Subchapter M: A Benefit For Shipyards?

March 20, 2017

The drydock requirements of Subchapter M specify that freshwater vessels must have a drydock inspection once every five years. Those that operate in salt water must do so once every two and a half years.

How much of a boost in drydockings and shipyard visits will that mean? It’s hard to say with certainty. Any towing vessels that comply with the American Waterways Operators’ RCP program already are committed to drydocking their vessels every 36 months. Some do so more than that.

If the towboat fleet stands at around 5,500 vessels, of which perhaps a third operate in salt water at least some of the time, the Sub M requirement could mean up anywhere up to thousands of drydockings within the next five years. Some of these would have happened anyway, but it seems safe to say that Subchapter M could be making drydocks very busy for the next several years.

During the recent Inland Waterways Conference, many attendees asked the presenters and one another whether there will be enough drydock and shipyard space for the extra work in the next few years.

One business development manager for a company that provides Subchapter M survey and audit services notes that while vessel owners want to be in full compliance, they usually want to do so at the lowest possible cost in downtime and expense. He estimates that while the physical assets and resources already in place may be enough for any extra drydockings that may be called for, there may be a scheduling and planning crunch.

Any added Subchapter M drydock, inspection and survey business will provide an extra boost of income for shipyards and drydocks. That may not be much consolation for those towboat and barge operators that don’t also operate shipyards and are powering through a period of low barge rates, but it could be a shot in the arm for at least some segments of the inland marine industry.

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