Friday, 1 June 2012

Lloyds Standards

A story in the boating press and another in my local newspaper caught my eye recently.  One concerned someone who had purchased a boat on ebay and decided to take a couple of day’s vacation to sail her from the seller's boatyard to his own moorings a few hundred miles away along the south coast of Britain. Engine heating troubles delayed the start of the voyage, batteries failed to hold their charge and in the end the trip became a nonstop 36 hour marathon to meet work schedules, with new problems encountered almost hourly. OK, the boat was inexpensive but it seems to me the skipper took a huge risk in buying a boat unseen and then assuming her to be faultless. A less experienced skipper could easily have become a lifeboat or coastguard statistic.

The other story relates to someone more locally, who sailed his internet bought boat for approximately 20 minutes before significant bits of her fell apart (actually, the keel dropped off!). She drifted onto the rocks and became a ‘total loss’ on the next tide. The boat had only cost him something in the region of £2,000 but the embarrassment was intense.

The two stories serve to reinforce my belief that you have to see, smell and touch the boat yourself before you sign anything, and then buy-in a professional surveyor only when you yourself are convinced that she is sound.

One comment I found particularly interesting in the press report though, was a statement of surprise by one of the unlucky new owners.
‘She came with a Lloyds Certificate, surely that should have meant something, you know, that she was a good boat’.
So that set me thinking about certificates such as these. What do they tell you?

OK, here’s what I discovered. 

Lloyd's is a UK organisation, one of several on the international scene, known as ‘Classification Societies’. As well as Lloyds there is Det Norske Veritas, and the American Bureau of Shipping. Their role is often misunderstood.

Each society sets the minimum standards that it requires for a vessel to be included on their lists. The standards however only apply to certain aspects of a vessel. Most major classifications have standards for yachts and small craft but it is not compulsory for a builder to comply with any or all of the standards.
Even when builders choose to comply, with published standards of construction for example, it does not mean that every aspect of the boat has been considered and evaluated by the classification society. The only way to know what the society has approved is to refer to the standards published by the society for that particular type of boat at the time of construction.

So, Lloyds, for example may publish certain standards that they believe are important for the construction of a GRP boat hull. The standards refer to GRP quality, thickness, type of mat and resin used, the environment, temperature and humidity of the boatshed etc. Some builders may go the whole way and invite inspection to verify the attention to such details. Others may simply state that they themselves built the vessel in accordance with published standards.

But then, standards can change over time as more is understood of the building material. It’s a bit like health and safety regulations, they change and become stricter as more silly people do silly things (or as more governments and organisations feel they have to control our lives for our own good). So, your Lloyds construction certificate at best only confirms that the boat was built according to the best knowledge available at the time. A well looked-after vessel may still be in good condition but an old certificate issued for a craft which has been neglected and misused for twenty years is hardly likely to be sound simply because the builder claims she was built to Lloyds standards.
So, for me this is all interesting but pretty academic. For my money I will have to asume that the vessel I buy will not be in a seaworthy condition on purchase. My task will be to develop 'Seaward Standards' and bring her up to expectation. In some strange way that is a liberating thought. It means that my prime concern should be the shell of the boat, her mast and sails. The rest will have to be rebuilt or refitted and if I discover anything else actually works - well that's a bonus isn't it?