Shipboard Maintenance: Pressure Washing the Ship’s Main Engine & Auxiliaries

Can you see the casualty before it happens? I was once asked to survey the operational condition and readiness of a ship’s engineering and propulsion plant prior to purchase. Well, what I found was totally unacceptable! The equipment was so dirty and grimy one could barely make out the color of paint on the main engines and their associated components. I immediately requested that the equipment be pressure washed prior to my inspection.

I then looked at the operations logs and found what looked like an excessive amount of lube oil consumption — my suspicions were right on. After pressure washing the equipment and then operating it – I observed lube oil leaks everywhere. You just couldn’t appreciate them initially due to the accumulation of oil and grime.

What sights and sounds might you encounter when inspecting a ship’s engine room? Check out the video below taken on a 300m, 5000 TEU container ship.

The three most important reasons to maintain the cleanliness of engine room equipment are detection of leaks, facilitation of maintenance/repair, and fire safety. Periodic pressure washing can assist in all of the above.

Keeping shipboard main and auxiliary equipment in good operating condition demands a well-planned program of periodic cleaning, inspection, adjustments, maintenance, and repair. If cleaning is done regularly, many areas needing adjustment can be detected early and corrected before serious casualty results. A planned equipment washing maintenance program will help to prevent major casualties as well as the occurrence of many operating troubles. Of course, it can also help to save countless dollars.

Consider also that there may be times when service requirements interfere with a planned maintenance program. In that case, routine maintenance must be performed as quickly as practicable after the specified interval of time has elapsed.  Keeping ahead of the game is always desirable.

Necessary corrective measures should also be taken as soon as possible. If cleaning jobs are allowed to languish, the result may be reactive, hurried and incomplete work. While there are several general rules which apply to anyone involved in the engineering department, one of the most important standing orders was:

“The highest degree of equipment cleanliness should be observed at all times, especially during routine rounds.”

It should be noted that a manufacturer’s Planned Maintenance Schedule may not always cover all possible operating checks and inspections required as a normal part of the regular watch standing routine. For example, you may not find such things as hourly pressure and temperature checks or routine cleaning of exterior parts listed as maintenance requirements under the PMS. You should still, of course, perform them in accordance with all applicable watchstanders’ instructions.

A high quality, air-powered pressure washer is a must-have for shipboard use.  It must operate safely in all areas without causing major safety issues. An air-powered unit is ideal for applications where electric or gasoline-powered units are prohibited due to hazardous conditions.

Issues to consider prior to pressure washing:

  • Obtain proper authorization
  • Wear proper safety gear
  • Use approved solvents
  • Tag out/lock out all equipment and associated components
  • Check and tighten all valve covers and electrical stuffing boxes
  • Cover all surrounding electrical junction and controls

Never pressure wash and/or cover all:

  • Gaskets
  • Controllers
  • Regulators
  • Couplings
  • Seals
  • Sensors
  • Electrical motors
  • Electrical components
  • Equipment in operation or on standby

Additional considerations to support shipboard maintenance activities:


  • I never knew Goodway was so involved in ships–seems like a lot of your blog posts involve boats. Us land lovin’ HVAC guys still enjoy reading it though.

    September 10, 2011
  • Tim

    Thanks Steve. We’ve got a lot of heritage working in the shipping business, especially on-board HVAC systems. But that’s obviously not all. Power Plants, Commercial Buildings, Manufacturing, Armed Forces and much more. We provide solutions for many, many markets, so our posts tend to run the gamut. Thanks for the feedback!

    September 12, 2011

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