“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that anyone in possession of a good superyacht, must be… ready to complete a lot of paperwork.”
Speaking to industry colleagues, this slight misquoting of Jane Austen’s famous opening of Pride and Prejudice is a statement to which many would willingly attest. Although the portrayal of owning a yacht is often still focused on its most pleasurable and most marketable aspects – such as the joys of travelling the world with family and friends and escaping the humdrum of 21st-century existence – there are many less glamorous elements of running a vessel in 2022 which need to be discussed, to ensure that prospective owners and crew members enter the industry with their eyes wide open.
One crucial element for maintaining smooth sailing on board a yacht can be found in the successful management of the vessel’s onboard logbook. Here, we speak to Keith Oulds, Director of the French large yacht surveying and consulting service company, Oulds Yacht Services, to discover more about the importance of keeping records for compliance purposes and how a digital logbook can help make this process as painless as possible.
As Keith is quick to highlight, the requirements for what needs to be logged on board a vessel are becoming ever more demanding and complicated.
“As someone with a great deal of industry experience behind me, it feels like there is a new ‘thing’ popping up every year that needs to be logged, and this requirement can come from either inside or outside of the industry. One of the most recent ones is the inventory of hazardous materials – so you can dispose of your vessel at the end of its life safely and quickly – as this is now applicable to every yacht over 500 gross tonnes.”
He continues: “Another example can be found from the MLC (Maritime Labour Convention), and the requirement for health surveillance/occupational health which now needs to be logged on board all vessels, no matter their size, which was not the case only a few years ago. Although larger vessels over 500 GT are much more auditable, as mentioned, requirements from the MLC have to be completed by all vessels, as they all have to ensure that seafarers are properly looked after – which is a good thing, of course! In short, this whole field is becoming increasingly more complex and, as an industry, we need to ensure we are keeping up to speed and using the best tools available to do so.”
With so much to think about, it is not surprising that omissions, falsifications and mistakes in filling out onboard logbooks can occur, and this is no small matter. The stakes for this can be shockingly high – just look at the widely publicised case of Carnival Corp’s Princess Cruise Lines in 2016 which was ordered to pay a $40 million criminal penalty for polluting the seas and seeming to attempt to cover it up in their records
Furthermore, as Keith (pictured below) explains, on a smaller scale, the US Coast Guard also has a whistleblower fund of up to $10,000 which they pay out to those identifying vessels that are polluting or otherwise breaking rules – something which can, of course, be avoided if correct and efficient recordkeeping is maintained before being checked by an auditor. Step in the digital logbook.
“Through a digital logbook, such as the eLogbook offered by L.J. Commercial Services, this basically stops any possibility of falsification, because you cannot retrospectively change an entry, as it is already in the system. In addition, the digital logbook will also prompt you to make sure you complete an entry in the right format and so on, and do not make mistakes such as duplicating entries, thus vastly reducing the risk of you making an error.”
In particular, for those employed on board smaller, less experienced crewed boats, the digital logbook can also be a godsend. “On these vessels, the person filling out the logbook might be newly qualified as a Y4 Chief Engineer and so never have filled out a logbook before. As a result, he may well just copy what is there before, as that is all he knows.
Since the digital logbook prompts you with what to fill in, this reduces the likelihood of any such systematic errors occurring, and means that you fill it out correctly, quickly and easily, and comply with all necessary regulations on the first attempt.”
Remote access in emergencies
Although no yacht owner or crewmember wants to think about their vessel running into difficulty, accidents and incidents do happen and the processes for dealing with these must be factored in by those on board. On the most basic level, if for whatever reason a yacht sinks, having the ability to remotely access the onboard records to provide to insurance companies would be vital, as is the case with a digital logbook.
Keith explains further: “It is about accountability and transparency. When there has, unfortunately, been any kind of accident or incident involving a boat, the first thing that everybody wants to see is your official logbook. This acts as a documentary trail to explain what happened before the event took place. If you have a clean, easy-to-read and accurate logbook, this can show how the vessel was being run before the incident, demonstrating that whatever the incident was, it was not caused by incorrect action or mistakes by those on board.”
Finally, even in less dramatic circumstances, from a compliance point of view, the benefits offered by having 24/hour remote access to a vessel’s logbook are a total no-brainer, as Keith highlights. “When it is time for any kind of audit, with a digital logbook, you have all of the information you need at the press of a button, which is securely stored on the cloud and can be accessed at any time by whoever needs it, even if they are not directly communicating with the vessel at the time.”
To discover more about the eLogbook offered by L.J Commercial Services, visit the company’s website.