Operational Advice


 On the next few pages we will offer various operational advice. Please remember that this is just advice, and that requirements and procedures in the Owners’ Instructions take precedence. In emergency situations such as grounding, fire, collisions and flooding we wish to stress the importance of the actions taken in the first 30 minutes after an accident has occurred. During this period the Master will put down the building blocks that will govern whether a crisis is handled successfully or not.

For the Master it is important to remember the following:

  • Sound the general alarm and muster the crew
  • Notify owners/managers and request external assistance as necessary
  • Handle the crisis to yours and the crew's best ability: now you will benefit from all your training. Use on-board procedures as your guide. Think worst-case.

The worst decision the Master may have to make is to abandon ship. Prepare for it and think this difficult decision through on sunny days. Your ship is often the best lifeboat.

  1. Fire

    In particular, pay attention to the time it takes to:

    • muster crew and passengers
    • close down the air supply and seal the affected area
    • isolate the combustible material and remove hazardous and dangerous goods in the vicinity of the fire 
    • start the fire fighting with the right means for the given type of fire

    Fires can be very different in nature, and therefore no attempt will be made in this booklet to issue specific advice to the Master and his crew.

    However, there are two matters we would like to address:  

    • Even if there is great eagerness to reopen the area for inspection or other matters after a fire, DO NOT reopen the area unless you are sure the fire will not restart, OR you have the necessary resources and equipment available to handle a possible restart of the fire. If possible, seek advice from owners/managers and/or fire specialists.
    • Conservation after a fire: We will try to give a brief introduction and advice for preserving equipment that may have been affected by the fire itself, and/or by the acids that develop and attach to the equipment and/or components on board.

    The lists enclosed at the end of this chapter are kindly submitted to us by ISS, one of our consulting partners that assist us in fire damages and fire control.

  2. Marine Damage Control

    Electronics – Electrical – Machinery

    First aid after fire damage can be carried out by ship crew. 

      What to do Action
    Step 1 Ventilate out remaining smoke when it is safe Open hatches or doors
    Suck out smoke through temporary ventilation
    Be aware of soot, humidity and contamination following the smoke
    Step 2 Get an overview Decrease the damage by sealing off assumed non-affected areas
    Cover sensitive equipment and machinery
    Step 3 Damage control In the event of a cable fire or oil / chemical fire is it necessary to prevent corrosion
    Step 4 Action and preservation Prevent corrosion by first aid
    Spray down all sensitive equipment and machinery with preservation oil soon as possible
    If possible lower humidity below 35% RH

    Electronics – Electrical – Machinery

    First aid after fire on stainless steel can be carried out by the ship crew. 

    Step 1 Ventilate out remaining smoke when it is safe Open hatches or doors
    Suck out smoke through temporary ventilation
    Be aware of soot, humidity and contamination following the smoke
    Step 2 Get an overview Decrease the damage by sealing off assumed non-affected areas
    Cover sensitive equipment and machinery
    Step 3 Damage control In the event of a cable fire or oil / chemical fire is it necessary to prevent corrosion
    Step 4 Action and preservation Hose down with freshwater or hand clean with rags on all stainless steel  as soon as possible
    Use diluted alkaline detergent
    Stainless steel is not acid-proof
    Do not use oil

    Electronics – Electrical – Machinery

    Preservation for Anti-Corrosion / First Aid

    CRC 2–26 / 5–56 / 6–66
    LPS 1 or 2 / WD 40
    or similar
    Switchboard, switchgears and starter panels
    Generators and electric motors
    CRC 3-36 / LPS 3
    grease / engine oil
    Spare parts and tools

    Cleaning Chemicals

    Aquabreak PX
    For soot removal and neutralisation of chlorides
    Switchboards and switchgears
    Generators and electric motors
    Cleaning of accommodation
    For soot removal and neutralisation of chlorides
    Engine room cleaning
    Alkleen Liquid
    Removal of heavy stocked soot and paint
    Neutralisation of chlorides
    Engine room cleaning
    Metal Brite
    Corrosion removal
    Electrical and mechanical


    Contamination from PVC

    This is a brief guide to the cause of corrosion due to fire damage by PVC.

