Thermal imaging


Tony Dale discusses the uses of thermal imaging systems for the prevention of yacht electrical outages and engine room fires


With a host of superyacht condition monitoring systems available today, thermal imaging plays a key part in protecting owners’ and stakeholders’ investment, including crew safety. From stabilised roof mounted systems turning night into day to aid navigation, to portable handheld thermal imagers aiding yacht rescue teams to see through smoke-filled corridors and inside cabins, or engineers tasked to identify failing electrical equipment to prevent blackouts and electrical fires. There is a range of thermal imaging devices currently on the market tailored to suit all yacht needs and budgets.

In principle, all thermal imaging devices do the same thing, they passively detect infrared energy from a warm surface, and create a usable image. In essence, energy passes through an imager’s germanium lens onto a micro-bolometer array and is converted to electrical signals. An algorithm processes the data and assigns a colour and temperature value, for a qualified engineer to analyse and interpret.

With experience in both the superyacht industry and with major offshore energy producers, Dale has been conducting thermography inspections over the past 20 years in over 40 countries for their annual maintenance inspections and warranty purposes. It has become evident vessel engineers tasked with performing routine maintenance checks are becoming more reliant on thermal imaging devices to identify system deficiencies before an outage occurs.

Yacht fires are caused by three primary reasons: electrical system failures, machinery failure and/or human activities. While the probability of fire occurrence is low, the potential for electrical fires is high due to the tens of thousands of connections on-board.

Whereas motor layshafts may suffer bearing fatigue and misalignment issues, each revealed as heat; and engine rooms with ill-fitting exhaust insulating wrap exposing hot surfaces is a recipe for disaster in the event of fuel system failure. The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) states that vessel parts with temperatures above 220°C that may be impinged as a result of a fuel system failure must be properly insulated. Likewise, hot surfaces, electrical installations and other sources of ignition must be screened and suitably protected to avoid oil spray or oil leakage onto them.

Regardless of the size or type of equipment on board, yacht electro-mechanical systems are vulnerable to the harsh marine environment, oxidation, vibration, wear and service care, (or lack of it). With yacht ownership changing more frequently – (particularly in the <40m yacht market) and differing maintenance and running cost histories exacerbated by a yacht’s age, everything leads towards the need for additional effective maintenance and service improvement measures, including a thermal survey.

A regular well-planned maintenance regime is designed to keep a yacht seaworthy. It is the ISM Code that addresses the responsibilities of the people who manage and operate yachts over 500 gross tons. Stipulating the need for maintenance procedures with regular inspections to record non-conformities and corrective activities undertaken. Guidelines and marine notices published by the MCA and Classification Societies all recognise the benefits of additional inspections, particularly the versatility of Thermographic Surveys for regular and five yearly periodic survey use.

In summary, a Thermographic Survey is non-invasive, cost-effective and timely, meaning operational uptimes are maintained, regardless of yacht size. Annual service agreements using an accredited third-party company ensures impartiality, insurance and audit compliance. Drawing on industry best practices, experts like Geo Therm Ltd are capable and credible to thoroughly survey a yacht’s electro-mechanical systems to identify thermal deficiencies to prevent the risk of blackouts, downtime, and fire.

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