Chipping and painting are one of the simplest maintenance jobs on board any merchant vessel. I haven’t experienced a ship where this task was not on the menu during my decade of sailing.

Actually, I was for most of the time, sailing on tanker vessels. And these types of vessels have high standards of safety due to the nature of their cargo.

A small misstep, wrong use of an electronic device, or doing shortcuts could blow the vessel to kingdom come.

Painting would not be a problem but chipping creates sparks. And spark is one of the things that tankermen are allergic to.


What is chipping and painting?

Chipping and painting are one of those jobs that go together in that order.

Since vessels are made of metal and sail on salty waters, it corrodes into rust very quickly.

Untreated rust on board can easily spread and “eat away” your ship thereby threatening her structural integrity.

To avoid it from happening, seafarers conduct preventive maintenance on board in the form of chipping and painting.

These simple tasks extend the life of the vessels as well as save the shipowners from costly repairs.


A deck crew chipping on the deck of a tanker vessel.

A deck crew chipping on the deck of a tanker vessel.


Chipping is the process of removing rust on deck, the ship’s side, inside tanks, machines, or even certain equipment.

There are many chipping tools you can use to get rid of the corrosion. Since these are power tools, you also need to use appropriate PPE like gloves, goggles, ear muffs, coveralls, face masks, etc.

After chipping, the metal surface is “brushed” to remove the remaining dust or rust particles. Painting is applied last to protect the bare metal from rusting immediately.


How do chipping and painting pose risks?

Since these rusts are very persistent to remove, we use power tools to “beat them up” until they detach from the metal plate.

This is where the danger comes in.

The power tools hit, bang, and scrape these rust very strongly. This metal to metal activity creates sparks.

A tanker vessel itself is a floating bomb and the detonator is a small spark. Their cargoes are extremely flammable like diesel and naphtha which are stored below deck.

These goods give off fumes that could ignite when a spark is introduced.

Even if the deck is an open area, there could be pockets and spots containing such vapors since they are heavier than air.

But how do seafarers chip and paint every day if these dangers are ever present on board?


Chipping and painting on tanker vessels

You can and can’t chip on the deck of tanker vessels under certain conditions.

Chipping doesn’t produce much heat, unlike welding and cutting. However, due to the impact of the power tools against rusts and metal surface, it creates lots of sparks.

You can still conduct chipping maintenance on deck if your tanks are gas free! But if we wait for this precise condition to happen, this kind of maintenance won’t be done.

However, there is another solution

Most tankers nowadays use inert gas or I.G. to prevent flammable mixtures from forming inside the tank.


Needle gun scaler chipping away thick corrosion.

Needle gun scaler chipping away thick corrosion. Image Source MJ Navigation


With this, we are now able to chip the corrosion on deck but only when the tank is empty and inerted.

Remember that the deck is the division between the ambient surroundings and the cargo inside the tank.

If there are cargoes inside the tank, chipping must be avoided. Even doing this kind of maintenance inside the ballast tank is not allowed in this context since they are adjacent.

One method deck crew make is to chip as much as possible during a ballast voyage and paint it up to the second primer.

When the ship is in loaded condition, you can go full ahead with the paint job. At the same time, you can transfer to other areas away from the deck if you want to continue chipping.


How to chip on board

For some strange and mystic reason, chipping and painting can be a satisfying job.

The first thing to do when chipping is to check your equipment for damage and functionality.

Since most chipping tools on tanker vessels are pneumatic type, check also the couplings, connections, and air hose for leaks.

If you found defects on any of these parts, you must repair them or replace them with a better one.

And don’t forget to wear your personal protective equipment.


A crew using a needle gun scaler

A crew using a needle gun scaler.


Needle gun scalers are one of the most commonly used chipping tools where the vibrating needles chips away the rust.

Next is to proceed to the area of interest. Bring your tools and prepare them accordingly.

A Needle gun scalers is like a gun but with blunt needles. As soon as you pull the trigger, the needles vibrate and oscillate and that rapid motion is what removes the corrosion while creating sparks in the process.


How to paint

Now that the metal is free from rust, it’s time to protect them from the weather elements.

To do this, a series of paints are applied to prevent them from rusting again or delay the corroding process.

The paint acts as a barrier between the metal and the surroundings.

You can apply up to four coats depending on the company policy or paint brand’s specifications.

The first coating uses primer paints and is usually a double component. It is very sturdy since it is the bare metal’s first protection against corrosion.

You can apply up to two or three primer paints.


Paint preparation inside the paint room

Paint preparation inside the paint room.


The last coating is called the top coat. Top coats can be a double component too. They are resistant to heat and saltwater penetration in addition to their cosmetics properties.

Unlike chipping, you can paint whether the ship is gas free, inerted, ballasted, or loaded since this job doesn’t involve power tools.


May the winds be in your favor.



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