Survey Matters December 2023

In this edition we talk about audits and application assessments, compass adjustment requirements, unmanned barges and more.

In this edition

Audits and application assessments

Summary of audits 2022-23

Sec 45 of the Marine Safety (Domestic Commercial Vessel) National Law Act 2012 provides that AMSA as the National Regulator can conduct audits on the recommendations made by an accredited surveyor; the survey process followed by the surveyor; the conduct of surveys; and the records kept in accordance with Section 40.

In the 2022-23, financial year AMSA carried out scheduled audits on 162 survey recommendations covering 20 accredited marine surveyors (AMSs) under the Major Audit Program. The surveyors were selected for audit from AMSA’s Surveyor Risk rating tool. Of these, 10 surveyors were audited on initial surveys (mainly on plan approval stability approval and initial commissioning surveys), and 10 were audited on periodic surveys (periodic surveys, out of water surveys, shaft surveys and periodic load line surveys). 18 of these audits resulted in the AMS initiating corrective actions on their survey practices and / or on the vessels in question. One surveyor was required to show cause as to why their accreditation shouldn’t be suspended.

AMSA also conducted 37 complaint audits regarding 23 surveyors. The audits were based on complaints received from a member of the public or an AMSA port marine surveyor / marine safety inspector. These audits resulted in 3 surveyors being issued with formal caution or counselling letters; a surveyor’s accreditation varied to impose conditions for stricter survey reporting requirements; and a surveyor’s accreditation being revoked by the National Regulator.

On-site monitoring surveys were also successfully performed for 2 surveyors.

Audit findings

Major audits have resulted in 342 findings, of which 31 (22%) of them were non-conformances requiring corrective actions. AMSA also noted positive findings for several surveyors. The below pie chart shows the percentage distribution of the findings for the major audits.

Pie chart showing major AMSA audits 2022-2023 Major AMSA audits 2022-2023

Complaint audits have resulted in 73 findings of which 44 (60 %) were non-conformances The pie chart below shows the percentage-wise distribution of the findings for the complaint audits.


Pie chart showing AMSA complaint audits 2022-2023 AMSA complaint audits 2022-2023

Common findings in periodic / renewal survey audits 2022-23

Following are the common findings identified during the periodic / renewal survey audits.

  1. Vessels with several serious deficiencies were recommended for temporary operations following a renewal survey (e.g. structural fire protection material damaged).
  2. Vessels were recommended with inadequate communication equipment onboard. (e.g. vessel trading outside LCS coverage areas without an H.F radio or satellite phone).
  3. Vessels were recommended with incorrect lifesaving appliances. (missing life rafts, lifejackets etc.)
  4. Class 1 vessels over 12 meters were recommended without performing a lightship verification and a declaration signed by the owner or master was provided instead. SAGM Sect 4.9 (6) limits lightship declarations on Class 1 Vessels to those less than 12m.
  5. Incorrect lightship particulars were recommended when the correct lightship particulars would have triggered transitional surveys.
  6. Temporary operations permits had been issued for several vessels despite the conditions of Div. 5 or 6 of AMSA EX07 (Marine safety temporary operations) Exemption not being met.
  7. Third party service reports referenced in the form AMSA 901 Survey report and recommendation were not provided in the recommendation.
  8. Megger testing and RCD testing were not carried out in the specified intervals.
  9. Ultrasonic thickness measurement not carried out for metallic vessels during the 10-year renewal survey.
  10. Other 10-year renewal survey checks were not carried out.

Compass adjustment requirements

Ensuring the accuracy of a vessel's magnetic compass is crucial for safe navigation at sea. Marine Order 504 (Certificates of operation and operation requirements) mandates a systematic approach to vessel and equipment maintenance. The magnetic compass is one such piece of equipment. Vessel owners are required to establish a regular inspection and maintenance program, recording details of each inspection and addressing identified deficiencies. These records may be maintained in the vessel's logbook.

For transitional and new vessels NSCV Part C Section 7C specifies that the master must document any observed deviations in compass readings during the vessel’s operation. Section 7C also specifies situations in which compass adjustment is mandatory. These include when deviations exceed 5 degrees, after vessel repairs or alterations, or when the vessel has not previously operated from any port or place in Australia.

The adjustment should be carried out by individuals possessing the necessary knowledge and skills obtained through experience, training or qualification.  A qualified compass adjuster for Marine Order 27 (Safety of navigation and radio equipment) 2016 meets the training and qualification requirements of NSCV C7C Clause A4.3.

Furthermore, any changes to the magnetic compass including alterations to magnet positions or soft iron correctors must be recorded by the compass adjuster and the record kept onboard. This rigorous adherence to compass adjustment requirements ensures the reliability of navigation systems and promotes maritime safety and compliance.

