The information frequently being so brief that understanding is difficult, ambiguous or impossible.

2. Generic instructions which often do not relate specifically to the equipment fitted.

3. Maintenance schedules which make reference to tasks which are not applicable to the machinery fitted. For example “change the oil in the flexible coupling” when what the manual is actually referring to is the detuner which is lubricated from the main lub oil supply and therefore does not have any oil to change. (It is also likely that by the same token maintenance of some equipment that is fitted has been omitted).

4. Emergency procedures, which are belatedly found not to apply to the machinery fitted and no emergency procedures for the machinery which is fitted forcing the operator to make it up as he goes along.

5. Poor quality drawings and descriptions which lack detail or are generic in nature and not specific to the machinery fitted in the ship leaving one unsure if the job has been done correctly.

6. Operating parameters omitted, for example maximum exhaust temperatures.

7. Instructions which refer to tightening nuts or bolts but do not state the torque, (my pet hate).

In fact the only area in which the manuals are thorough is in the excessive effort put into stating safety measures and disclaiming responsibility for accident or injury.

In addition to the poor quality of the technical library I would also like to highlight the appalling computer based planned maintenance system. My criticism of this system is two fold. Firstly the program itself is horribly complicated and user hostile resulting in difficulty in operating it properly with the potential for maintenance tasks to be missed. Secondly the quality and paucity of the information contained in it means that the information and instructions which it should hold have to be sought elsewhere if they can be found at all.
I lay the blame for this lack of quality information entirely at the feet of the classification societies who issue type approval for machinery without bothering to examine the manuals for the quality of their content, in many cases they do not appear to have tested the equipment either. There seems to be a deliberate attempt by manufacturers to limit the amount of information supplied with equipment so that the operator is forced to call a service agent a trend that should be nipped in the bud with the manufacturers being reminded that a ship at sea should have all the information necessary to enable it to solve its own problems. Similarly the planned maintenance systems should be properly appraised and sub-standard software rejected.

Sadly I have to report that the state of technical information onboard is poor and has not improved at all in fact it has probably deteriorated.
As I often say to anyone who will listen “if aeroplanes were built and maintained to the same standard as merchant ships, you’d never dare get on one!” It is only the seafarers guile that keeps the accident and incident rate where it is.

I must stress that my employer, to whom this vessel is chartered, is in no way responsible for these deficiencies and when requested for support does its very best to assist and has a very responsible attitude.

CHIRP Comment

In 2004 CHIRP published a report: Marine Operating & Maintenance Manuals – Are they good enough?

The solution at that time was defined as: “The style and presentation of engine operation & maintenance manuals should be subject to review and a set of minimum standards agreed and imposed by the relevant classification societies. In these days of inexpensive desk-top publishing, manufacturers could easily arrange for a bespoke publication to be printed and presented from its database. ”

The Maritime Advisory Board made the following recommendations:
1. Manufacturers of equipment for safety critical marine applications across life saving, cargo operating, navigation, communications and engineering disciplines should provide operating and maintenance manuals to a common document standard “using a uniform layout as well as agreed terms, abbreviations and symbols for the correct use of such manuals by mariners.”
2. The use of simplified technical vocabularies and icons should be encouraged. If used, reproductions of photographs and drawings should be of an adequate standard and documents should be available in an agreed number of languages.
3. A relevant authority should verify the compliance/standard of documentation at the design/approval/acceptance stage and audit its continued compliance thereafter.
4. Documents produced to the standard should be controlled and include notifications to manufacturers to accommodate through life operational changes e.g. a change of ownership, crew nationality, etc.
5. Where integrated systems are fitted, a manual covering the entire system should be available. Particular attention should be paid to Failure Mode Effect Analysis for such systems.
6. Training regimes should be amended where necessary to ensure familiarity with the use of manuals produced to the standard. Thereafter, provided the seafarer continues to encounter manuals produced to the standard, efficient familiarisation and operation should be promoted.

CHIRP Comment

It is now 10 years since the publication of this report – the industry appears to have made little progress addressing these concerns that have a significant impact on the ability of seafarers to conduct their work in a safe and efficient manner. Ship Managers should reconsider the above listed recommendations of best practice and be advised of the following:
IACS Recommendation 71 Guide for the development of Shipboard Technical Manuals.

