IIMS President speaks out: Beware the challenges of surveying steel hull inland waterways craft – and other considerations

IIMS President, Geoff Waddington, has spoken out passionately in light of a number of issues that are causing concern regarding the survey of inland waterways craft, steel narrowboats and barges in the UK particularly. His advice, however, is good practice for surveyors working around the world. The result is a helpful pdf document that can be downloaded and retained as a reference source (see below).

Geoff takes up the story:
I admit that I have only limited experience of inland waterways craft. My career in the marine industry started over fifty years ago on ships. Over the last forty years of surveying both large and small craft, I have been involved with the new construction of a wide beam barge, fitting out of a narrowboat, insurance investigations involving narrowboats and small, steel inland waterways craft, and of course many GRP motor cruisers designed for both use on inland waterways and RCD CE CAT B vessels, which were in use on inland waterways.

During the last few insurance investigations into claims against surveyors of inland waterways craft it has become apparent that there is a wide range of standards being applied by surveyors during their assessments of surveyed vessels. This has resulted in claims against IIMS members, meaning it has become necessary to readvise surveyors, insurers and lawyers in regard to ‘what is the acceptable level of corrosion and resultant diminution of metal hull plate-work’. When asked, surveyors opinions varied wildly for the acceptable level of wastage due to the corrosion of steel plate as far as diminution and pitting are concerned. For example, in regard to 6mm plate, opinions vary between accepting a limit of 20%, (approximate 4.8mm) to 50%, (3mm), to the lowest limit of 70%, (2mm). In fact, both the MCA and Classification Societies have percentage rules, which in general are 20% dependent on longitudinal position and these rules apply to all craft whether sea going or inland waterways.

Talking to surveyors of inland waterways craft, as I have done, there appears to be a good deal of ‘That’s OK’, and ‘That’s the way it’s always been’. I have yet to see a survey report in dispute, as far as an inland waterways vessel was concerned, where the vessel surveyed was clean and presented in a condition where the hull plate work could have been thoroughly inspected and almost never has there been any access to inspect the outer bottom. A hull fouled by freshwater mussels, weed and slime cannot, in any circumstances, be properly inspected, examined or even assessed. However, this seems to be routine practice for some. I was advised the reasons are that owners and purchasers will not accept the cost of lifting and pressure washing the craft for survey – and due to the extensive use of cheap environmentally unfriendly bituminous paint, the potential cost of re-painting the hull prior to relaunch due to the “Blacking” being washed off by the pressure washer. I wonder if these same owners would be happy to drive a vehicle without a current MOT, or to buy a house without survey and the mandatory certification?

Contrary to popular belief, the MCA continues to be setting the standards for construction and maintenance of inland waterways craft. Additionally, a Code of Practice for Inland Waters Small Passenger Boats in cooperation with The Association of Inland Navigation Authorities and British Marine has been produced for inland boatbuilding. Sadly, there are a number of rules and standards and also a number of associations involved to confuse us – in fact over 60 different inland waterways authorities at my last count.

The reason for speaking out so forcibly at this time is that we would like to advise our members of the correct rules to apply in an attempt to level the playing field and ultimately to keep the surveyor as safe as possible from litigation.

Geoff Waddington
IIMS President

Stalwart IIMS HonFIIMS, Jeffrey Casciani-Wood, has responded to Geoff’s comments, wholeheartedly agreeing with them and adding his own further thoughts and comments on this important topic. Geoff and Jeffrey’s combined thoughts and advice are available to download in a 10 page pdf document at: Beware the challenges of surveying steel hull inland waterways craft

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