Existing vessels must comply with the requirements that applied to them at the introduction of the National System - generally the USL Code Section 13 Appendix B. The requirements of the USL Code for compasses are largely consistent with those of the NSCV. 

Unmanned barges

AMSA has received enquiries about unmanned barges being transferred into domestic commercial vessel survey while carrying people onboard. Unmanned and unpowered barges certified under the International Convention on Load Lines 1966 (ICLL) may have a 25% reduction in their assigned summer freeboard, as per Regulation 27(14)(c) ICLL.

This reduction applies specifically to unmanned, unpowered barges with small access openings sealed by watertight gasketed covers of steel or equivalent on the freeboard deck. (most commonly flat-topped barges). ICLL Regulation 27(14)(b) exempts these barges from complying with Regulations 25, 26(3), 26(4), and 39.

Similar requirements under ICLL Regulations are outlined in:

  • USL Code Section 7 Clauses 23, 42, 46.4.
  • NSCV C2 Chapter 3 for Class 1 and 2 vessels with a load line length of 24 m or more in offshore waters.

As per GES 2022/01, a domestic commercial vessel with a load line length of 24m or more can adhere to either USL Code Section 7 or NSCV C2. For an unpowered barge initially certified to ICLL as unmanned but intended for operation with people on board, additional freeboard assignment and possible extra markings are required.

Specific load line requirements for sheltered waters operations, as outlined in USL Code Section 7 Part 11 or NSCV C2 Chapter 5, may be applicable based on the intended operation of the vessel.

Electrical components must be approved for use in Australia

An enquiry has been received in relation to vessels being built overseas that intended to include electrical components such as circuit breakers and RCBO units that were not approved by Australian Standards.

Electrical contractors must not install Type AC RCDs after 30 April 2023.

In accordance with AS3000 amendment 2, Type AC RCDs are not to be installed in Australia after 30 April 2023. Type AC Residual Current Devices (RCDs) have been widely used and are effective for tripping sinusoidal alternating currents. However, due to the growing use of electronics, renewable energy, and other technologies, there's a rise in direct current (DC) waveforms appearing on the alternating current (AC) supply.

To address this, AS/NZS 3000:2018 Amendment 2 requires the use of Type A RCDs. These devices can trip both sinusoidal alternating currents and pulsating direct currents.

Amendment 2 also mandates that RCDs placed next to or built into a socket-outlet must interrupt all live (active and neutral) conductors.

Surveyors must be aware that all electrical components need to be approved for use in Australia.

Electrical plan approval

AMSA has recently received several applications featuring solar charging and/or lithium-ion battery ELV installations. These installations are deemed to be “complex ELV systems” under SAGM Table 2 and require additional consideration than standard ELV installations.

The schematics for complex ELV installations require plan approval by a recognised organisation (RO) or an AMS accredited for electrical plan approval.

Solar array installation requires additional licensing for land-based installations. In the absence of an equivalent accreditation category for DCV installations, AMSA requires owners or builders to engage the services of a solar array installer who is licensed in the state or territory where the vessel is located. The attending AMS must obtain an installation certificate from the installer to be used as 3rd party documentation to support their recommendation for survey. The installer must declare that the installation has been carried out in accordance with the approved schematics.

Installations incorporating lithium-ion batteries must be verified against the approved schematics by the attending AMS. The AMS must consider the location of lithium batteries to ensure that in the event of a thermal runaway there are no additional risks to onboard safety.

Operational policy for large commercial yachts operating under the National Law

AMSA receives numerous exemption applications for yachts originally built to foreign flag requirements and now seeking domestic certification within Australia. To assist industry in these circumstances AMSA would like to clarify its specific exemption assessment policy for yachts.

AMSA will consider issuing a specific exemption (from the vessel and equipment standards mentioned in Marine Order 503 (Certificates of survey - national law) 2018)) for yachts which are intended for operation as domestic commercial vessels under the National Law. Generally, such an exemption will be conditional upon the surveyor of the vessel confirming the vessel and its equipment, meet the standards set forth within Marine Order 52 (Yachts and training vessels) 2022. These standards currently being the Red Ensign Code (the Code) and Australian National Annex to the code.

The Red Ensign Code and Australian Annex are internationally recognised standards for yacht safety. This approach ensures that the vessels maintain a high level of safety while also considering the unique needs of yachts in comparison to other commercial vessels.

The policy not only ensures that safety remains a top priority but also simplifies the regulatory process, allowing for a smoother transition for those wishing to operate their yachts as domestic commercial vessels.

Will AMSA consider other approaches?

All specific exemption applications are considered on a case-by-case basis, considering policies that are relevant to the decision, as well as the specific circumstances of an application.

Does AMSA accept foreign flag state / historical certification?

The National Law requires that recommendations be provided by an accredited marine surveyor (AMS) or recognised organisation (RO). The AMS or RO are responsible for assessing the vessel and ensuing it complies with the applicable standards. Previous class certification and or foreign flag certificates do not constitute a recommendation in and of themselves.

