If you’ve been in the maritime world for any length of time, you won’t be new to the idea of colony-forming units in relation to bacteria. But with familiarly often comes complacency… you learn of a risk, put a few protective measures in place, and job’s a good’un.

But then you have key members of staff change.  You have a turnover of core staff. You have temporary crew members onboard.

Add to these changes any newly introduced or regularly changing legislation and it’s not long before you’re clueless on whether the protective measures your team spent aeons preparing are even being enforced.

Let’s take some of that immediate pressure off though.

Instead of overhauling all of your paperwork, and interrogating the crew, you could get straight to the heart of the matter – your crew’s safety – in just 35 minutes. In the time it takes you to simply get an update from one key member of your team on how safe your potable water is, you could have had any member onboard test the water and get accurate results.

We’re not saying ignore the paperwork of course – but when you look at what trouble you’re in if high levels of bacteria such as Legionella are found in your potable water system, you’ll understand why the ‘test first’ method is a safer option.

What Is A Colony Forming Unit?

No water is completely bacteria-free, but it’s when the bacteria start ‘ganging up’ that you need to step in.

We don’t count the number of microorganisms present in our water individually as on their own they’re usually harmless to humans, but it’s the groups of microbes that we look at – also known as colonies.

To put it simply, a colony-forming unit (CFU, cfu, Cfu) is a unit used in microbiology to estimate the number of viable bacteria or fungal cells in a sample. Keeping track of the CFU is crucial in potable water as a higher bacteria count tends to mean a greater risk to human health.

By regularly testing our water and ensuring the CFU levels are within the safe limits, we can be more confident that water systems onboard remain risk-free for the crew.

Where It All Started – A History Lesson in CFU Drinking Water Safety

Back in 1892 in Hamburg, Germany, there was an outbreak of infection which killed around 7000 people. It transpired that it was caused by bacteria coming into the Elbe River along with sewage from a nearby refugee camp.

Robert Koch, who later won the Nobel Prize Winner for Medicine, was investigating the outbreak and tested the microbiology in the water as it was being taken from the river directly without purification.

When he realised the levels of bacteria in the water, Koch recommended that, in the interests of public health, water should be filtered before use and the number of bacteria present should be monitored.

Monitoring Off-Shore Vessel Water Quality

Water safety is high on any maritime agenda as illnesses such as Legionnaires’ Disease (caused by the inhalation of legionella bacteria) can ground a ship in an instant.

In the same way that 7000 people willingly drank their contaminated water, your crew will be trusting that you’re taking your duty of protecting their welfare seriously too.

By their very nature, ships and off-shore vessels are designed to be self-sufficient for lengthy periods of time. The last thing you want is the water quality to be compromised, so you’ll need to check all of your potable water systems beforehand – especially if your vessel is older or has been out of commission for a while.

Any ship which has been taken into dry dock for repair or maintenance will need preventative measures to be taken before the crew is allowed to work on the vessel again. Testing the water on-board to see the levels of bacteria present prior to re-populating the ship will ensure the safety of the crews’ drinking water.

Ships are the perfect breeding ground for Legionnaires’ Disease as it’s much easier to inhale the contaminated droplets in an airtight and watertight vessel. Shipowners and maritime operators need to ensure there is a thorough Water Safety Plan in place with a separate plan for each vessel.

Prevention IS Better Than Cure

Hindsight is always a beautiful thing, but the truth is that most Legionella outbreaks are 100% avoidable with regular testing.

Besides the risk to your crew’s health, the potential prosecution, substantial fines and adverse publicity from an outbreak could be huge. Taking steps to mitigate the contamination of your water is by far the preferable option.

LegionellaMAX is the most accurate test kit available for legionella testing, with sensitivity levels of 0.1 CFU/ml. By utilising a test with such a high sensitivity level, you are able to detect low levels of bacteria before they have a chance to contaminate your entire water system.

Want to know more?

Testing your water systems with LegionellaMAX is an instant verdict on whether your vessel is safe for habitation where the water is concerned. Whether you’re looking to limit an outbreak and contain it, or ensure your protocol is being followed, you want to know you have a testing process you can trust.

For more information on the benefits of LegionellaMAX, reach out to a member of our team here.

Alternatively, you can download our free legionella testing guide or watch our free on-demand webinar.