When was the last time you took a good walk-through your engine room? It wouldn’t kill you to take that walk, but if you don’t, it could kill you. It’s the heart of your vessel, after all.
So, let’s walk. First, make sure you wear your personal protective equipment because you don’t want to end up blind and deaf. Below, I’ve compiled the beginnings of a checklist that can help you keep your engine room squared away and safe.
- Hatches, ladders, and emergency escape scuttles: Do the hatches operate and are they tight? Do the ladders have good treads and are handrails are in place/secure? Are emergency escape scuttles are functioning and clear to open? (Don’t forget to check above them.)
- Lights: Do they all function? Bad things lurk in the shadows. Are battle lanterns working in case you lose power?
- Engines and generators: Are they clean and wiped down of oil? Are alarms and gauges in working order? Is there proper insulation and are heat shields installed to prevent hot spots? Are the pipes, connections, flanges, unions, and hoses tight and not leaking or weeping any fluid? Are the electrical connections in good shape and insulated? Are rotating machinery guards in place? Are the exhaust connections tight? Are flange shields in place? (These are fire retardant wraps wired around any place from which oils could leak. They are cheap and easy to install on pressurized flammable liquid systems, and I strongly recommend them.)
- Fire extinguishing gear: Are all the proper type fire bottles tested, tagged, and in place for use? Is the fixed extinguishing system tested, tagged, and ready to dump when needed?
- Deckplates: Are they all there and screwed down securely ? Are they clean of oil and not slippery?
- Hull plating, structure, and tank tops: Are they solid or cracked and leaking? Are voids labeled as confined spaces?
- Electrical: Are the switchboards all closed up with electrocution hazard signs affixed? Are distribution boxes tight, secure, AND labeled? Are proper fuses in place? Over-fusing causes fires. Are there any exposed electrical hazards?
- Wiring: Is it the right wire? Is it a rat’s nest? Is the wiring insulation in good shape, especially at any chafe points and through bulkheads?
- Batteries: Are they secure in their boxes with the covers in place? Are their connections clean and tight?
- Piping and Hoses: Are the pipes properly color coded and labeled? Are the pipe runs supported correctly? Are there any leaks—especially at joints and flanges? Is their penetration through the bulkhead secure? Piping includes fuel, lube oil, potable water, sea water, sewage, and even air. Check them all out, especially the hard ones to get at running under the deckplates and bilges. Are the hoses serviceable (not old, cracked, stiff, or leaking?)
- Valves: Do all valves have handwheels? Are the stems and packing in good order? Check leaks. Check the manifolds such as the bilge pumping and fueling systems manifolds. All valves should be labeled and a verified correct schematic diagram should be mounted next to the manifold, especially the fuel manifold.
- Ventilation: Is it working and is the ducting secure and clean? Are the on/off control switches working so you can set vent boundaries in the engine room to starve fires of combustion air?
- Pumps: Are they solidly mounted and labeled? Does the rotating machinery have guards in place? Are pipe and electrical connections tight?
- Sewage plant: Is it working properly and not illegally discharging improperly treated effluent? Is there a positive lock and chain on the overboard valve? You are required to positively secure the overboard.
- Grinders: Do they have their protective eye guards in place? Are they mounted securely in safe locations to work?
- Bilges: Are they clean and dry? Keep oil out of the bilge. Only a small amount of oil and oily water should ever be present because they feed fire and can pollute if not handled properly. There shouldn’t be any debris that could clog pumps. Do bilge alarms work?
- Alarms and safety placards: Is the oil pollution placard mounted and visible? Same for hearing and eye protection required labels. Is the General Alarm rotating red light functioning?
- Housekeeping: Is the space secured for sea? Is it clean and organized? Is there extra useless junk you can offload? Are flammables stowed away from heat sources like engines? Are there buckets of waste oil or used filters hanging around?
The items listed are not all inclusive, but it's a start. You likely have other things to look at when you are down in the engine room, feel free to leave additional suggestions in the comments.