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Self-unloading bulk carriers procedures prior to and during loading of bulk cargo

Self unloaders rapid discharging rate, and reduced infrastructure and labour requirements, make this bulk cargo handling option an effective and competitive solution that helps keep costs down and minimize environmental impacts. Self-unloaders provide ideal solutions for shipping and handling commodities such as salts, fertilisers, aggregates, coal, grains, ores and minerals.

Self unloader boom with conveyor belt
Fig: Self unloader boom with conveyor belt

Pre loading meeting
: A pre loading meeting is to be held at sea prior to arrival at the load port. The vessels Officers and Crew who will be responsible for the loading of the cargo are to attend. The agenda for discussion is as follows:
  1. Personal safety
  2. The loading plan of the types and grades of cargo
  3. Deballasting plan
  4. Preparation of Holds and Hatch opening sequence
  5. Mooring plan and Loader reach
  6. Tides and depths at the Berth
  7. Boom banking
  8. Main engine and Bow Thruster availability
  9. Communications Testing

Prior to loading

Before loading commences the following procedures must be followed, and remain in force whilst the vessel is loading bulk ore cargoes:

Notice of Readiness is to be tendered on arrival at all ports.

The Master must ensure that he has as much information as possible concerning the nominated cargoes. All appropriate publications are to be consulted in this respect. The Master must also be aware of the dangers, precautions and peculiarities associated with particular cargoes. This is to include the ventilation and instrumentation requirements necessary to monitor temperature, moisture content and gas and oxygen levels.

When declaring the amount of cargo the vessel can load, due attention must be paid to the limitations and draft restrictions at the ports of discharge, bunkers to be taken, and trim required for adequate manoeuvrability of the vessel during the voyage.

A Pre-Loading Meeting with the Terminal is to be held to discuss the Chief Officer’s Cargo/Ballast Load Plan, communications and any relevant Port Regulations applicable to the vessel.

It is of the utmost importance that Loading Operations are carried out with careful regard to the ship’s stability, as well as bending moments and shear force limitations. Reference is to be made to Section 6 of these operating instructions.

The Officer of the Watch must be fully aware of the times of high and low water at the berth. The ship’s moorings are to be closely monitored and adjusted as necessary to ensure that they have the correct tension.

The Officer of the Watch must closely monitor the condition of the cargoes being loaded and report any defect immediately.

Loading operations

Points to be taken into consideration are:


All means of communication, must be well maintained and tested before arrival at any port. Communication with the shore terminal must be tested, and be compatible and understood by all. If an Umbilical chord is used at the discharge berth, it must be tested before commencement of discharging, and its reliability ascertained thereafter.

All communication, by any means, within the vessel and with the shore terminal, are to be clear and precise. Orders given must be accurate and positive. All codes for signal lights and buzzer alarms must be known and understood to all.

The word ‘STOP’ means that an immediate response is to be made to stop the system. This means that something is wrong either onboard or ashore and could also mean that a person is at risk. All concerned must be alert and prepared for a stop or shutdown.

The reason for a request from the shore terminal to ‘stop’ must be ascertained and logged. If the system is stopped or shut-down for any reason ship or shore, and is estimated to remain shut down for a period of two hours or more, the relevant Management Office must be notified.

Change of trim due to change of density

The change of the vessels trim due to the change in water density when the vessel sails from the sea to the brackish water or the fresh water in a river, has to be calculated and allowed for. In most bulk carriers, the vessel will trim by the head when going from salt into fresh water.

Draft survey

A Draft Survey is to be carried out before and after Loading, and must be documented and forwarded to the relevant Management Office. Draft Readings are to be taken from the Draft Marks on the vessel’s Hull. Draft Gauges are provided only as a source for approximate quick reference and must not be used for the purposes of Draft Surveys.

Experience has shown that differences occur between the vessel’s figures obtained through Draft Surveys and Shore figures obtained from the Shore Facility Weighing Machines. Differences in Cargo quantity are to be correctly documented and a letter of protest issued to the charterers and/or shippers – Protest of Difference between ship and shore figures.

The Master must ensure that items which may affect the condition of the cargo are accurately entered in the Deck Log Book to assist the Owners in documenting their case in the event of a claim, e.g. the weather conditions during Loading/Discharging and on passage. Deck Log Book Entries must also include information on cargo left on the quay during rain, and wet or otherwise contaminated cargo being loaded.

