Published: 1 April 2014

Continuing our series of articles highlighting good practices that can be shared by Members arising from areas  where the Managers’ ship condition survey programme has detected a lack of maintenance.

SOLAS Regulation II-2/14 requires that maintenance, testing and inspections of fire protection systems and appliances on board shall be carried out based on IMO guidelines, which  address the minimum recommended level of maintenance and inspections for the maintenance plan required by SOLAS.

IMO MSC.1/Circ.142 guidelines recommend that certain maintenance procedures and inspections can be performed by competent crew members who have completed an advanced fire-fighting training course, while other procedures should be performed by persons specifically trained in the maintenance of such systems i.e. authorised representatives of the manufacturers.

The on board maintenance plan should also indicate which parts of the maintenance and inspection programme is to be carried out by competent crew members and which are to be completed only by persons specially trained in the maintenance of such systems.

The effectiveness of the actual maintenance on board will vary depending on the company’s ethos, work practices and the available budget.  Unfortunately,  feedback and reporting from our routine surveys has made it increasingly apparent that maintenance is one of the areas that is given a lower priority when allocating available funds and manpower, particularly on a ship where the operating cost is higher, due to age, condition and  availability of spares.  As such ships have a  correspondingly lower earning potential this  serves to exacerbate the situation, particularly if the ship is idle for longer periods.

The IMO and SOLAS guidelines state that portable fire extinguishers state should be examined annually by a competent person, who may be assumed to be the chief officer or second engineer, or their representatives.

The basic maintenance includes a requirement to :

  • Examine the extinguisher body externally for corrosion or damage that could impair the safe function of the extinguisher
  • Carefully check the plastic head cap for signs of UV degradation
  • Check the condition of the discharge hose and make sure that it meets the manufacturer’s specifications
  • Weigh the extinguisher to check that the weight corresponds with the manufacturers specifications and the recorded weight when first commissioned or last recharged

The third officer, perhaps in conjunction with the second officer and sometimes the fourth engineer, is usually the designated fire safety officer and therefore is the person responsible for checking and maintaining relevant fire fighting and life safety equipment.

Whilst there are always exceptions, it is unusual for these officers to be adequately trained to properly and effectively service all safety equipment on board a particular ship.  It is customary for the new joining officer to get a handover from the officer being relieved, which should be written down and if there is sufficient time, should include a brief walk through and perhaps the location of spare parts.  The requirement to review the manufacturer’s documentation in order  to verify the recorded weight of the fire extinguishers, or to be able to decide whether the plastic cap of the extinguisher is degraded to the extent that it may need replacement is unfortunately  not often fulfilled, as demonstrated by a sample of pictures from recent survey reports

On ships trading on short sea routes, or that are under 3000 GT, the requirement for safe manning is correspondingly reduced and it is not unusual for the deck officer manning to comprise a master, chief mate  and one officer (in charge of a navigation watch).  This does reduce the time and manpower available for planned maintenance routines.   The company is obliged to ensure either that ship staff are able to adequately  maintain the ship, whilst taking into account the ship’s trade, and also the statutory requirement to comply with the MLC requirements, or the company must make sure that the requisite maintenance is carried out with adequate assistance from ashore.

Crew exercises, for example fire drills, must be arranged so as to cause minimal disruption to rest periods. Seafarers called out whilst in a rest period are entitled to a rest period to make up for the time spend on the drills.

Maintenance is important for the reassurance that the equipment will work as designed and when required  most of the time but particularly when required in an emergency.  It also provides the requisite proof, when being inspected or in the case of equipment failure, that the required duty of care was undertaken in ensuring that the equipment was in good working order. Effective and timely maintenance also reduces downtime and losses due to equipment malfunctions and having all safety equipment readily available for use when needed may save lives.

Efficient maintenance practices must be relevant to manufacturers’ recommendations and planned for appropriate intervals that are also based on usage and age of equipment. The planned maintenance routine needs to be dynamic enough to encompass any interim equipment failures or deficiencies.

A brief summary of areas to watch out for with respect to some safety equipment is as follows:


  • All hose shall be kept out of direct sunlight and stored in a well-ventilated location
  • All hose shall be drained and thoroughly dried before being placed in storage
  • Protect the male coupling threads by rolling the hose with the coupling on the inside of the roll
  • Hose should not be dragged over sharp or abrasive surfaces unless specifically designed for such service



  • Visually inspect the fire extinguisher for corrosion and damage
  • Check that the extinguisher has not been used, by verifying:
    • Safety pin and tamper seal are in place
    • Pressure gauge indicating needle in the green area
  • Check that the operating instructions on the extinguisher are clear and legible
  • Remove the discharge hose and check for blockages and corrosion
  • Once the discharge hose has been removed replace the ‘O’ ring
  • Weigh the extinguisher and record on the service label
    • If there is more than a 10% weight loss, investigate and recharge
  • Wipe down the extinguisher

Ensure that the mountings are secure and in
good condition before replacing the appliance


The onboard maintenance plan should be included in the ship’s safety management system and should be based on the system manufacturer’s recommendations including:

  • maintenance and inspection procedures and instructions;
  • required schedules for periodic maintenance and inspections;
  • listing of recommended spare parts; and
  • records of inspections and maintenance, including corrective actions taken to
  • maintain the system in operable condition.

At least every 30 days a general visual inspection should be made of the overall system condition for obvious signs of damage, and should include verification

A minimum level of maintenance and inspections should be carried out annually in accordance with the system manufacturer’s instructions and routine safety precautions


  • SCBA  should be inspected weekly to ensure that they are in the correct pressure range
  • SCBAs on ships carrying gases, chemicals etc shall be inspected at least monthly by a responsible officer
  • All SCBAs shall be examined at least annually as part of the annual statutory safety equipment survey


  • SOLAS  74 requires at least two EEBDs to be located in the accommodation spaces
  • Additional EEBDs to be placed in the machinery spaces  based upon persons, ease of access etc
  • Sufficient spare EEBDs should be kept on board to replace units that are used, reach their expiry date, or otherwise become unserviceable
  • The EEBD should be examined and maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions
  • In the absence of manufacturer’s instructions, hydrostatic testing should be carried out at intervals not exceeding five (5) years, unless specifically prohibited by the manufacturers
  • EEBD SHALL NOT be used to enter an enclosed shipboard space in which the atmosphere is known or suspected to be oxygen-depleted  or enriched, toxic or flammable