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What A Thermographer Can Do For You

Whether you’re purchasing a new yacht, need an appraisal, or having your vessel refitted, the eagle eye of a marine surveyor can help you make the right choices and protect your investment.

And if your surveyor’s toolkit includes thermography services, all the better. Here’s why…


A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words (and Thousands of Dollars)

Thermography (sometimes referred to as thermal imaging, infrared imaging or thermal scanning) is a technique used for detecting and measuring variations in heat energy and transferring that data into visible signals that can be recorded photographically. Since every object gives off some amount of thermal radiation, thermography is ideal for observing temperature changes that indicate abnormalities in machinery, electrical equipment, and even in solids such as wood, fiberglass, aluminum and steel. In other words, this amazing technology has the power to pinpoint potential problems that would be invisible to the naked eye. As a result, defects or anomalies can be detected early, and costly—even catastrophic—failures can be avoided.

The magic happens using a thermographic camera, which looks much like a portable digital video camera and often weighs no more than a flashlight. Equipped with a special lens that focuses the infrared light emitted by all of the objects in view, these cameras can store over 100 images on board, ready to download to a PC at the click of a mouse.

Thermography in the Marine World is Red Hot

Once available only to the U.S. Navy, thermography now brings state-of-the-art infrared technology to general marine surveying. Surveyors with thermography knowledge and know-how are not only capable of quickly scanning a vessel for structural integrity, they can also examine electrical, propulsion, and fuel systems, as well as navigation and other onboard devices. Prospective buyers become aware of any unseen structural, electrical or mechanical problems before they purchase a vessel. Problems or potential hazards can also be identified before it’s too late.

Thermography Trumps Hammers and Moisture Meters

Thermography is better than a phenolic hammer for hull inspection purposes, because a hammer is subjective. The sound created by a hammer is left up to the surveyor’s interpretation and is subjective. A thermographic image, on the other hand, provides better information. Also it’s impossible to take photographs using a hammer, or to see the backside of the core. And if a marine survey is completed during winter months, sounds from a phenolic hammer can be deceiving, as the moisture in a yacht’s hull may be frozen.

Thermography is also better than a moisture meter. That’s because using a moisture meter on a bottom with bottom paint will give false readings. Also, a moisture meter only inspects the hull 2” at a time, and does not offer a full picture of the hull or deck. Nor does it measure the boundary between the two core pieces.

For Safety’s Sake

One of the major benefits of thermography is that it can make the yacht you own (or a vessel you’re planning to purchase) a safer investment. A few examples: Thermography can sense heat that may prevent an electrical fire. It can pinpoint leaking fuel or water from tanks that may prevent an explosion or water damage to the interior of your vessel. And it can detect temperature anomalies in engines or transmissions that can prevent costly repairs later on.

How to Find a Reputable Thermographer

Your best bet is to engage a marine surveyor who has the training and credentials to handle this technology. Contact professional organizations like the National Association of Marine Surveyors (NAMS) and/or the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors (SAMS) and ask for referrals for members that are at least Level II Thermographers. Achieving this status requires 72 hours of classroom training and 500 hours of field experience. These pros are also qualified to interpret readings and sign reports. Avoid professionals who call themselves “Certified Thermographers,” as the requirements for this title involve no more than a camera, a brochure and passing a basic test.

Expect to pay a marine surveyor with thermographic credentials approximately $150 to $200 per hour, depending on their skills, training, experience, and the sophistication level of the camera being used. And keep in mind that camera quality matters. A minimum of 640 X 480 pixels is recommended for composites, while fewer (180 x 120 pixels) should be sufficient for condition monitoring.

Regardless of the price tag, what you’re really paying for here is assurance that the investment you’re making is a wise one and, more importantly, peace of mind that your vessel is seaworthy and safe. And that’s priceless!

Information provided by Michael Hunter, NAMS-CMS, SAMS-AMS, LEVEL II Infrared Thermographer, Hunter Consulting & Survey Services, Inc., Springfield, MO, www.huntersurveying.com, 417.929.0005.

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