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'Lessons Learned' Strategies & Ideas for the Marine Industry

The Flow of Contract Information – Content, Form, & Timing

Many aspects of contracted workscopes for shipyard projects involve the flow of information between the parties, with the information  being as diverse as drawings, engineering calculations, noise measurements, test results, steel-and-air temperatures, megger readings, classification comments on drawings, and many others. These requirements are presented in the project’s specifications. In general, the flow of information requires a mutual understanding of the content, form and timing of the conveyance of the information, and sometimes the medium by which it is conveyed.

Specification writers often assume that the shipyard will understand why the owner’s staff needs the information required by some of the specification items. Implicit in that assumption is the premise that the shipyard will provide the correct information in a form that is useful to the owner and, moreover, will provide it on a timely basis. However, while the shipyard anticipates expending the fewest possible resources on the development and communication of that information, the owner anticipates something else.

Often the differences between the shipyard’s plan of action and the owner’s expectations for such communications become apparent in form and timing, as well as sometimes in content. When such misunderstandings arise, they are usually the responsibility of the specification writers’ implicit assumptions, rather than explicit requirements for the information. Avoidance of a misinterpretation, omission or delay in the  flow of the information arising from a specification item often is essential, if not critical to the project. Because of differing perspectives between owner and shipyard as to the resources needed to address information flow, a specification should separately address the content, form and timing of the requisite information to ensure that the owner’s needs for that item are fully and clearly communicated in the specifications.


While technical content of information is typically well defined, most persons in the industry can cite  examples where insufficient definition of the information’s content has been the basis of disputes, large and small.

For example, when a large change order during ship repair would impact vessel re-delivery date, the parties agreed that the extent of the contract extension was “to be determined,” with no further description given. Later, in arbitration over that issue, the owner said a pre-completion formal schedule impact analysis was expected; while the shipyard said the extension was to be determined by the sequence of actual completion events, however it turned out. This is but one example of the necessity of defining the content of information that is to be communicated at some later time.


Once the content of a given specification item has been nailed down, the next point to consider is that of form. Especially since the advent of computers and related technologies this point has become increasingly more important – and complicated. Paper or electronic? Merely using “electronic” may result in a non-searchable ‘pdf’ file. Instead, identify the application and the version of it by which the information can be effectively used.

Example: As-fitted drawings were to be provided in both printed and “electronic form.” When the owner received the drawings as a ‘pdf’ file, the owner’s unhappy response was initially directed toward the contractor, but later toward his own specification writers. (The shipyard had asked for an additional fee to provide them in a more useable electronic format.)


When is the most appropriate time for the owner to receive the information? An example of that question not being explicitly answered in the specifications involved the conversion of a RO/RO to a training ship, requiring much more accommodation space. All design engineering was provided by the owner except that the shipyard was to accomplish the HVAC engineering and design. The contract did not require that the HVAC engineering be done before assembly of the new accommodation structure. So after the structure was  mostly fabricated (to accelerate cash flow), the shipyard performed the engineering, only to learn that the HVAC distribution system would not fit. This led to the necessity of an extensive alteration in the configuration of the already fabricated deckhouse. If the engineering had been required to be accomplished pre-fabrication, a much less costly ‘fix’ could have been arranged.

Lesson learned: get the engineering done before the construction begins. This is an example of why the flow of information (HVAC engineering) should include the timing of when it is to be accomplished (before fabrication of the deckhouse).

Regarding the medium for the transmission of information, Fisher Maritime’s recent review of a proposed ship construction specification noted that it required that a certain dynamic test result be ‘tape recorded.’ At a number of other places it specified that data be stored on ‘magnetic media.’ With the appreciation that the owner did not want to receive these documents on an outdated floppy disc or magnetic tape, it was recommended that these specifications be updated to identify a more modern means of data storage. This illustrates why the medium by which information will be conveyed sometimes needs to be defined, as well.

There are numerous opportunities for inconsistencies and incompleteness in specifications for shipyard projects. Often they may be largely avoided by having persons other than the specification writer independently reviewing the specifications. Fisher Maritime routinely provides specification quality assurance services, ensuring uniformity throughout the specifications. To assist owner’s during the contract development and execution processes, Fisher Maritime also has a number of other resources available including training programs and publications.