Personal responsibility in Ship/Boatbuilding

Discussion in 'Boat Design' started by Guillermo, Mar 12, 2009.

  1. TeddyDiver
    Joined: Dec 2007
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    TeddyDiver Gollywobbler

    How about NA from other EU country coming to work in Spain or selling plans/services to Spain?.. They are allowed to, aren't they? If not maybe some Bryxels burocrates have something to say about your legislation.
  2. ancient kayaker
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    Location: Alliston, Ontario, Canada

    ancient kayaker aka Terry Haines

    Generally each trade reserves its territory for the locals to the maximum degree it can get away with. In my country for example, I never have to worry about my health when riding in a cab driven by an Indian gentleman wearing a long cloth wound around his head as he is quite likely to be a trained medical practioner who can't get his qualifications recognized by his adopted country.
  3. TeddyDiver
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    Location: Finland/Norway

    TeddyDiver Gollywobbler

    We do have some (EU) legislation against that...
  4. Guillermo
    Joined: Mar 2005
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    Location: Pontevedra, Spain

    Guillermo Ingeniero Naval

    Well, things have changed here in Spain about this.

    From the 1st of october 2010, to sign a commercial ship-boat's design or a works compliance certificate, the signing person still needs to be a naval architect, but he/she does not need to be licensed through the Colegio Oficial de Ingenieros Navales (COIN) anymore. When presenting the documents to the Aunthorities the signant has to prove he/she has a degree in naval architecture recognized in Spain and that he/she is covered by a civil liability insurance.

    Responsibility is still the same as it was, due to a total lack of definition in the laws and the regulations on the limits of responsibility of the naval architect (including time duration of such responsibility). Unluckily we have not been able to improve things yet.

    My question now is, in any of your countries is it mandatory the NA to be covered by a civil liability insurance? If affirmative, what the terms and amount to be covered?

    I'm particularly interested in knowing about European countries, although information from any country will be much appreciated.

    Thanks in advance for your very kind collaboration again.

  5. Eric Sponberg
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    Eric Sponberg Senior Member

    Hi Guillermo,

    Here in the US, you are not required to have what we call professional liability insurance by law. It used to be not available, although now it is again, and it is expensive. One half a million dollars coverage--which is hardly anything--would cost a significant portion of one's annual income. Sometimes, a private design contract will require that the naval architect have professional liability insurance, but then the contract for design is so lucrative that the cost of the insurance is tiny in proportion. Effectively, the client is paying for the insurance because it is worked into the design fee.

    Basically it is still true in the US that the entity being designed--the boat or ship--can cross jurisdictional boundaries, and if some mishap should occur outside those boundaries, then there is a very messy path to the insured's door. Who has jurisdiction to bring suit? That is very hard if not impossible to determine. If liability is stated in the design contract and insurance coverage is required, then it is easy to bring cause and to defend. But this is not required by law.

    The other fact is that if you have insurance, you automatically have deep pockets--your insurance company is covering for you. If you have deep pockets, then you are asking to get sued. If you don't have insurance, don't have deep pockets, then it is unlikely that you will get sued because you don't have any money anyway. You may get a judgement against you as a designer, but if you don't have any money--mostly to pay for the attorneys bringing the suit--then why would they waste their time going after you? The simple truth is that they don't.

    I think one reason that professional liabiltiy insurance is so expensive is because it is so difficult to defend. Very often, the boat or ship in question sinks to the inky depths, and you cannot recover evidence to defend yourself. Why would any reasonable insurance company put itself in a position that it cannot defend itself against liability on the part of its insured customer? That does not make sense. The risk is too high.

    So what we designers have to do is just make sure we do the absolute best job we know how and make sure our designs are safe and, hopefully, will not be abused by our customers or third parties.

    1 person likes this.
  6. Vulkyn
    Joined: Jun 2010
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    Location: Egypt

    Vulkyn Senior Member

    Very interesting thread !! Something that is worth a lot of consideration.
    In Egypt its even scarier as most boat owners can get a license through "connections" and might not have a clue ... (much like driver's license)

    I know an incident where a person purchases a speed boat, took it out for a spin and took his family with him (first time boater) and ended up speeding too much and turning sending his 3 kids and wife into the water (they didnt have life jackets.) It was a very close call and one of his kids almost died.
    Another was a boat where there was no bilge pumps, floating switches, radio or any indicators. The boat almost sank when it started taking on water the where able to head to the beach after both engines failed to start, several trials later and they limped back to with one engine as the manually removed water. (the bilge, engine compartment was flooded complety) i think what saved them was additional buoyancy from wood.

