Ignition sources on tankers: Ensuring safety in maritime operations

Safety is a real concern in the maritime industry. One vital aspect of safety management pertains to the control of potential ignition sources on tankers.

Given the presence of flammable gases and liquids in tanker cargoes, preventing fires through effective measures is of utmost importance.

This article delves into the different facets of managing potential ignition sources, focusing on naked lights, smoking regulations, designated smoking areas, and the role of notices in promoting safety.

Naked lights: Prohibition for safety

An elemental rule to mitigate potential ignition sources on tankers is the prohibition of naked lights on tanker decks, terminals, and areas where flammable gases might be present. Open flames in the vicinity of flammable gases can lead to disastrous outcomes. Eliminating naked lights from such spaces is a fundamental step in preventing fire hazards.

Smoking: A delicate balance

Smoking introduces significant risks on board tankers, necessitating meticulous management. Rigorous controls can be established through Safety Management Systems (SMS) requirements and thoughtful design considerations.

A notable example is the creation of dedicated smoking rooms on tankers. These segregated spaces provide a controlled environment for smokers, reducing the risk of ignition near flammable gases.

Extending smoking controls to encompass products involving combustion, such as incense sticks, is crucial. Ensuring that smoldering products are never left unattended and are kept away from combustible materials adds an extra layer of protection against potential ignition.

Smoking at sea: Controlled allowance

While at sea, smoking should only be allowed at specific times and locations as determined by the Master. The dedicated smoking room, if available, serves as the designated smoking area for crew members. Smoking anywhere else, especially on the tanker deck or near flammable gases, must be strictly prohibited. This measure ensures that even at sea, the risks linked to potential ignition are minimized.

Controlled smoking in port

When the tanker is in port, smoking regulations become even more pivotal. Smoking should be strictly prohibited in the restricted area around tankers and berths, as well as onboard while berthed.

Designated smoking areas offer controlled settings where smoking can occur under careful supervision. However, these controlled conditions must be adhered to diligently to avoid unnecessary risks.

Designated smoking places: Thoughtful placement for safety

The significance of designating specific smoking areas cannot be overstated. These areas should be determined collaboratively by the Responsible Officer and the Terminal Representative before operations commence. Effective communication and clear signage ensure that everyone on board is aware of the designated smoking areas.

During operations, designated smoking areas should be confined to the accommodation area and rooms that do not directly open onto decks. These restrictions extend to operations involving petroleum cargoes, ballasting into cargo tanks, gas freeing, and more. Maintaining closed portholes and doors in the smoking area is essential to mitigate potential ignition risks.

Safety measures: Matches and lighters

Matches and cigarette lighters inherently pose ignition risks. Safety matches or fixed electrical cigarette lighters are acceptable in designated smoking areas. However, their usage outside these areas should be prohibited.

Matches should never be carried on the tank deck or anywhere near flammable gases. Mechanical lighters and portable lighters with electrical ignition sources on tankers must be strictly prohibited on board tankers due to their potential to cause accidents.

Electronic cigarettes: Equivalent risk

Electronic or e-cigarettes, despite differing mechanisms, fall under the umbrella of smoking regulations. The existing rules on smoking apply equally to the use of these devices, acknowledging their potential to ignite flammable gases.

Notices: Visual reminders of responsibility

To reinforce safety measures, portable and permanent notices prohibiting smoking and the use of naked lights should be prominently displayed at access points to the tanker and exits from accommodation areas.

Within the accommodation area, clear instructions about smoking should be visibly posted. These notices serve as constant reminders of the responsibilities each individual bears in maintaining a secure environment.


In the intricate realm of maritime transportation, safety remains non-negotiable.

The management of potential ignition sources is a multi-faceted endeavor, requiring stringent regulations, thoughtful design, and unceasing vigilance.

From the prohibition of naked lights and smoking to the strategic placement of designated smoking areas and the presence of informative notices, each element plays a crucial role in averting potential ignition risks.

Through these measures, the maritime industry underscores its commitment to safeguarding lives, cargo, and the environment against the threat of fire hazards.

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