FEATURE | Seven-year refurbishment for aids to navigation underway at UK’s Peel Ports

FEATURE | Seven-year refurbishment for aids to navigation underway at UK’s Peel Ports

Photo: Briggs Marine

It is a statutory requirement of the Peel Port Authority to provide aids to navigation (AtoN) to a standard set by the International Association of Marine Aids to Navigation and Lighthouse Authorities (IALA), and regulated by Trinity House and the Northern Lighthouse Board as the General Lighthouse Authorities.

Peel Ports Group is currently progressing refurbishment/replacement cycle to ensure that every floating AtoN will be refurbished across a seven-year period in order to meet the required standard of condition, visibility and buoyancy. Without the refurbishment programme, these AtoN will deteriorate and their quality will become less effective, potentially presenting hazards. Fixed AtoN are also going through a similar cycle.


Buoys are often necessarily placed in very exposed areas having to withstand heavy seas and weather over their deployment. As well as the buoy itself, the mooring attachments under the water are constantly battling with the fierce tides and movement from the waves. If any parts of the mooring become worn, then there is risk of the buoy breaking away from its station.

Without critical maintenance, AtoN could become ineffective either through extensive corrosion, discolouration or through reduced visibility caused by excessive marine growth reducing the freeboard. Without mooring chain inspection and replacement, there is a high risk of buoys breaking free, presenting a significant hazard to shipping and small craft.

Across its port network, Peel Ports is responsible, as the Local Lighthouse Authority (LLA), for 990 navigation aids, which include buoys, beacons, lighthouses and foghorns. On the Mersey, there are 175, Heysham 24, Manchester Ship canal 283, London Medway 222, Great Yarmouth 87 and Clydeport 199. And so, it is a major job maintaining these critical assets.


Peel Ports knew that it needed a partner to help achieve its ambitions and so contracted Briggs Marine, which has provided long-term management and maintenance services for the MoD, other port authorities, utility companies and, increasingly, offshore energy projects.

Peel and Briggs have a long-term relationship that allowed them to collaborate closely on the planning and execution of Peel’s AtoN strategy. Developing this into a delivery plan, Briggs Marine project managers factored in the company’s refurbishment facility in Burntisland, Scotland. The busy facility services the UK MoD’s heavy moorings and AtoNs from across the UK and further afield, as well as supporting a range of other port operators, offshore wind and oil installation requirements.


Briggs is tasked with lifting, inspecting and replacing the buoys as set by the seven-year maintenance plan. The company is also on 24/7 emergency call to attend to urgent faults such as lantern defects and buoy breakaways.

Photo: Briggs Marine

To ensure that their client’s priorities are being maintained and that any variations or anomalies are dealt with efficiently, Briggs Marine ensures continuous communication between themselves, Peel, buoy production and vessels. The company has claimed improvements in lanterns and telemetry technology have significantly improved reliability and AtoN availability – some challenges have been faced, however, with the new generation, self-contained lanterns. Briggs said that its close working relationships with specialist suppliers has ensured that such challenges can been overcome quickly.

In addition to its staff, Briggs has a large overhaul and storage facility in Burntisland has the capacity to recondition 300+ navigation buoys per year. Briggs lifts and inspects up to 45 per cent of floating navigation aids annually, 10 per cent of which are replaced with new or refurbished buoys.

The plan is currently in year six (of seven) and by the end, all the buoys will have been replaced.


Cameron (Photo: Briggs Marine)

The buoy handler vessel, Cameron is the main workboat used in the execution of the projects, supported by a range of smaller RIBs and other company vessels, including Kingdom of Fife on occasion.

Kingdom of Fife (Photo: Briggs Marine)

Briggs’ model is to ensure that vessels have a continuous stream of work, so far as possible. Downtime due to awaiting equipment or following a change of priority is avoided through well-established supply chains and management of change processes.

Buoy replacement – a day in the life of vessel crew

Crew on both Cameron and Kingdom of Fife work a four weeks on/four weeks off roster and live onboard for their entire tour of duty. They work a seven-day week, with deck work mainly taking place during daylight hours. The crews are all dedicated to mooring and AtoN work; some are qualified maintenance welders and all are familiar with gauging and reporting on condition found.

A typical day starts with the captain and crew organising their day’s work – this is generally reviewed in the morning to make sure that it’s fresh in people’s minds and that weather and tide can be taken into account in any late sequence changes. A toolbox talk covering main hazards, review of the vessel’s safe system of work, vessel serviceability and any particular concerns follows – this is recorded and signed off by each crew member before work is started.

Photo: Briggs Marine

Briggs programs vessels to try to ensure that positioning time is minimised but the complex effects of weather, tide and the work required will sometimes mean that there is a little downtime for deck crew during the day to catch up with paperwork. The work is continuous and follows a familiar pattern of preparing equipment and spares, recovering the buoy and ground tackle, cleaning, gauging and inspecting and returning it to the water.

The captain maintains a constant VHF dialogue with port control to keep them updated and ensures that passing traffic is aware of what’s going on. He also makes sure that the ship is aware of passing traffic and any wash that may affect operations. On completion of works, maintenance and reset of equipment is required before washdown and berthing of vessel.


“We’re proud to serve Peel Ports and to ensure that through the maintenance of their aids to navigation that they comply fully with safety regulations and meet the industry’s vision of ‘safe, economic and efficient movement of shipping,'”, said Malcolm Duncan AFNI, General Manager Aids to Navigation andMoorings, Briggs Port and Marine. “Peel Ports embrace this philosophy and so are upgrading their aids with more modern equipment. We’re delighted to be on this journey with them.”

“Our seven-year strategy is aimed at ensuring all our customers and cargo are kept as safe as possible,” commented Gary Doyle, Group Harbour Master, Peel Ports. “During the period, every one of our floating aids to navigation will have been reviewed and refurbished. This significant investment ensures the security and safety of our services, and allows arriving, departing and visiting ships to feel confident and safe while on the water.”

Photo: Briggs Marine

See all the other news, reviews and features of this month’s Marine Projects Week right here.

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