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Published on 22/11/2021

Potable Water, Is Your Crew Safe?

One common challenge sea-going vessels face is the availability of fresh, clean water. Potable water has a variety of uses on board – notably as drinking water and for washing and cleaning purposes – but without proper care and attention and careful management it can become hazardous to health.

Safety and optimal crew welfare are two of our key concerns here at Martek Marine. Ensuring that consumable water on board vessels is clean and free from contaminants and potentially hazardous organisms is a serious undertaking, not only from a health standpoint but also from an operations perspective.

What are the risks associated with potable water?

Potable water is an essential component for crew health and safety. But as is the case with many elements that are more easily managed on land, when on board a sea-going vessel water becomes a potential risk factor if left unattended.

Potable water can be stored for lengthy periods of time at sea, sometimes for a number of weeks. Without proper management and water sanitation during this time contamination can occur either through the accidental introduction of harmful chemicals, or the organic development of pathogenic organisms. Potential biological hazards to be aware of include, but are not limited to:

E.Coli: Characterised by nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhoea. Symptoms appear within one to eight days.

Salmonella: Causes chills, fever, headache, pain and diarrhoea. Symptoms occur within one to three days after consuming contaminated water.

Legionella Pneumophila: One of the most potentially dangerous of the bacterial contaminants, Legionella Pneumophila can cause serious bacteria infection known as Legionnaires Disease. Symptoms include fever, shortness of breath, cough and muscle aches. Legionnaire’s disease often involves hospitalisation and can even result in fatalities.

The immediate risk to crew health is the principal concern – but should widespread illness develop a secondary threat is imposed upon a vessel due to impaired operational capacity and reduced staffing levels. The aim of compliance is to proactively prevent and contain an outbreak of bacteria-based illness, especially where incubation periods are long and potential threats can’t be identified by other means.

What does compliance look like?

Compliance includes proper management and regular documented inspections of a vessel’s drinking water supplies. There are a number of international legislative regulations to take into account, which cover the manner in which tests are conducted and the frequency of testing alongside accuracy and relevancy in terms of what potentially harmful factors they can identify.

The key governing bodies imposing consumable water regulations to be aware of include:

Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) 2006 introduced in August 2013 which orders vessels to be able to develop and implement measures to ensure ongoing compliance with its requirements, including the requirement for frequent documented inspections to be carried out. Under these rules ship owners, managers and crew must also understand how the legislation affects them.

In addition to:

WHO (World Health Organisation) guidelines, which state that source water must be monitored to ensure it is safe, but also that water distribution networks are monitored for water quality (through testing residuals and Ph quality of treated water),

ICS (International Shipping Chamber) advice, which states that a declaration of Maritime Labour Compliance must be prepared as evidence that a vessel meets MLC requirements,


International Labour Organisation (ILO) stipulations, which state that water quality should be checked at different outlets.

Despite heavy legislative coverage, improper water management on ships is still remarkably common – Legionnaire’s disease alone has been responsible for over 50 incidents associated with shipping in the past three decades. Non-compliance simply isn’t worth the risk – not only do you endanger the lives of your crew and operational performance, but those found to be in breach of legislation face huge fines and significant reputational damage.

Reliable and trusted potable water testing solutions

Regular, thorough and accurate potable water testing is imperative to ensure the continued safety of everyone on board. Tests can rapidly identify the presence of potentially harmful organisms or chemical contaminants, enabling ships to follow safety protocols and prevent illness from occurring. For full compliance the installation of reliable, precise testing kits and equipment is paramount.

Ship safety and performance and crew welfare represent our top priorities at Martek Marine – so we’ve developed the best in potable water testing kits providing swift and reliable analysis making compliance simple and easy.

Our specialist water testing kits, Drinksafe and Legionella Max, have been carefully developed to ensure swift and precise identification of key risk factors guaranteed to keep you compliant with MLC 2006. Martek kits are the most comprehensive available on the market – testing for more potential risk factors than any other. They’re also versatile, environmentally conscious and cost-effective – as spare parts can easily be sourced eliminating the need to source new kits. For more information or tailored support on potable water compliance, call or email us today, or take a look at our comprehensive guide on potable water testing here.