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Ships are giant structures having large machineries on board, and there are hundreds of different equipments and devices. Obviously for smooth running of the ship, it is important that these machines, equipments and devices are in proper order. Otherwise this would effect the normal operation of the ship and could hamper its mobility or safety. Yet whatever works needs to be repaired and the same is true of the ship and its machinery. So let us learn the types of ship repairs that are required for a vessel to sail smoothly.
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PMS - Routine Maintenance
PMS works on the simple principle that prevention is better than cure. It stands for planned maintenance system and it basically means to carry out certain routine maintenance procedures on various machines and equipments which are likely to reduce the possibility of a breakdown.
Infact the entire engine room crew is kept on board for this very purpose only right from the chief engineer to the junior engineer and assistant crew members (of course even navigating officers have their duties in maintenance as well). These days with the advent of computers on ships, normally an automated program is fed with the intervals at which various components of the ship require maintenance and it prints out a daily schedule which is considered as a sort of work order and the engineers have to go by that.
These tasks could be from major overhauls such as changing the piston of the marine diesel engine of the main propulsion plant to moderate tasks like cleaning the centrifuges and purifiers or minor tasks such as cleaning a small filter of say the bilge pump.
There are certain tasks which cannot be completed by on-board engineers either due to lack of specialized knowledge or due to the immense complexity or sheer size of the task. Or it could be simply that the task can be done only at a dry dock when the ship is out of water. The picture below shows one such work where the propeller and the shaft is being removed and this cannot be carried ou t by shipboard staff, irrespective of their intelligence and knowledge. Sometimes several machineries of equipment such as say the communication equipment might be under warranty and it may be required for the company engineers to inspect, repair or replace the same.
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The life of a marine engineer is hardly peaceful and breakdowns happen most of the times despite the best possible efforts at routine maintenance. If you haven’t heard of the Murphy’s Law it states that if anything can go wrong, it certainly will. Of course this may seem a bit of a pessimistic statement but a study carried out by Stephen Goranson in context of ships can be found at this link.
Anyway let us keep Mr Murphy out of it and coming back to the hot engine room from the cool theory, actually you can see mathematically that since so many machineries are running at the same time, the probability of something or the other going wrong is quite a bit. Marine engineers might be sound sleep when a pipeline may burst or any other emergency could occur.
This type of ship repair is known as breakdown maintenance and is more likely on vessels which are not well maintained or are too old for their age. The normal working hours usually do not come in the picture when such a repair is being carried out and everyone is literally on their toes till the ship is in ship-shape again.
The adjacent picture shows a ship in dry dock which could be a breakdown maintenance if anything goes wrong suddenly and cannot be rectified at sea, or it could be a routine service trip to the dry dock just like your car.
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Marine engineers have to be quite intuitive and of sharp intellect because sometimes some major fault may occur in the middle of the ocean where there is nothing but water for hundreds or thousands of miles. In such a case they have to find a way to make things work even if by hook or crook till proper repair help arrives. Philosophically speaking the story of the ship is just like life where the show must always go on irrespective of the circumstances. Bon Voyage
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Northwestern University, Illinois
Royal New Zealand Navy