    When PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is heated to a temperature exceeding approximately 180 degrees centigrade the process of separating and releasing of the different substances including hydrochloric gas starts to take place.


    Hydrochloride gas follows smoke and air flow. Gradually the temperature decreases further away from the actual fire area. When the temperature falls to approximately 100 degrees centigrade, the gas will condense. Especially on cold surfaces such as metal and in combination with air humidity, the gas becomes hydrochloric acid.


    If there is a significant concentration of hydrochloric gas and moisture in the same area, a strong corrosive attack on plain metals will develop. The higher the humidity the more severe the corrosion becomes. In a worst-case scenario the damage may be catastrophic within days if no action is taken.

    Chloride Analysis and Project Management

    It is important to call ISS Damage Control Norway for chloride analysis and project management upon any suspicion of hydrochloric acid and as soon as possible. We have portable analysis kits and experienced project managers who can carry out assignments worldwide.

    First aid can be carried out by the ship’s crew as follows:

    1. Lower the air humidity below 35% RH. This stops the corrosion.
    2. Apply preservation oil so that the chlorides are sealed from air or moisture.

    Chlorides are water-soluble and can be neutralised in a water-based alkaline detergent cleaning process. These tasks can be managed and carried out by ISS Damage Control.

    Chloride Analysis

    When evaluating the analysis results it is important to be aware that a high concentration of chlorides cannot be solely credited to the damage situation.

    Sea salt or working with salt acid, chlorine or chemicals containing chlorine may cause a high chlorine concentration, which is normal. This concentration must be taken into account before judging the effect from the fire damage.

     The following figures from our experience can be used for evaluation:

    Surface condition Chloride concentration µm/cm2
    On surface or in equipment in normal condition 3–5
    On surface or in equipment with normal pollution from sea, or light chloride contamination.
    Only very sensitive equipment requires cleaning.
    Normal contamination from chlorides.
    General cleaning is required.
    Decision to clean technical equipment may be taken on site due to conditions.
    Strong contamination from chlorides. Normal with corrosion attack.
    Cleaning and neutralisation of any equipment and installation is required.
    20 and above
  3. Emergency Anchorage

    Unfortunately there are examples of vessels drifting aground with either one or two anchors secured in the hawse pipe. There is rarely any excuse for this. 

    Below we have listed a few key points for the Master’s consideration, assuming that the vessel is drifting towards shoals, and is unable to make way with neither main engines or thrusters. Needless to say, proper maintenance of the ground tackle can prove to be vital in such a situation.

    The Master should consider the following the in case of emergency anchorage: 

    • It is preferable to deploy the starboard anchor first, as the chain is longer. But the threat of the situation should not be underestimated, and the Master should consider going ”all the way” and deploy both anchors. Nothing should be left untried. 
    • Consider ocean bottom topography, and check the chart for underwater pipelines and other obstructions. Search for the best holding ground along the course the ship is drifting.
    • It is not wise to let out the entire chain early and hope that the anchor will fasten when the depth decreases. This should only be done when it is very deep all the way, or close to the shoreline, as the anchor may be damaged using this approach. Another pitfall with this method is that you might lose the anchor due to difficulties when braking. 
    • It might be wise to use the windlass under power to veer out the anchor in a controlled manner, if auxiliary power is available and there is enough time, if auxiliary power is available and there is enough time. But bear in mind that if the wave height causes the vessel to pitch, the anchor may be damaged if it hooks fast upon hitting the bottom. Take into consideration whether the bottom conditions are rocky or uneven. 
    • The cable length-to-depth ratio should be as large as possible. A ratio of 5 to 1 is very good, but bear in mind that the ship should not get too close to shore. 
    • Avoid heaping the cable at the bottom.
    • Also deploy the port anchor, as this will provide a more balanced holding power. Deploy the port anchor after having veered 2–3 shackles on the starboard anchor. Then carefully veer maximum cable on both anchors.
  4. Towage

    NHC has longstanding relationships with towage brokers with networks all around the world. This enables us to give our clients efficient and professional support.

