Faster, safer, cheaper: Drones taking flight for ship inspections
Professional Mariner|October - November 2020
Drones are everywhere these days, from far-flung battlefields to family events. Where they haven’t gone, until recently, is into the confined hull spaces of ships.
Alan R. Earls

There, using tools that haven’t changed much in the past century, skilled professionals have been putting themselves at risk — sometimes amid toxic fumes or inadequate oxygen — to seek signs of metal fatigue, corrosion, or anything else that might endanger the safety or serviceability of a vessel.

But that’s changing rapidly. Drones have finally invaded these inner spaces, helped along by advanced technologies that depend less on the vagaries of GPS, to pursue the work of inspection with a growing degree of autonomy. And the practice is quickly gaining acceptance.

Within the International Association of Classification Societies, London-based Lloyd’s Register has led the development of regulations to permit the use of remote inspection techniques (RIT), according to Richard Beckett, global head of technology for Lloyd’s. The initiative has included updates to survey guidance and the introduction of service supplier requirements for companies using these techniques to assess the structure of ships and mobile offshore units.

Following questions from the shipping industry and the surveyor community about when it is suitable to use RIT equipment, Lloyd’s issued a standard in 2018 — considered an industry first — for assessing the capability of these systems. The goal was to help RIT vendors and service suppliers evaluate their equipment against the criteria laid out in the standard.

“This has proved a very useful framework,” Beckett said. “We have been working with drone operators for many years, helping us utilize available technology to prevent unnecessary downtime, while also ensuring safe and compliant practice.”

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