Crew Life » Departments » Engineer & ETO » Managing Inventory and Spares

Managing Inventory and Spares

Mike Wilson2

Anyone working as an engineer in the marine industry, whether it be on yachts, commercial vessels, or anything in between, knows that organization, orders and tracking, spare parts and inventory are integral to a successful engineering department.  We also know that maintaining an accurate parts inventory is not only necessary, but can also be extremely time-intensive if not set up properly and well managed. 

I'm sure each person reading this has maybe seen an instance or two on each side of that fence. There are boats that are brand-new or the maintenance system and spare parts have been meticulously maintained, with every nut and washer accounted for.  And then there is the other side of things: those boats where you don't know if you even have the largest and most critical of spares – the one piece that every yacht must have (generator impellers, oil filters, maybe a Racor).  Who knows.  The previous Engineers either never kept track, or a proper inventory system was never set up in the first place, causing parts to be ordered in no logical fashion.

Personally, this may be one of the things I have become most anal about as I have grown in my experience and climbed the ranks through engineering.  Nothing can be more critical and important while at sea than having what you need, and knowing what you do and don’t have.  Each yacht will run into its own budgetary struggles here and there, some programs better than others, but for an active yacht that is continuously on the move and the next port may not be known, a well stocked inventory of spares is critical.  It is also something that should absolutely be pushed upon ownership, management and all of the powers that be.  Owners demand the best from their crew, and require that everything is perfect upon their arrival so that each and every trip runs flawless.  This is our job as engineer and crew alike.  We are there to serve in whatever fashion our job description entails.  

However, the flip side to that equation is that we must be given the necessary tools to do our jobs, and having what we need when we need it is a key component to providing that level of service.  I have yet to meet an owner that when truly pressed with the decision of whether or not to maintain certain spares combined with a solid explanation and reason for doing so (their trip quality being most important) has told me that I cannot.  When the boat is in the South Pacific and the nearest port or air support is 1,000nm away, it is not an option whether to carry spares for your SOLAS rescue tender, or spare injection lines for generators.  How about fittings and enough hydraulic hose in each diameter to fit and repair your critical equipment? And what about those extra plumbing fittings, gasket material or outdrive for your most-used tender?  Each and every part can become something "Critical" under certain circumstances. Maybe not critical to safety or getting the boat back to port safely, but critical to finishing a charter without the guests knowing anything ever happened, or making that last-minute changeover that extended the trip by two weeks.  

Beyond budgetary requirements and the allowance to procure and maintain that inventory, is the importance of tracking it properly.  It certainly is not the most exciting part of the job and I have yet to get the feeling of excitement or accomplishment knowing I just updated the day’s usage of spares used, or entering the new order into inventory.  It is, however, extremely important and is something that needs to maintained on a daily basis – or whenever jobs are completed.  We are very lucky that today’s technology and scheduled maintenance systems and parts inventory often times run hand-in-hand.  The scheduled maintenance comes up; it tells you what to do, how to do it, where to look for help and which parts are assigned to the job.  The amount of time it takes to set these programs up can be extensive, but if set up properly, they can be worth their weight in gold.  They are, however, only as good as they are maintained thereafter at the chief engineer's discretion and direction.  

As with any tool, if they are not taken care of and treated in a responsible way, they will not work.  This is true for your inventory program as well.  Each and every time a job is completed, my engineers are responsible for updating the current stores for parts used during the work.  It becomes a part of the actual task being performed, and the job is not complete until the maintenance has been logged properly and the parts have been recorded.  Only then is it OK to move on to the next item.  Obviously this will have gray area, as there may be multiple jobs being worked on and completed at the same time, but the point still stands.  Completion of a maintenance task must be tracked and made a priority by every member of the department.  

Each yacht has its own demons, each has its own programs, but as we bounce from program to program and from year to year, it is our responsibility and it should be our goal to leave the vessel better than when you first came on board.  It is your responsibility to teach those working with you to do the same, to take pride in their work and to truly become professionals in their trade.  Those working as engineers in the industry have taken on a responsibility. This is to maintain the owner’s asset, as well as keep every soul on board safe and, hopefully, in the meantime to allow an unprecedented trip for the guests that they will talk about forever. It comes not only with our skill and ability to fix broken pipes and unclog toilets. But it comes with organization, planning, tracking and management.  Success is a circular system in which one facet is dependent upon another, and when one link of that circle fails, another may fail as a result.  Eliminate those broken links.  Provide yourself with the tools and parts and management to do so, and that goal of efficiency as well as your own sanity will fall right where you want it to be. 

Happy Sailing!


Michael Wilson has 12 years of engineering experience in the yachting industry, working full-time and freelance. He has also worked in project management, yacht management and brokerage. Mike is currently a rotational chief on M/Y Senses, and has worked in the industry for over 10 years on multiple yachts, including S/Y Maltese Falcon.

He is a Florida native and U.S. Coast Guard Chief Engineer 3000Grt Unlimited HP (a Y-1 equivalent). He studied finance and human resources at Purdue University, graduating in 2000. 

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