Ten years ago, the concept of Voyage Data Recorders (VDRs) would have been virtually alien to the superyacht industry, but with more yachts taking on passenger ship status, and those without the status bearing significant resemblance when it comes to size, the discussion surrounding having a VDR on board is becoming less surprising. In issue 71 of The Crew Report, Lulu Trask puts the question to captains and managers: are there any benefits of having VDRs in superyacht bridges? Here, we bring you a preview…

The superyacht industry has certainly become more safety conscious over recent years. This can only be a good thing, although in this industry a greater focus on safety seemingly comes with both an escalated fear of an industry blame culture and considerably more paperwork. One of the discussions rearing its head in the safety discussion is whether there are any advantages in the presence of a VDR, or ‘black box’, in the bridge of a superyacht, yet as with anything that scrutinises accountability and proposes more paperwork, many in the industry are raising their eyebrows. Under SOLAS Chapter V – Safety of Navigation, Regulation 20, VDRs are required on passenger ships constructed on or after 1 July, 2002; ro-ro passenger ships constructed before 1 July, 2002, no later than the first survey on or after 1 July, 2002; passenger ships, other than ro-ro passenger ships, constructed before 1 July, 2002, no later than 1 January, 2004; and ships, other than passenger ships, of 3,000gt or more constructed on or after 1 July, 2002.

“The regulations state that ships, or commercial yachts, over 3,000gt are required to carry a VDR. Most yachts from 90m upwards would probably fall into this category, unless they are classed as a pleasure vessel,” explains Captain Mike Hitch of motoryacht Golden Odyssey. “The first concern would be privacy, including monitoring from ashore, which could be construed as spying. While the regulations state that a minimum of 12 hours’ data is stored, many manufacturers provide both larger data storage facilities – up to 30 days’ – and the facility of downloading data via a VSAT or GSM link. There have been stories of management companies listening in to the VDRs, more interested in what the employees think of the owner or company, rather than making sure the ships are operated lawfully and safely.”

"The first concern would be privacy, including monitoring from ashore, which could be construed as spying."

We can hope that those managers who do listen to a vessel’s VDR recordings on their own agenda are few and far apart. In practice, it is extreme and often unfruitful. “The idea that it’s a way of spying on the crew really doesn’t work,” explains Adrian McCourt, managing director of Watkins Superyachts. “It’s only when you sit down to listen to a recording in a wheelhouse that you realise just how much time passes when nobody’s saying a word. It’s very dull, and in six hours if somebody says, ‘We think the yacht manager is a fool’, well, if the yacht manager’s going to listen to a recording for six hours then that says it all.”

Find the full article, with additional comment, in issue 71 of The Crew Reportclick here to download.