July 2, 2019

5 Reasons to Use Lifeboat Manufacturer Authorized Service Stations

Before we begin, let me explain that I am operating a lifeboat and davit service company called N&P Maritime (S.E.A.) Pte Ltd since 2011. We are a service company that is based in Singapore and we are the authorized service stations for several manufacturers of lifeboats, release gear and davits. If you wish to know our manufacturer's authorization list, I have a web page that listed down all the manufacturer's license and classification society approvals for your download. The company started off with 1-2 manufacturer representation in our first year and now, with the help of our partners, we are working with 13 manufacturers of lifeboats, release gears, lifeboat engines, davits and winches. So we have the experience of being a non-manufacturer authorized service station as well.

In this article, I listed 5 reasons to use the manufacturer's authorized service stations for the lifeboat and davit inspection services. A disclaimer: this is just my point of view as a professional that has been working with lifeboats since 2007, this is coming from my perspective and I understand that people might see the matter in a different light and might not agree to everything in this article. However, this topic is not another attempt to cast a shadow on the service stations that does not possess the manufacturer's authorization, it is ultimately the choice of the consumer whom to choose.

It all began with the regulations MSC.1/Circ.1206 that started on May 2006, It has been debatable whether to use lifeboat or davit manufacturer authorized service stations for inspections; or a competent service station who has some experience in inspecting similar lifeboats and davits. It has been a little grey area as you might remember, when the regulation started, there was a vacuum in the supply side. Hence, some Administration actually allows inspection of lifeboats and davits if it was done in the presence of classification surveyors.

Here is a quick explanation the difference between a manufacturer trained service station and a competent service station. To make the explanation meaningful, we add a scenario that both service stations are requested to carry out an inspection for a made up lifeboat brand, let's call it "ABC".

  • Manufacturer Authorized Service Station - The Service Station has been accepted to represent the manufacturer "ABC" in their area of operation to carry out inspections, surveys and repairs to their equipment. In order to proceed, the service station has to send at least 1 technician or engineer to the manufacturer's facility for the onboarding training where the personnel will have to go through the training program designed for their line of lifeboats, release gears, davits and winches. Usually, to get a chance to represent the manufacturer "ABC" as their authorized service station, the company has to have some technicians or engineers whom are already has some years of experience and the company itself has to possess a Quality System before they can be considered.
  • Competent Service Station - The Service Station is not an authorized service station for the lifeboat manufacturer "ABC". They represent other lifeboat, release gear, davit and winch manufacturer and their technician is trained by those manufacturers. A tip here, always check if the attending technician has been working in the industry for several years and has been at least trained by 1 manufacturer of each equipment. If they are not trained by "ABC", the made up lifeboat manufacturer in this scenario, they should at least have 2-3 years working experience.

10 years has since passed, the supply / demand is more balanced and the price of the inspection plunged. However, the practise of inspecting of lifeboats and davits without using the manufacturer authorized service stations still remains. Recently I even come across some fancy marketing name called "multi-brand service station", at first impression, it might imply they are capable of servicing any brand but they are basically a "competent service station", only attached with a fancier name.

#1 - Manufacturer's Support for Spare parts and Technical Assistance

Most customers whom uses authorized service stations are those who are concerned about getting access and support to the original spare parts and technical assistance should they have any problems with their lifeboat, release gear, davit and winch. It is a valid reason for using authorized service stations because they have been appropriately trained and licensed by manufacturers to do the services. Thus if the trained technicians face any problems during inspection, they are able to get the spare parts for the customers should they require.

In case the vessel requires urgent troubleshoot to the equipment, they might have to ask the manufacturer for remote technical assistance, in this case, the lifeboat manufacturer most probably will ask the last inspection report. Lifeboat manufacturer might reject assistance if inspection service was carried out by service companies that they don't recognise. They have no way to know if the contracted service company accidentally caused the problem, we cannot blame the manufacturers because it might be the first time they come across the service company's name and does not know their technician's skill level.

Davit winch brake disc part
Photo of davit winch brake disc part from Korean manufacturer

#2 - Access to Manufacturer's Global Network

The introduction of MSC.1/Circ.1206 prompted the manufacturers of lifeboat and davit to rapidly expand their service networks to cater to the demands of lifeboats and davits inspection, repair and troubleshooting. The past 10 years has produced hundreds of lifeboat and davit service companies. Most of the bigger lifeboat and davit manufacturers would have a global network of service stations in most busy ports of the world in 2019. For example, a Korean davit manufacturer "Oriental Precision", they have 16 service stations just in Singapore. Just speak to the manufacturers and they will be happy to provide their list of global network along with their contact details.

