Getting on board – safety on ships

Jan 27, 2023

The experts from DEKRAmaritim, especially veteran Jochen “Jo” Becker, are mainly found in shipyards, ports, and at sea. They inspect vessels on behalf of owners and insurers. This calls for tact, because they don’t always deliver good news.

It measures 19.36 meters in length, is four meters wide, and has a sail area of 180 square meters: The SAMYRAH is a charter ship and is the current place of work of DEKRAmaritim expert Jo Becker. The ship is moored in front of Manfred Zappe’s workshop in Eckernförde, who recently gave her a new main engine. The SAMYRAH has been extensively refurbished over the course of the year. Becker monitored the progress, advised the owners, and, when the work is complete, will write an expert report on the boat for the insurance company and the Ship Safety Office of BG Verkehr.
Teak outside, dark mahogany cladding inside, and olive wood parquet: the SAMYRAH is made of fine woods. But over the years, the material has suffered. The original hull planking was weakening: when gluing the boat’s side wall, the planks had been stapled; the iron clips had remained inside – and rusted. This gradually undermined the structure, which is why the hull planking had to be replaced. In addition, the SAMYRAH has been given a new foremast, and the larger rear mast has been improved. The zinc anodes on the boat’s underwater section were also loose, which could lead to leakage in the planking while at sea; they were reattached.
“The biggest overhaul was the engine,” explains Jo Becker in the exposed engine room below deck. The exhaust gas collector had a leak and was constantly draining seawater into the combustion chambers. Repair attempts did not bring the desired solution – and so the old Ford Lehman engine was ultimately replaced by a new Mitsubishi with 96 hp by master engineer Manfred Zappe.

A regular visitor to ports and workshops

For Jo Becker, the repair work was not a big surprise. The 66-year-old has a well-trained eye and considerable experience in shipbuilding – and he is used to giving owners unpalatable news. Becker began his career as a bodyworker at Mercedes-Benz, studied naval engineering, and then worked as a self-employed shipbuilder. In 2003, after several positions, he finally joined DEKRA as an inspection engineer, setting up the shipbuilding department himself. Until then, DEKRA had not gained too much experience in this area. Becker was committed to the field and was supported by his branch manager Stephan Kramer. Over time, more and more orders came in and Becker’s activities increasingly shifted to the ports of the North Sea, the Baltic Sea, and the Mediterranean. Today, under the name DEKRAmaritim, he maintains a network of 27 other experts who carry out boat surveys on behalf of insurance companies and owners. The team’s work includes damage reports after accidents, reports on the commissioning of new boats, and after their restoration, as in the case of the SAMYRAH.

A lot of experience with boats

Boats have been part of the Hamburg-born expert’s life since he was a child. “It was an olfactory experience back then. I fixed a dinghy on the Alster with a school friend. I still have the smell of the old boat shed in my nose today. I have been fascinated ever since,” says Becker. A dinghy is a small support vessel; one of many technical terms from sea - faring that you hear when you talk to Jo Becker. He explains everything with such calmness and Nordic serenity, which is certainly an advantage in conversations with experienced and less experienced boat owners alike.
Becker knows them all: wealthy yacht owners, genuine seafarers, and amateur sailors. Sailing has become increasingly popular, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. Just like with dogs and vans: “Many people bought a boat during the pandemic without much prior experience. People eventually realize that a boat is a lot of work, and some want to get rid of it.”
Becker knows what he’s talking about. He also owns a boat with his wife, Rune Becker. The “SCHLICHTING” is a classic wooden boat and was built in 1923, so it will turn 100 years old next year. And an old boat like that needs a lot of attention. “It’s not for nothing that people say: we take care of the boat in winter; it takes care of us in summer”. Jo Becker is always on the water, both professionally and privately.

Exchange between boat surveyors

DEKRA colleague Benedikt Ruhkamp from the Schwerin branch is also in Eckernförde. The 31- year-old father of a young daughter shares Becker’s passion: he loves boats. He himself has two. And when the claims assessor was assigned a case with ships, he contacted his Hamburg-based colleague. Jo Becker wants to pass on his knowledge and already trains colleagues. And he can easily imagine that “Bene” will follow in his footsteps. Work on the SAMYRAH is due to be completed in December of this year. Then they will all meet again for a test sail. Jo Becker will then prepare an expert report including a hull certificate. In other words, the ship is on course.

I still have the smell of the old boat shed in my nose today

Jo Becker, expert für shipbuilding at DEKRAmaritim