    The Master should consider the following when a tug is underway: 

    • Secure the propeller.
    • Secure rudder amidships (if cannot be used).  
    • If fitted with quick-release brackets, check to see if they are working smoothly.
    • Ensure power on windlass and that windlass works. Have numerous heaving lines and strong messenger ropes handy on forecastle.
    • Forward a plan of the forecastle showing location of bitts/bollards, quick-release brackets, fairlead rollers and panama fairleads to owners/underwriters/tugbrokers/tugmaster.
    • Try to increase the trim by the stern. 
    • Check that navigation lights for towing are working (side lights and stern light) and that the ’diamond’ shape is ready for hoisting.
    • Liaise closely with the Tugmaster in planning the towing connection.
    • Have officers and crew briefed on the connection plan.
    • Once rigged, keep a close watch on the towage connection, the bollards and bitts and under deck, if possible, to ensure deck fittings are still secure. 
    • Keep a close watch on where the towing connection passes through the ship's side or fairleads, greasing as required and keeping an eye out for distortion, cracks etc.
    • Maintain close communications with the tug boat.
  5. Aground

    After a grounding it is important to stay calm and not panic, but assess the situation and take rational action. If possible, seek help from owners/managers, cf. ”Assistance” below. The temptation of trying to immediately refloat a vessel after grounding should be avoided unless the vessel and crew is in imminent danger.

    In General 

    Refloating attempts should be based on a thorough salvage plan and take place in a controlled manner. The Master should not attempt to refloat the vessel unless he is confident that it will be successful and that the safety of his crew is maintained. A failed re-floating attempt may cause additional damage to the vessel, and lessen the chances of subsequent success.  

    Items to Consider

    Crew safety is the top priority. The crew should be mustered as per standard procedure. This also applies for notifications to relevant authorities and the owner. Establish communications.

    The items below should be considered in a grounding situation. As stated above, all of them are not relevant in all situations. 

    Damage Assessment

    Obtain an overview of the situation and make a damage assessment. It is a common mistake to underestimate the damages. Remember, you have the highest likelihood of success if you prepare for the WORST-CASE SCENARIO. When time allows, sounding of tanks should be conducted in order to establish if any of the tanks have been breached. 

    Stabilise the Vessel

    Stabilise the vessel to avoid further damages and stop the vessel from drifting further aground. The use of ballast tanks and anchors are the most common means. Shifting of cargo may also be considered. Bending moment and shear stresses should be calculated in order to avoid inflicting damage to the vessel.

    Vessel Position on the Seabed

    How does the vessel rest on the seabed? How deep is the water is around the vessel? Take sounding around the vessel. It is recommended to make a sketch of the results. Special attention should be drawn to whether the propeller and rudder are free from any obstructions. It should be self-explanatory that there is great risk involved in trying to refloat using own engines without having investigated the above. 

    Try to obtain information about the seabed composition – is it made up of sand, mud or rocks?


    What actions are possible to avoid contaminating the environment? Consider transferring bunkers and cargo from exposed areas. Notify authorities of any spills.


    After a grounding the Master may quickly find himself in a very pressured situation. Unless the threat is imminent, it is strongly recommended that the Owners and/or insurers are contacted prior to allowing external assistance. 

    Owners and insurers will consider employing a Salvage Master and naval architect in a grounding situation. Your ship may also have membership in an emergency response service that will be mobilised. They will assist with the necessary calculations regarding buoyancy, damage stability, stresses etc. in order to increase the chance of success. 

    For U.S. waters, refer to U.S. regulations.

    Environmental Considerations:

    • Tidal range
    • Current
    • Weather forecast
    • Sea state
    • Swell
  6. Flooding

    On rare occasions, seamen also experience a flooded engine room, which may seriously affect the vessel’s stability and buoyancy, and obviously the mechanical and electronic equipment located there. There is a range of possible scenarios here, and thus we will offer advice on what may be considered banal.

    The remedy for flooding by seawater is simple and basic: flush with freshwater, dry, clean and preserve. Again, you should seek advice from owners/managers .

    The ISS has kindly allowed us to refer to their list of action for the crew, this time in case of seawater damage or flooding:


    Marine Damage Control
    Electronics – Electrical – Machinery

    First aid following seawater damage can be carried out by the ship crew.

