Most of the superyacht fleet doesn’t use ballast water, but for that part of it which does, the requirement to meet the International Maritime Organisation’s rules on discharging the water and avoiding the spread of invasive species is a pressing one.

Although not yet ratified, experts at ICOMIA and SYBAss agree that the rules will be applied very likely sometime within the next two years depending on the vagaries of international environmental politics.

We spoke with a fleet manager who oversees the operations of three of the largest and most operationally complex superyachts in the world about how he’s managed the coming changes.

“Of our three large yachts, only one actually uses ballast water,” he has said, “but we knew five years ago that the ballast water regulations would, at some point, come into force, so we wanted to be prepared.”

The key issue for the vessel in question was its operational profile as one of the world’s most active global explorer yachts; the owner didn’t want it in shipyard unless absolutely necessary.

“At the time we signed the order ahead of the refit two years ago, our ballast water treatment supplier hadn’t gained type-approval; so we set up the agreement to allow the approvals and US Coast Guard papers to come in when they were ready,” he has said.

“The key thing for anyone who has to consider ballast water treatment systems is that they involve significant engineering, so planning the installation on a retrofit should be timed with the next major yard period,” he has said.

“Once the convention is ratified, it will be enforced 12 months later,” said Chris Bell of Cathelco, who have developed a type-approved ballast water treatment system specifically for the superyacht market. 

“If they ratify next year at the big IMO meeting in the spring, that’ll mean every yacht that uses water for ballast, trim or stability will be inspected for their treatment system by port state control, so you can imagine the potential rush into the shipyards,” Bell has said.

Bell says he and the team at Cathelco, whose system is IMO type approved and based on a combination of filtration and UV technology, conducted extensive research into the number of vessels that might require ballast water treatment systems in the next five years or so, and says they estimate over 100 superyachts, mostly at the largest end of the spectrum, will be affected.

“In reality the amount of ballast water treatment systems in the superyacht market is peanuts compared to the commercial market, but as usual, yachts have been sucked into the regulations in exactly the same way, so we will have to comply,” Bell has said.

“We are working with yacht captains, managers and the big shipyards who all know us from our other services, and advising them on how they will one day need to get these systems installed,” Bell has said.

The complexity of the installations, which need to be integrated into the existing plumbing and tankage systems aboard, shouldn’t be underestimated.

The fleet manager and Bell both advise all owners, managers and captains to understand the implications of the convention and seek advice from a recognised provider to begin the process of solving the matter.

“Installation design approval followed by actual yard work to get these systems into the yacht can take months… it’s bet to get out in front of this,” Bell has said.

According to the United Nations, after climate change, the loss of global biodiversity is the most pressing environmental issue facing humanity.

The IMO’s efforts to curb invasive species, which reduce biodiversity, is a noble one; the convention is coming—it's up to you to be ahead of the game when it comes to meeting the regulations.

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