A shipboard technical manual is a generic term for any document that explains how to use, maintain and operate the ship and its equipment. A technical manual is an essential part of the product and its usability has considerable importance for the ship operators. Accordingly the provision of suitable shipboard manuals should be recognized as a major responsibility area.

“Information should be accurate and complete. Text should be clear and concise. Sentences should be as short and simple as the subject allows. Paragraphs should be short. Technical descriptions should be system or function based. Instructions should be procedure based.

The information should be organised in a hierarchical and consistent manner by use of headings. Step numbering should be used to support the structuring into levels of information. Illustrations (photo, drawings, and graphs) should be used to support information and instruction text”.

Procedures for Port State Control the IMO states:

“Manuals, instructions, etc. 3.5.51 The PSCO may determine if the appropriate crew members are able to understand the information given in manuals, instructions, etc., relevant to the safe condition and operation of the ship and its equipment and that they are aware of the requirements for maintenance, periodical testing, training, drills and recording of log book entries.”

IMO MSC.1/Circ.1253 dated 26 October 2007

1. The Maritime Safety Committee, at its eighty-third session (3-12 October 2007), considered the recommendation that the attention of all relevant stakeholders needs to be drawn to the importance of ships crews having access to up-to-date, accurate and user-friendly shipboard technical operating and maintenance manuals, particularly for safety-critical marine equipment.
2. The Committee noted that there exists a global and competitive marketplace for marine equipment and that seafarers were expected to assimilate different equipment fitted on board quickly and operate them efficiently. Also, seafarers were expected to be able to move from ship to ship with few restrictions; this flexibility being essential for the efficient management of human resources. Consequently, seafarers are likely to encounter a wide variety of equipment fitted on board.
3. The Committee also noted that the availability on board ships of up-to-date and accurate operating and maintenance manuals could be enforced via the implementation and enforcement mechanisms of the International Safety Management (ISM) Code.
4. The Committee further noted IACS Recommendation No.71 (dated September 2000) Guide for the development of shipboard technical manuals and agreed that this Guide provided a useful reference for those responsible for developing such manuals.
5. In light of the foregoing, Member Governments are invited to:
1. recognize the necessity for up-to-date, accurate and user-friendly shipboard technical operating and maintenance manuals to be available on board ships;
2. recommend that IACS Recommendation No.71 is used as a model for shipboard technical operating and maintenance manuals;
3. recommend that shipboard technical operating and maintenance manuals should be provided in the working language of the ship and if the working language is not English, French or Spanish, a translation into English, or French, or Spanish should be provided; and
4. encourage ship designers and shipbuilders to provide diagrams and drawings explaining the operation of integrated ship systems as well as emergency operation of such ship systems, recognizing that ship systems may be composed of several individual pieces of equipment,
And bring the above to the attention of ship owners, ship masters, shipbuilders, recognized organizations and, in particular, manufacturers of equipment for safety-critical marine equipment.

Shipping Companies and Managers

There is ample support through the ISM Code and ISO 9000 standards and, for British flag vessels, the Code of Safe Working Practice for Merchant Seaman, for owners to demand in their purchase orders that supporting documentation in plain English must be provided before delivery is taken.
When apportioning accountability for this work:
• Manufacturers are responsible to provide written procedures, in plain English. It is not appropriate to pass poor documentation to the seafarer/operator and expect compliant standards of operations.
• Ship managers should ensure that the provision of operation and maintenance manuals in accordance with IMO MSC.1/Circ.1253 is included in the delivery specification and check that they have been provided in accordance with the delivery contract. Application of a Management of Change (MOC) process during any fleet addition or change of equipment is an extremely useful tool; this should include the transfer of documentation when receiving a new vessel and/or equipment.
• It is important to ensure all manuals reflect the current needs for the operation and maintenance of the ship and equipment. The ship manager should consult their Classification Society if there is a need for deviation from equipment manufacturers’ instructions. In all cases where there are significant changes, the sea going staff should be consulted for feedback prior to implementation of the proposed changes.
The issue over poorly written, inaccurate or incorrect instructions in manufacturer’s operations and maintenance manuals is a major concern that has been with the industry for over 10 years; little progress has been made. CHIRP wishes to thank the reporter for the report and hopes this will stimulate more dialogue on this important subject.