      What to do Action
    Step 1 Switch off all power Disconnect power for all involved equipment and machinery.
    Step 2 Get an overview What has been damaged?
    Keep it drowned.
    Step 3 Damage control Make a good plan, apply manpower and the right working equipment.
    Open up equipment and machinery, prepare for first aid. Do not let it dry.
    Step 4 Action, preservation
    and drying
    Drain or suck up all seawater.
    All equipment and machinery must be hosed down with freshwater over a period of time.
    If possible, use hot water.
    Drain and remove the water.
    Spray or drown it all with preservation oil containing corrosion inhibitors.
    Put on heaters to dry.


    Electronics – Electrical – Machinery

    First aid on drowned machinery damage can be carried out by ship crew. 

      What to do Action
    Step 1 Drain and flush machinery Drain the engine of all oil and water.
    Do not let it dry.
    Flush down the engine inside and outside with freshwater.
    If possible. use hot water-
    Step 2 Electronics Open up all electronic boxes and hose them down.
    Preserve all with water-removing oil and let dry.
    Step 3 Damage Control Fill engine up with diesel fuel and when possible – turn engine.
    Step 4 Action Drain engine for diesel fuel.
    Fill with motor oil to normal level.
    Check electronics and start engine.
  7. Guidelines to the Chief Engineer

    The importance of ensuring that the ship's engines are operating with high quality lubricating oil at all times is obvious for any engineer on board. This is emphasised in the Norwegian Marine Insurance Plan. The insurance conditions offer an all-risk coverage with specific exceptions, one of them being running the engines with contaminated lubricating oil. 

    Damage to machinery resulting from contamination of lubricating oil, cooling and feed water is not recoverable under the insurance policies of the vessel, unless the damage could not have been avoided by proper measures.

    Section 12-5 (f) of the Plan of 1996 reads as follows: 

    "The insurers is not liable for:
    (f) loss due to lubricating oil, cooling water or feed water becoming contaminated, unless proper measures were taken as soon as possible after the assured, the Master or the Chief Engineer became, or must be deemed to have become, aware of the contamination, and in any event not later than three months after one of them should have become aware of the contamination."

    In order to ensure the safe operation of the vessel and to protect Owner’s interests, we urge the Chief Engineer to: 

    • Carry out proper measures immediately upon discovery of such contamination and log them for documentation/verification. Corrective action is vital in relation to the words "must be deemed to have been aware of" in section 12-5 (f). 
    • Check and monitor the quality of the lubricating oil and feed water. Discuss the findings with the analysing company as considered necessary to understand the impact of the condition of the lube oil / feed water as given from the analysis.
    • Establish and remove the source of the contamination - or take steps to improve the quality of the lubricating oil or feed water. 

    Note that section 12-5 (f) applies to all machinery including:

      • main engine
      • auxiliary engine
      • reduction gear
      • hydraulic equipment
      • boilers
      • thermal heating plants
      • refrigerating machinery and other machinery that may sustain damages as a result of such contamination

    Blocking of the cooling water compartments or intake by sand, mud or salt is treated as equal to contamination due to mixture of such materials caused by internal or external leakages. 

    The three-month period is an absolute deadline, not an excuse to postpone any measures or steps that can be taken immediately. A cleaning operation is only "proper" if it is done thoroughly with full access to the engine or component. Tanks, crank cases and sumps, as well as refrigeration chambers and the water side of steam producers, must be drained and cleaned, and pipes must be examined and/or flushed as necessary.

    Lube oil purifiers are to be kept in good working condition with correct operational parameters in order to provide maximum performance. Any filters are to be operated, checked and cleaned according to makers’ instructions and at sufficient intervals for them to perform optimally. 
    Inform and consult the Owners/Manager for their advice as early as possible in order to ensure that proper measures are taken. 

  8. Operating in Icy Waters

    Prior to sailing into the cold area the following should be checked:

     1.  Pipelines containing water:

    • On outside decks and in compartments/holds without heating, all pipelines must be drained carefully to avoid damage by freezing.
    • Check also fire lines and cooling water lines (hydraulic systems) for instance in forecastle.
    • Check the cooling systems for emergency generators and lifeboat engines. If freshwater-cooled, check the freezing point. Drain the seawater system.
    • Check the emergency fire pump if situated in a room without heating. Add antifreeze to the pump housing and suction line if needed to be kept with water.
    • After draining lines, keep outside deck valves open and close any valve inside (to avoid flooding when starting up).

