The Small Craft Surveyors Forum annual conference at Seawork Exhibition in Southampton was held on board the “Ocean Scene” with the theme “Workboats and Surveyors”. Over 40 interested persons were on board to hear from the distinguished speakers: Richard Morris and Gary Venning on RNLI surveying their lifeboats by condition based maintenance (CBM); Jenny Vines from MCA giving an update on the Workboat Code; and Simon Mockler from DNV-GL on issues of design, propulsion and personnel transfer of offshore wind farm support vessels.
The RNLI sphere of activity includes 236 lifeboats stations and 430 lifeboats. Traditionally lifeboat refits were calendar based with boats kept afloat having a refit every 3 years and for those ‘housed’ every 5 years with refits ‘gold plated’ and taking an average 16 weeks. The decision was taken to change to CBM to better utilise assets, equipment and personnel which would increase reliability and improve the overall condition of essential equipment. Since the introduction of CBM, results so far showed a reduction in refit packages and stock levels, more inspections being carried out and better work planning with resultant annual cost savings. At present 60 – 70 surveys are carried out each year and over half are now CBM based. Surveys are organised to tie in with haul outs and defects recorded, prioritised and programmed. On the Severn and Trent Class boats, these usually take about a week, including sea trials. All processes and documents are continuously reviewed leading to improved working practices.
Simon Monckler described the wind farm industry as being still relatively young, beginning some 24 years ago off Denmark with 11 turbines in shallow water 1 -3 km offshore. Wind farms are now being planned in deeper water up to 100km offshore. Innovations in design have occurred in the meantime – each new generation of workboat being improved from the experience from previous generations. New designs include SWATHs (small waterplane area twin hull vessel) and surface effect ships, e.g. air cushioning, of which there was one example on the quayside at Seawork.
Propulsion of these service vessels, of which there are about 450 in service, is about 50% using fixed pitch propellers with 35% using water jets and about 10% having controllable pitch propellers. Some new vessels use pod drives giving them high manoeuvrability. Suitability of propulsion is highly dependent on site specific conditions and the experience and skill of the Master.
Simon went on to discuss the industrial personnel carried who are neither passengers nor crew. This SOLAS requirement is still being debated at IMO and recently IMO agreed to develop provisions addressing safety standards for the carriage of more than 12 industrial personnel. As wind farms become established further offshore, the impact on offshore and onshore logistics, maintenance and operations is considerable, needing larger vessels to service them. Daily trips will be uneconomical and so there will probably be some sort of offshore base with smaller workboats operating from there and floatels for workers. Access to an offshore wind farm site is the critical measure of a service vessels performance, and the operationally limiting significant wave height is typically the sole parameter. However, investment decisions are difficult and a greater assurance of vessel performance is required.
Simon concluded that the wind farm sector will continue to make significant innovation in design and operation; continued growth with ever greater focus on cost reduction and changing charterer expectations. Operating environments are becoming much harsher and different to comparatively sheltered waters and geographic focus, which is very much NW European oriented at present, is on China and America where developments are increasing.
Sandwiched between these presentations, Jenny Vines from MCA gave a brief update on the “Workboat Code”, saying it is still in consultation stage, but the intention is to have it finalised for publication soon. Answering questions from the audience, Jenny noted that existing vessels will still meet the old code requirements, and that the workboat area was now considered mature and regulation would be passed over to other bodies.