Marine Engine Room Layout Faults in Merchant Ships

Different types of Engine Room Layout

A marine engineer during his career at sea sails on a multitude of ships built by different ship yards around the world. Each ship has different features and characteristics. The care taken and planning done in the design stage decides to a large extent the working conditions in the engine room and the quality of life on board. A good layout with ergonomically designed working spaces makes life comfortable for the workforce. It would thus lead to a happy and safer engine room. It is well understood that it would lead to better maintenance and increased life of the machinery.

There are different types of ships sailing worldwide with different structural arrangements. Some ships have the accommodation forward and the engine room aft, some ships have both the accommodation and the engine room aft, and some ships have a mid-ship accommodation and engine room. All these arrangements affect the layout of the engine room. The naval architects designing the ship have got more concerns about allotting the maximum volume of the ship for the carriage of the cargo and the engine room layout and that of the accommodation quarters is secondary.

Some of the ships built by Japanese shipyards are so standard that you can guess the general location of the valves even before boarding the ship. But some other ships, built by ship yards of countries with fast growing economies, have such a jumbled up pipe line arrangement that it drives the engineers crazy.

In this article the different layouts and features of the engine room have been discussed. It is a simple fact that any human being would work to his fullest potential if the working conditions are ergonomically designed. Smoky and dark engine rooms or unapproachable corners make maintenance difficult. A man would work hard and without fear where a risk to life and limb is not involved, otherwise he will hardly work.

Location of generators

The generators, which are also known as the auxiliary engines, are the heart of the ship as they provide all of the electricity for illumination and other services. The generators are best located near the engine control room as they can be frequently watched over.

On some ships the generators are located in a separate forward engine room or at the bottom platform, which cause them to be a bit neglected. Also the bottom platform location is very bad because slight flooding of the sea water would go into the alternator’s windings causing a black out.

The generators should be conveniently located near the engine room work shop as the cylinder heads and the other spares could be brought in for repairs.

Engine Room Workshop

The engine room workshop is the dedicated place for hot work and is generally located near the main engine cylinder head platform. The workshop should be well connected to the generator platform, purifier flat and the main engine cylinder head platform via guide rails, so that a component requiring extensive maintenance can be easily brought to and from the engine room workshop. Also the overhead crane should reach near the guide rails so that the machine can be easily transferred via chain blocks. A careful planning would save a lot of man hours and busted backs.

Some companies provide a separate air conditioning unit in the workshop and that makes working very comfortable for the staff and the quality of the workmanship increases considerably.

Location of Skylight

The skylight was used in old ships for the illumination and the ventilation of the engine room along with providing an opening for lowering and removing heavy items with the ship or the shore crane. However in modern ships the sky light is normally bolted shut and only opened for lowering goods and spares into the engine room.

The location of the sky light should be such that it can lower the spares near the cylinder head platform from where it can be transferred easily to the overhead crane. In case it is not possible it should have guide rails near the opening so that once the items have been lowered into the engine room it can be easily shifted by chain blocks and physical labor is saved.

The opening should be free of pipelines and obstructions, so that the spares can be easily lowered and lifted without much maneuvering. Sometimes the restricted opening causes the crane hook to catch on to some obstructions or pipelines and the spares can fall endangering life and property.

Location of Critical Spares

The location of major spares like the piston, cylinder head, and the liner of the main engine which are very heavy and weigh about 1000 to 3000 Kilograms should be carefully planned. On some ships they are located in corners to give a beautiful engine room layout, but the removal from place and stowage back after use is very time consuming. There are some ships where you have to put two or three chain blocks along with using the overhead crane to stow the spare piston in place. It not only affects the productivity but also lowers the morale of the crew. A precious few hours are wasted in bringing the spare to work and can be very dangerous in emergency situations like main engine failure in rough sea.

Ideally the main engine heavy spares should be located in such a way that they can be directly accessed by the engine room overhead crane. In any other location guide rails should be provided so that the spare can be lifted by chain blocks and shifted to their wanted location easily.

Layout of the Spares Store

The spare store is another area of concern as some ships have a very small storage space and when the ship gets older and the demand of the spares escalates, there is no space to store them. Then they are kept in the packing boxes they were shipped in and if proper records are not maintained they are forgotten and rust into oblivion.

Extra space should be provided for the spares store keeping the futuristic needs in mind. Spares for the main engine, auxiliary engine, purifiers, compressors, pumps etc. should all be segregated and separate locations should be provided for them. Locking arrangement should be provided for the expensive spares and the store room should be kept locked in the ports where theft is common.

It should be noted that the spares are very expensive and amount to thousands of US dollars. Each needle guide of the fuel injectors for the main engine costs about 500 US dollars. The mechanical seals can cost from 150 to 1500 US dollars and more depending on the size and application.

The corrosion resistant materials used in manufacturing of the spares like brass, bronze, copper, silver and zinc etc. make them very attractive to petty thieves who often enter the engine room on some pretext or the other.

Engine Control Room

Many owners and designers are of a thought that since the engine control room is for work only it need not be made comfortable. However it must be remembered that a comfortable and good looking engine control room will not only increase the pride of the engineers but also will provide a good relaxed atmosphere during the coffee breaks. This would help in team building and increase productivity. Also when the engineers have to be present in the control room for long periods like during maneuvering in the Suez and Panama canals, it is a good idea to provide comfortable chairs and sofas.

On some ships in the engine control room there is no provision for making coffee or tea. The naval architects designing those ships were probably not aware that the control room is also used for conducting the tool box meeting every day. The engineers wary of climbing long flight of stairs prefer to stay in the engine room during tea breaks. In the absence of any clearly marked pantry area, the crew makes a temporary arrangement which could well be a fire risk.

On one ship a coffee machine was kept below the shelf for the instruction manuals and its thermostat failed when unattended. The fire that followed cost the company one million US dollars and the coffee kettles of that make were infamously called "The million dollar kettle" thereafter.

It is a good practice to provide a dedicated area for making tea and coffee with fire proof appliances. The control room is the dedicated smoking area in the engine room, and safety ashtrays should be provided by the designers. An electric lighter would do away with the butane lighters and would lower the fire risk on board.

It must be remembered that incorrectly disposed butane lighter finding its way to the incinerator would cause a big explosion and would cause a fire.

Overhead Crane

The overhead cranes take the burden off the engineers back and makes life and work better in the engine room. The reach of the overhead crane should be such that it can cater for machines other than the main engine. A long reach to enable the ballast pump motor to be brought from the bottom platform to the workshop is very convenient.


The problems faced by marine engineers due to bad layout of the engine room are rarely discussed as there is no platform for discussing them. Also as their contract is finished they go on other ships which are fortunately better designed. However badly designed engine rooms can make life difficult for those on board. A conscious effort by the owner and the designer to look after the comfort of the engineers at work would pay them back in increased productivity.

It is hoped that this article would apprise the design engineers and the naval architects of the difficulties faced by the marine engineers in day to day working in a badly designed engine room. A well designed engine room definitely helps in better maintenance,cheerful crew and a safer ship.