    2. Ballast tanks must not be filled completely to avoid freezing 

    • In general, pump out minimum 10% after filling (consider the possible free water surface effect of the vessel’s stability). 
    • Be aware that the tank ventilation deck valve and ventilation pipe could freeze and hamper the free airflow to and from the tank resulting in over/under pressure of the tank.
    • Side tanks containing ballast are much more exposed to freezing in extreme weather, especially when installed above the water line. Great care should be taken if any water is required to be kept in side tanks. If possible side tanks should be kept empty, or only partly filled if necessary.
    • Change the ballast for clean seawater if tanks contain freshwater or brackish water.
    • Check the chain lockers for water and pump out prior to reaching the cold area.

     3. Seawater inlet suctions:

    • Check if there is a possibility to partly circulate the sea cooling water outlet from the machinery back into the sea chest to keep this heated. 
    • Check and test if there is air supply connected to sea chest in order to blow out ice if necessary.
    • Check if steam can be supplied to your sea chest for heating in case freezing starts.
    • To minimize ice sludge accumulation in the seawater inlet strainer, adjust the overboard valve and reduce the water to minimum flow required to obtain cooling.
    • Use one inlet only, preferably the lower one, and keep the other on stand-by.

    4. Miscellaneous

    • Oil systems will work very slowly under extreme cold. If equipped with oil heating element this must be switched on. If not temporary heating could be arranged by using portable heaters at the oil tank.
      Start oil systems prior to operation and run without cooling until proper temperature is reached.
    • Hatch covers, emergency exits and watertight doors fitted with rubber gaskets should be greased with Vaseline or silicon grease to avoid damage to the gaskets when opening.
    • Freshwater tanks in lifeboats to have necessary ullage to avoid damage during freezing.
    • Gas oil for lifeboat engines must be of a type suitable for cold weather to avoid wax formation.
    • Gas oil for emergency generator must be of correct type for cold weather operation unless installed in heated area.  

     When entering the ice, please consider:

    • Always keep minimum one lookout at the bridge. 
    • Consider additional officer on watch depending on visibility and weather conditions. In bad visibility one person will need to operate the radar at all times.
    • Follow instructions given by local authorities / ice-breaker.
    • Sailing alone in fixed ice might damage the vessel’s hull and shell plating depending on vessel strength and ice class. The ice thickness and vessel speed/power must be considered by the captain.
    • Consider waiting for a convoy. 

    Sailing in a Convoy

    • Sailings in an open lane, for instance by following other vessels or the ice-breaker in the convoy gives the minimum impact on the vessel’s hull.
    • Make sure to find and use correct VHF channels for communication/information from the icebreaker and between convoy vessels.
    • A danger of sailing in convoys is if one vessel gets stuck in the ice or stops in case of engine / cooling problems, it could be hit by the following vessel. In these circumstances the following vessel must keep a safe distance to be able to stop because she will not manage to leave the lane and swing into the fixed ice. Going astern with the propeller should be avoided.
    • The stopping vessel must immediately inform the convoy on VHF that she has problems to avoid being hit from the aft (many accidents have occurred).


    Manoeuvring in Ice

    Manoeuvring in the port area is often the operation that causes damage to the vessel. 

     Always keep in mind:

    • Use tugs for harbour manoeuvring to avoid using own propeller, especially astern operation.
    • The trim of the vessel must be arranged to keep aft draft as deep as possible to minimise the ice hitting the propeller and rudder.
    • Going astern will suck ice into the propeller that might damage the propeller blades.
    • Rudder must always be kept in centre position if the vessel is to move astern at any speed. The pressure of the ice – even loose ice – can easily twist the rudder stock of any vessel, ice classed or not.


    Alongside in Port

    • Be careful when opening hatches and side doors if frozen. If possible, use steam or hot water to de-ice to avoid breaking hydraulic systems or damaging the rubber gaskets.
    • A correct preparation as mentioned above (item 4) will reduce the possibilities of damage.
    • Before closing, a thoroughly control of all sealing surfaces must take place to ensure that no ice is left in between which could hamper correct water tightness.