Does the yacht need to be classed?

For Yachts under 35 metres, surveys do not have to be conducted by a recognised organisation, and a certificate of class is not required. This policy is intended to reduce the regulatory burden on owners of smaller yachts while still ensuring that they operate safely in Australian waters.

Specific exemptions

AMSA has been receiving requests for exemption from certain areas of the standards that have not been substantiated in accordance with the exemption policy. The exemption policy states that cost or inconvenience is not a legitimate reason to grant an exemption.

It appears that a culture is emerging where, if an owner is reluctant to undertake modifications to their vessel to achieve compliance with the applicable standards, the AMS is encouraging them to apply for exemption. Many of these exemption applications do not meet the exemption policy and are being refused, resulting in administrative costs and time delays to the initial survey process.

  • Following are some examples of exemption refusals in 2023:
  • Non-compliant fuel tank plating thickness.
  • Non-compliant bilge piping in an engine space.
  • Non-compliant railings on a houseboat.
  • Requirement for fixed fire detection and extinguishing systems.
  • Shared fuel tank vents.
  • ELV pump in petrol tank cofferdam.
  • Structural fire protection in-way-of vehicle deck on Ro-Pax ferry
  • Requirement for a vessel to be classed.
  • Application of transitional standards for a vessel out of survey for more than 2 years.
  • Structural Fire Protection of fuel tanks in an engine space.
  • Lightship check / Stability review of a Class 1 vessel Lm>12m.
  • Use of Structural Fire Protection in applications not covered by its type approval.
  • We strongly encourage AMS’s to strive for compliance with the standards in the first instance, and to inform owners that cost or inconvenience is not an acceptable reason to apply for exemption.

Important notice regarding 10-year surveys for accredited marine surveyors

AMSA has received numerous enquiries from accredited marine surveyors seeking assistance to determine whether vessels are due for their 10-year surveys. In response, AMSA recommends obtaining the vessel report either directly from the client or by downloading it from MARS.

To identify if a vessel has undergone 10-year renewal surveys or partially conducted 10-yearly surveys, please refer to the "Notes/Observations from 10-year renewal survey items" section at the bottom of the vessel report. This section will display relevant information, including the date/s of survey reports and the type of survey conducted.

If the vessel has not completed 10-year survey components, the vessel report will not contain any information in these fields, and hence will not be included. Below is a screen shot of what will appear on a vessel report when a 10 yearly survey has been performed.

Notes / observations from 10 Year renewal survey

Date of SurveyItemComment
3/08/2021UT measurement of hull
(metallic vessels)
1/09/2020UT measurement of hull
(metallic vessels)

AMSA586 Survey activity report and temporary operations

AMSA has been receiving AMSA586 survey activity reports where the use of the temporary operations provision under Exemption 7 Division 6 has been incorrectly applied by the accredited surveyor.

Some examples of erroneous 586 forms include reports where the temporary operations sections are incomplete; not all surveys have been completed; or the reports have been submitted more than 90 days after expiry of the Certificate of Survey. This exposes owners and operators to potential compliance action.

Exemption 07 Division 6 can only be applied when the following conditions are met:

The vessel has held the CoS previously and not been suspended or revoked, and

An application has been made to renew the CoS 180 days before, or up to 90 days after its expiry, and

All renewal surveys (OWAT / PRDC / LTE / SHAFT) have been conducted within 180 days before, or 90 days after CoS expiry, and

The vessel only has minor non-conformances and the accredited marine surveyor issues a signed 586 form to the operator and AMSA stating what the non-compliances are, and the associated standards that apply.

When all of the above conditions are met an owner or operator can operate under Exemption 7 Division 6 as per below:

The exemption begins when the AMS gives the signed 586 report to the owner and AMSA, and

Ends 120 days after the CoS initially expires or when AMSA issues the CoS, and

The owner must keep a copy of the AMSA586 on the vessel.

Photographs provided as supporting documentation

SAGM 2.9.2 encourages AMS’s to use photographs as supporting documentation for their surveys. We see good use of this from many surveyors, however, some MARS assessments have multiple single photos uploaded without a naming convention.

We encourage you to seek software that combines multiple photos into a single pdf so that only one file is uploaded (provided it is less than 20Mb in size). We also encourage you to get in the habit of taking a macro photo showing the overall location of an item to compliment a detailed photo of the item you wish to highlight. Ideally these photos would be annotated with a description.

Season's Greetings

The AMSA team would like to wish all our readers a Merry Christmas.

Thank you for your valued relationships and collaboration. We hope everyone has a safe and peaceful Christmas and new year period.

The DCV Applications team remain on deck to process temporary operation applications lodged between Christmas and the New Year. Normal services will return on the 2nd of January 2024.

Last updated: 25 March 2024