Cargo condition

The condition of cargo must be noted, and if the Master suspects that the actual condition is not as described by the shippers/charterers or their agents, or it appears contaminated at the time of loading, he must notify the relevant Management Office and Owners immediately. He is with the agreement of the Company and Owners, to instruct the Chief Officer to make the appropriate comments in the mate’s receipt, and ensure that the comments are copied into the Bills of Lading.

If there are any objections to these actions, the Master will revert to the Company and the Owners, and a P & I representative will be required to attend on behalf of the Owners, to carry out a pre-shipment inspection of the cargo. The decision to clause the B/L or to engage a P & I representative will be done by consent and the express instructions of the Owners only. The Company will assist the Master to the fullest, and the Master is required to keep the Company informed at all times.

Moving the vessel at the berth

Moving the vessel at the berth on ropes to reach the shore loader, is to be planned well in advance. If the lines and crew are kept ready for the next anticipated shift then this will contribute to a reduction in the time in load ports, however, safety of the crew and the operation must never be compromised trying to achieve this objective. Wind, weather, currents and passing traffic will always have some effect, and must be taken into consideration.

Main engines are to be on stand-by or started if required. The bow-thruster must also be kept running and used if required. Propeller clearance must be established and movements by the main engine, are to be restricted to the minimum necessary. Oil levels in the header tanks of the mooring winches must be checked, and filled prior to the arrival ports. The reeling of wire-ropes on drums must be in order so as not to damage the wires. In lower temperatures the mooring winches must be started up in advance, to circulate and warm the oil in the system before use.

The controls of the mooring winches must be kept covered or protected. While operating, the mooring winches are to be loaded gradually by the notches provided, and sudden jerks must be avoided.

Reference publications

Related information

  1. Additional cargo documents required for bulk cargo loading

  2. Self unloader components

  3. Function of loop & bucket belt elevators

  4. Self unloaders various cargo handling gears

  5. Various type boom conveyor belts - How the belt sytem practically works ?

  6. Dealing with self unloaders stalled lift belt

  7. Conveyor belt construction & troubleshoot guide

  8. Conveyor belt installation guide

  9. Conveyor belt repair & maintenence guide

  10. Safe working practice onboard self unloading bulk carriers

  11. Preventing conveyor belt fire onboard self unloading bulk carriers

  12. Cargo work safety precautions

  13. Various bulk cargoes - free flow ability

  14. Various bulk cargoes & dealing with cargo hang ups

  15. Navigation in Ice & safety precautions

  16. Dust suppression procedure & environment protection

  17. Preparations for cargo planning, handling & stowage

  18. Maintaining safe stability onboard self-unloading bulk carriers

  19. Loading operations - voyage orders, draft restrictions, various grades and rates

  20. Loading sequence and other related considerations

  21. Preparations for discharging & related guideline

  22. Self unloaders discharging operation

  23. Safety precautions for boom operation

  24. Directing gate operation, gate problems & crew duties

  25. Cargo holds/ tunnels cleaning, maintenance and check items

  26. Procedure for transporting coal on self- unloading bulk carriers

Our detail pages illustrated many safety aspects of Bulk carrier

Home page |||Bulk carrier types ||| Handling of bulk coal |||Cargo planning ||| Carriage of grain |||Risk of iron ores |||Self unloading bulk carriers |||Care of cargo & vessel |||Cargoes that may liquefy |||Suitability of ships |||Terminal guideline |||Hold cleaning |||Cargo cranes |||Ballast handling procedure |||Bulk carrier safety |||Fire fighting systems |||Bulk carrier General arrangement

Operation of sea going bulk carriers involved numerous hazards . Careful planning and exercising due caution for all critical shipboard matters are important . This site is a quick reference to international shipping community with guidance and information on the loading and discharging of modern bulk carriers so as to remain within the limitations as specified by the classification society.
It is vital to reduce the likelihood of over-stressing the ship's structure and also complying with all essential safety measures for a safe passage at sea. Our detail pages contain various bulk carrier related topics that might be useful for people working on board and those who working ashore in the terminal. For any remarks please Contact us

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