Remote survey techniques have been in use for many years but advances in technology as well as data storage and transfer have opened more options. As the benefits of this capability have become clearer, applications of these technologies have become more widespread, spurring LR’s decision in 2018 to issue guidance notes on requests for surveys without attendance.
The classification society has now undertaken several hundred remote surveys, says LR Chief Surveyor Iain Wilson, with the “people who understand the technology pushing for it and using it.”
At present, a remote survey, which LR defines as a survey without surveyor attendance, can be used for smaller tasks such as verifying a repair has been undertaken or ensuring minor damage has been rectified.
Wilson explains that while remote surveys aren’t always the answer to everything, they can ensure that there are fewer attendances on a vessel and a reduction in the number of interventions that may be required through the year. This is a huge advantage for owners and operators and has significant benefits for LR’s surveyors, he says.
A surveyor’s skill is rooted in analysing the collected data. Undertaking an inspection can be time consuming and remote surveying techniques can facilitate a more efficient collection of data while allowing surveyors to focus their energies on the interpretation of the evidence, he explains.
Remote surveys can also spare a surveyor from the rigours of travel – eliminating the scheduling and safety risks from flying, driving, or a boat transfer that may be involved in getting an expert to the right location. Removing these travel uncertainties means that a 30-minute job can be completed much more efficiently for all parties.
According to Wilson, a wide range of surveys can be managed through video and picture evidence using everyday technologies and he believes that the scope of remote surveys will continue to increase as the capabilities of the technologies increases and its cost effectiveness is improved.
It is important, however, that the right technology is used in the right situation,” he stresses, adding that he expects that the greatest adoption of remote survey technology will be for assets where access is most difficult, and the downtime costs are high.
Safety must always be and remain the first consideration
LR’s Marine and Offshore Director Nick Brown confirms that the introduction of enhanced surveying practices utilising modern communication tools and technology, such as live video feed etc, is an area that is commanding significant interest from the organisation’s customers.
“This technology expands upon what our surveyors have been using for years, but greater ability to stream high-quality images and video around the world enables our surveyors to access the data they require in more reliable ways, sometime without the need to be onsite.”
“A survey without attendance has benefits for both our customers and surveyors in the appropriate circumstances, however, safety must always be and remain the first consideration,” Brown insists.
A common misunderstanding in maritime is that the use of drones can equate to a survey without attendance, which it does in respect of the surveyor but the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for example still requires a skilled technician on board to pilot the craft.
Drones are part of the answer – but they are not the only answer, Wilson points out. While UAVs can be useful for accessing hard to reach areas of a vessel, the suitability of their use must be assessed on a case-by-case basis. They can be an effective alternative when other equipment that is traditionally used to reach difficult areas such as cherry pickers may not be readily available.
So, can the annual survey be conducted without attendance? “Not yet,” says Wilson. “The technology is evolving rapidly but given the current range and the scope of the annual survey, skilled surveyors are still required onboard. However, remote surveying can be very effectively used for specific parts of the survey and for the follow up on the original survey – verifying that minor repairs have been undertaken and validating deficiencies have been addressed,” he adds.
However, despite the efficiency benefits of remote surveys, industry concerns exist around equivalence. According to Wilson, organisations like LR have a duty to confirm that remote surveys offer the equivalence to a surveyor being in attendance.
“For us to validate the evidence, the collected imagery must genuinely represent what is being seen,” he says. At present the only person that can guarantee equivalence is the surveyor as they have the experience of knowing exactly what they want to see or are seeing, but we are building up experience now that remote surveying has gone beyond proof of concept and has been released to clients.
“We must keep our eyes open to the benefits and the potential risks,” Wilson stresses. “It’s important that all of us in the industry get this right given the regulatory scrutiny around this capability. Moving too fast and getting it wrong could be a huge a setback for everyone.”
When are remote surveys used?
A remote survey may be appropriate when:
- The vessel is at sea when damage is sustained
- The vessel is at a port, terminal or location where the services of a surveyor are not available
- The location is remote, and no other surveys are due
- A minor statutory finding relates to the verification of documentation or the replacement of spare parts
- A Condition of Class (COC) relates to the verification of documentation or the replacement of spare parts
- The outstanding documentation can be readily verified using electronic communication
Circumstances under which LR would consider giving a remote survey:
- Where new damage is sustained but it is not possible for a Surveyor to attend on board in the vessel’s current location
- Deletion or revision of a Condition of Class of a minor nature
- Deletion/revision of a minor statutory finding
- Provision/update of documentation
Remote support and assistance from LR has been of a great value for us and on some occasions, critical.
The value of such remote assistance is considered of utmost importance for our smooth business operation and at the same time compliance with the LR Rules and Regulations.