Why the BSS?
Just because a boat was fine four years ago, that doesn’t unfortunately mean it’s still ‘safe’
Iremember some years ago a Fenland farmer telling me in no uncertain terms that he didn’t think much of the Boat Safety Scheme. He had kept his small cruiser on his farm, took the precaution of having a BSS completed before launching and popped her in the water – it promptly sank…
In many ways, I think this short story illustrates a misconception many people have, possibly not unreasonably given its title, as to what the BSS inspection is for. For many, a boat passing the BSS means it is ‘safe’ which it isn’t necessarily, particularly if you take the farmer’s view that a boat that floats is safer than one that doesn’t.
The reality is that a boat having just passed its BSS is known to be ‘safer’ at that moment in time in a number of specific areas. So, to understand why the BSS focuses only on certain things let’s just quickly reflect on the history of the scheme.
The Boat Safety Scheme, as we know it today, has its roots way back in 1980. British Waterways, who were responsible for many of the waterways, felt compelled to introduce a set of minimum installation standards. To begin with these were only mandatory for hire boats as they were licensed, hence BW had a responsibility, and tended to be used by people who were unaware of the ‘dangers’.
The main dangers or risks to the hirers, and most importantly the general public, was from fire and explosion, not sinking, and therefore reasonably this is what they focused on.
Much later, in 1996, similar minimum standards wrapped up in the form of the BSS, as we now know it, became mandatory for private owners too. The rationale for making these minimum standards applicable to all really was the same as that for the hire boats. If BW was to license a pleasure boat to use its waters, it had a responsibility to try to ensure that the vessel did not harm innocent boaters, staff or members of the general public.
So, as with the hire boats, the main risks were known and the stated aim of the BSS ‘to help minimise the risk of pollution, fire and explosion’ has remained the same.
So where does all this background lead us? A number of really good messages come out of it. The scheme has clear aims, the standards are well defined and written, it has been running for a long time and it is clearly improving overall safety.
Practically, for most boat owners, the fact that it has been going for so long is helpful as most boats will be over four years of age and have already been inspected at least once. Therefore, if a boat has passed before then logic would dictate that it is likely to pass again unless:
‘The boat MoT, as it is sometimes called, really isn’t something to be feared or resented as I genuinely believe that many people find it a useful and informative exercise’
SOMETHING SIGNIFICANT HAS CHANGED ON THE BOAT IN THE LAST FOUR YEARS
This in my experience is the most common reason for failure in older boats. Cookers may have been changed, electrics added to or batteries of different sizes provided.
Whole systems may have been installed such as heating, hot water or waste tanks. Given this, a good place for an owner to start when planning for their boat safety inspection is to write down everything that has changed in the last four years and concentrate on those things.
Something else to consider for those who have purchased boats that have been fitted-out over a period of time is that Boat Safety Inspectors can only inspect what is there.
For example, even if a boat only has just the one ‘system’ on board it still has to be inspected, so, an empty boat with an engine, associated machinery, starter battery and tankage installed, but nothing else, would have to be inspected and may well pass. However, in the subsequent four years the owner may have added, for example, further 12v/230v electrics and a gas system, none of which will have been inspected.
SOMETHING HAS DETERIORATED IN THE LAST FOUR YEARS
This so often is the cause of frustration to owners and inspectors alike because it is often simple and obvious things that cause failure. For instance, signage that has fallen off: remember, the location of gas and diesel isolation valves and cocks must be labelled. Fuel fillers must be marked as must the location of fire extinguishers if they are out of sight, so check all of them before your inspection.
While you are in checking mode, take a look at the pressure on your fire extinguishers, and at all the wiring, electrical connections, fuses, fuel hoses etc for signs of rubbing, deterioration, leakage or corrosion and take appropriate steps.
Check solid fuel stoves for cracks, leaks and blockages to the flue. Gas systems, if you haven’t got a gas leak detection (bubbler) device fitted, will need to be checked for tightness by the inspector.
SOMETHING IN THE STANDARDS HAS CHANGED IN THE LAST FOUR YEARS
As I mentioned earlier, the standards evolve and develop over time but to be honest these changes don’t seem to be huge nowadays. It is possible that a standard has been updated between your inspections and what was a pass for your boat four years ago is now a fail. But if this is the case then I think one has to be philosophical and accept that standards are not updated for the sake of it and the latest guidance will reflect improved safety.
THE PREVIOUS INSPECTOR INTERPRETED SOMETHING IN A DIFFERENT WAY
This happens occasionally and I won’t pretend otherwise. However, the important thing is that the judgement is now correct and fortunately both the owner and the inspector can refer to the exact wording in the standards and hopefully agree. If agreement can’t be reached, and I have never personally known this, there is recourse for the owner to refer judgement to the Boat Safety Office.
Boats that are approaching their first inspection tend to be relatively new, professionally built ones which on the whole tend to be compliant due to the regulations that govern builders, or amateur fit-out and/or sea-going boats. For the latter, I can only advise that owners download a copy of the Boat Safety Standards from the official website and work their way through it. Equally, a number of surveyors and associations, including a version on my own website, provide simple checklists that might be of help.
Finally, the boat MoT, as it is sometimes called, really isn’t something to be feared or resented as I genuinely believe that many people find it a useful and informative exercise. The scheme is based on sound principles and although probably not perfect has shown its very real value in raising safety standards overall. In my experience, the majority of boats pass and the ones that don’t, frankly shouldn’t and that is a good thing for all of us.
How’s this for a gas drain spigot...
Pipe chafing happens over time
When did you last check the fire extinguisher?
How are the gas bottles?