    When it comes to boat building any one can build boats, NA doesnt even exist for most of the industry. A lot of boats are build based on gut feeling and experience in boat building (not design).
    I have seen some pretty crappy designed boats that have a big list or have their CG far off. A lot of builders will build things like fire stoves in wood boats! not electrical, and the list goes on.
    So its a 2 way problem, inexperience from operators, builders and designers.

    You have opened a very important topic that i will look into, i know a contact who is the person responsible for giving out certificates so i will try to pay him a visit and learn more about how things run in Egypt but one of the reasons that got me into boats is the utter lack of safety, quality control or experience in boat building.
    That being said, there are a few builders who are trying to take additional measures but we are FAR away from proper certification, design and QC. (well with my limited experience and what i have seen .... )
  7. MikeJohns
    Joined: Aug 2004
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    MikeJohns Senior Member

    Eric, Guillermo

    It's the same in Australia, although I do have good professional cover for $3k Aus a year. It was $1k but tripled recently.

    Working for some corporations and they want your insurance details in the contract. A lot of my past cover was lost when the insurance company went bankrupt here and I couldn't get retrospective cover so Insurance is all a bit of a joke. I don't know of any NA/ME here that was successfully sued although Mori says he has seen it.
  8. Guillermo
    Joined: Mar 2005
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    Guillermo Ingeniero Naval

    Thanks Eric, Vulkyn and Mike for your contributions.

    In Spain we have a liability insurance negotiated through the COIN. We pay around 200.000 euros/year to cover all present and past works signed by registered NAs in Spain, up to a liability of 1,400,000 euros per accident and year -with a global maximum of 30,000,000 euros/year for the whole group- extendable to 3,400,000 euros/accident-year by the payment of a personal additional fee.

    In Spain if an insurance company brokes, there is a mechanism for the insurance policies issued by that company to be guaranteed by an official Consortium.

    As said, time duration for a NA liability is not defined by our Maritime Authorities. Law says we are responsible but not for how much time. In civil construction there is a 10 years limit and our lawyers think that in a given case a Judge could adopt this criteria by similitude, but nobody knows for sure.
  9. hoytedow
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    hoytedow Carbon Based Life Form

    So if a boat is old and "not kept up" the NA could still be on the hook for damages even after several years?
  10. marshmat
    Joined: Apr 2005
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    Location: Ontario

    marshmat Senior Member

    I can't really comment on the European situation. I'll chime in with some Canadian points, though.

    The province of Ontario, where I live, requires anyone practising engineering to hold a licence. Professional engineering is considered to be:
    "...any act of designing, composing, evaluating, advising, reporting, directing or supervising; that involves third-party concerns related to life, health, property and the public welfare (including the environment), and that requires the application of engineering principles."

    I do not see how a shipyard could operate within Ontario law without at least one licensed professional engineer. (Virtually all engineering firms and consultants in Ontario carry professional practice liability insurance.)

    Under most circumstances, liability should stop with the company; employers are responsible for employees' negligence if the error is committed within an employment relationship. Fraud or gross negligence, if proven, can cause liability to remain with the individual employee. Subrogation of damages (employer sues negligent employee) is theoretically possible but, as I understand it, not terribly common.

    My (admittedly limited) understanding is that an Ontario engineer usually takes responsibility for her work and that of her staff, but is not likely to take responsibility for the work of welders, electricians, etc. implementing the design. If the ship is faulty, liability and responsibility should stop at the company that built it, unless it can be conclusively proven that the engineer was grossly negligent- something that, from what I've been told, is both rare and difficult to prove.

    At no point in engineering school were we told anything about engineers having been held criminally responsible for faults in their designs. I suppose it would be possible for an engineer to be charged with culpable homicide (ie. manslaughter) under sec.234 of the Criminal Code if someone died as a direct result of gross negligence on the part of the engineer, but I'm not familiar with any cases where this may have happened.

    The usual caveats apply to the above: IANAL, YMMV and of course I'm still a couple of years away from holding a P.Eng licence.
  11. peter radclyffe
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    peter radclyffe Senior Member

    this is most unlikely, as it is usually quite clear if a boat has not been maintained properly
  12. hoytedow
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    hoytedow Carbon Based Life Form


  13. Guillermo
    Joined: Mar 2005
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    Location: Pontevedra, Spain

    Guillermo Ingeniero Naval

    The responsibility of the NA or the builder can only be asked for because of hidden deffects, not because a poor operation or maintenance. That's clear. The questions are: for how much time and what the civil liability amount?

    In Spain and for commercial vessels, in my opinion, responsibility of the designer and/or engineer in charge of the works should end when the authorities issue of conformity the several statutory or international certificates (thus implicating everything is OK, including strong enough structure, the avoiding of enviromental contamination and the stability) once the vessel is delivered to the owner and accepted by him.

    Civil liability coverage (warranty) from that moment on, should be exigible to the builder only for hidden deffects.
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