ABS External Specialist
There are 328 companies that are audited by ABS worldwide for the servicing and maintenance of lifeboats and launching appliances

#3 - Technicians Trained under a Standardized Program

For manufacturer to authorize a service station, they have to undergo a training program designed by the manufacturer to understand the different lifeboat model, lifeboat type, how the release gear works, points to take care, how to dismantle a davit winch, what are the special tools you require and on and on. Responsibility is given to the manufacturer to grade and pass a technician if he is found to be competent or fail a technician if he is found incapable of performing this job.

There is a fair, standardized system for every participant who go through the training. Also, the requirement for retraining is no more than 3 years where the technicians pick up new information about the lifeboat, release gear, davit and winch.

All, if not most of the manufacturers themselves provide inspection and repair services in their country of operation, the trainers are usually the technicians who board vessels for services. They often share information gathered in the last 3 years when the technicians from service stations attend the re-training sessions.

A point to note, every manufacturer does things a little differently, they do have similar designs but they are not carbon copies. For technicians who are competent but not that manufacturer trained, they will miss out on these valuable training and information from the manufacturer of lifeboat and davit. The technician have to depend on their past experiences (if they attended training from other manufacturers or worked as technicians in other company) and general knowledge when they perform a service for that lifeboat, davit or winch which they have not been trained for. So, it is up to the customer to do some background checks in order to gauge if the competent service stations and their technicians are competent enough to survey their assets.

Japan Training School for Lifeboat and Davit
Training school organised by lifeboat and davit manufacturers

#4 - Equipment Quality Feedback

Every annual inspection or 5 yearly inspection that has been performed by the authorized service stations are documented, 1 original copy is left onboard the vessel as evidence of inspection completion and the equipment are still in satisfactory condition or not, 1 copy for the service station for trace-ability purposes and finally, 1 copy will be forwarded to the manufacturers of the equipment. All these information trickled to the manufacturers are compiled, quality issues highlighted and reflected to their design department for future design rectification.

As mentioned in #3, just because the manufacturers will also have a team that does service jobs, they are vested in this to make their job easier. Nobody likes to go onboard to receive complaints about their company's quality issues, right? Hence, using an authorized service station will help the manufacturers to make better products. If there is any design fault, an underlying issue with the quality, a batch quality issue or simply if something can be further improved; the lifeboat and davit manufacturers will require enough information from the annual inspection or 5 yearly inspection or customer feedback in order to spot them and subsequently resolve them in the future.

#5 - Support the Community

The ship owners, the managers, the shipyards, equipment manufacturers and service vendors are all part of the maritime community. One common food chain. It is imperative that we support the community to grow together so we can attract talents to join this industry. The prices of lifeboat and davit inspection service has plunged quite a lot since it started in 2006, as much as 50-70% lower than the prime days.

Getting an authorized service station to do an annual lifeboat and davit survey will not cost so much more than a non-authorized service station. Normally the price for inspection is the similar except for additional lifeboat and/or davit manufacturer's "royalty fee" which can range from few hundred to one thousand plus. This extra income for the manufacturers will benefit them in keeping their service department financially healthy, employ & retain talents, develop a robust training for their service stations so service standards can further improve.

The current shipbuilding price is also not helping, selling a new equipment warrants a very low margin while the overhead for maintaining a factory remains high. If the manufacturers do not receive income from the service side, then the equipment quality might be compromised since only the cheapest product has a buyer. When a product is a combination of cheap parts, you will find yourself repairing them frequently, creating unnecessary adhoc works that will eat into OPEX. Without naming the brand, there are a couple of such manufacturers that I came across with, their lifeboats and davits can still be found onboard.

Conclusion

Personally, I feel that in order for the marine community to grow, it is necessary for the owners, managers and equipment manufacturers to play their own part and contribute to the community.

I hope the ship owners identify and support responsible equipment manufacturers that has a good track record for supplying quality products, provide support for after sales and continuously improve on the designs. Lowest bidder should not be the only decision making factor when awarding an order.

For equipment manufacturers and not limiting to the lifeboats and davits manufacturers, they need to continuously improve on their design, make it cheaper without sacrificing quality for example, or easy operation, less maintenance, they have to find their space with regards to innovation thus price is not the only factor to consider.

And if service quality is their direction, the manufacturers may also improve training program with the use of CBT (computer based training) so technicians can be trained more regularly without having to make a trip down to the factory or they come out with an online feedback platform which the authorized service stations may submit queries and photos for instant feedback.

So there you have it, my 5 reasons for using lifeboat and davit manufacturer authorized service stations for services. If you have any comments, suggestions or more points to share, please send me an email at francis.wong@npmarine.sg, I will update and may share your ideas in the next iteration of this article.

Thank you and please check out my other articles. 🙏