Visual Communications and Maritime Safety

By Jack Rubinger
Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Safety Labeling: Communicating Risk; Ensuring Compliance

Working on the high seas exposes all marine workers to life-and-death situations that landlocked individuals rarely face. One brief mistake or equipment failure can literally sink the ship. To prevent catastrophic losses, international rules and regulations, port authorities and insurance companies govern maritime safety for all types of vessels. Proper sea vessel and marine labeling improves safety by clearly marking all hazards, pipes and equipment. Labeling also explains proper maintenance and directions for startup procedures.

Label your Cable 
“One of the biggest labeling challenges is the marking of cables and components for network communications, distributed video, and electrical power,” said Jim McGowan of Raymarine. “Labeling all these cables and components is imperative for troubleshooting systems and performing routine maintenance and upgrades. Often the cable chases, instrument panels and void areas through which these cables pass are very cramped and poorly lit, with multiple cables bundled together. Without proper markings it is nearly impossible to distinguish one cable from another.”
Labeling isn’t just a good idea; it is rooted in recognized, standard international and domestic operating guidelines. ISO 14726, for example, regulates the color-coding of sea vessel and marine marking and applies to sea water, decontamination water and ballast water as well as fuel, flammable gases, waste media, air and sounding pipes, steam and fire protection. Other compliance standards are recommended by the American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC), the US Coast Guard, Transport Canada and the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Transport Canada provides guidance for labeling mechanical blowers, leak inspection, shore power connections and spaces not intended for gasoline storage.  

Communicating Risk
Risk and safety assessments are recommended by the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Their purpose is preventing unwanted events, such as occupational accidents, major accidents and disasters. Think of all the contributing factors related to maritime accidents and consider how signs and labels help communicate dangers, risks, and provide actions to take. To maintain a safe environment, make sure the following are labeled:

Navigation and maneuvering equipment
Propulsion machinery
Anchoring and deck equipment
Control devices and warning systems
Cargo handling equipment
Cargo devices

“We rely on visual communication supplies that are resistant to marine environments, retain their adhesive qualities and reflective abilities, and have large legible lettering,” said Rob Ford at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. Separately, Mike Blocher of North River Boats applies Coast Guard-mandated labels while outfitting boats for customers. Their value is instructional, safety and operations-related. Crews change, boats are deployed; often crew members are inexperienced. The company follows label standards set by the American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC T-5), for size, lettering, fonts and pictures. ABYC’s labeling criteria includes the following:

the hazard associated with the use of the equipment
the manufacturer knows of the hazard
the hazard not obvious or readily discoverable by users
the hazard that will exist during normal use or foreseeable misuse

“Signage related to lifesaving appliances onboard -- lifeboats, life rafts, life vests -- is required. Failure to display them can result in a deficiency issued by the USCG Department of Homeland Security. Such deficiencies can impact the issuance of a vessel’s annual Certificate of Inspection which allows it to keep sailing,” said Ford.

Mark your Pipes
Pipe marking is critical on seagoing vessels holding flammable or corrosive materials. Crew members are essentially confined to the perimeter of the ship so they cannot easily escape hazardous exposure or fires. “In the world of maritime environmental regulations, proper pipe-marking is the new standard of pollution prevention monitoring,” said Liam O’Connell, a Maritime Consultant with H&O Marine, LLC. “Their use is integral to a safe, efficient, and environmentally friendly way of doing business.”
Pipe markers provide sea vessel employees with the necessary information to safely operate around hazardous materials. With visible safety signs and labels, crew members act quickly and knowingly in case of a spill or emergency. These codes are specifically stated according to ANSI.13.1. “As a former USCG Marine Inspector, I can easily say that an organized ship is way more likely to receive a good inspection report. Inspecting an Engine Room where pipes are properly marked shows the inspector that the vessel owners and crew are investing time and money into their operation,” said O’Connell.
In addition to ANSI.13.1, the International ISO 14726-1 standard defines the basic colors used for pipeline identification onboard ships. Also, ISO 1476-2 specifies additional colors that can be used in conjunction with the main colors for more thorough marine pipe marking.

In Case of Emergency
“Safe and quick routes to safe gathering points must be clearly labeled so that even in panic scenarios, signage will lead personnel out of harm’s way for accountability to the bridge,” said Michael Ritchie, VP of Marine Rescue Technologies. He adds, “During an emergency, and the panic that ensues, people act differently and do not remember as well. Electricity is likely to be out, and proper glow-in-the-dark marking could be the only thing that will save a mariner’s life.”
For Marine Health & Safety Advisors responsible for best practices, generating maritime-worthy signs and labels on demand is a tremendous benefit – and something that is critical to any maritime mission. DuraLabel labeling systems enable users to customize the look of their labels and choose from a wide range of adhesive strengths, widths, and durability. Labeling supplies must be UV-resistant, salt water-resistant and tough enough to stand up to extreme temperatures. If you’re carrying chemicals in containers, you’ll need the appropriate warnings and symbols according to OSHA and the new Global Harmonization Standard (GHS).
If you decide to print these warning labels on board, you’ll also need to consider if you will print from one site or in multiple locations onboard. A battery powered standalone system – the DuraLabel TORO Portable Integrated Printer, for example, might be ideal for on board production in situations where an immediate need necessitates labeling and no power source is available. DuraLabel also provides solutions for other labeling requirements, including:

Labels in numerical sequence
Barcode labels for asset management
Labels designed to mark cables/wires
Extra-large signs formarking docks and containers

Safe maritime operations are a 24/7/365 concern to shipbuilders, captains, crews, passengers, and maintenance workers. Signs and labels complement all products and technologies associated with maritime safety. Effectively communicating risk and ensuring regulatory compliance is not only smart business; it also measurably improves your bottom line. On today’s waterfront, that bottom line is punctuated by safety of life and property. How are you communicating that important message to your employees, crews and contractors?

(As published in the September 2012 edition of Marine News -


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