Does your VDR work? Don’t wait to find out!

Ship VDR

This safety alert reminds vessel owners and operators to periodically validate the proper operation of their vessel’s Voyage Data Recorder (VDR).

Annual certifications performed by equipment technicians in accordance with international Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) requirements may not be enough to ensure your best interests are met.

Initial system testing may also be inadequate to detect installation and operational deficiencies. VDR data is extremely important to marine investigators during accident reconstruction. However, it can also be highly valuable to vessel owners and operators.

Following an accident, VDR data can assist owners and operators evaluate the performance of shipboard personnel and vessel equipment, while also helping to determine causal factors related to an incident. This information can be essential for resolving damage claims arising from an accident.

Periodic reviews of VDR data can also help detect unsafe practices and equipment problems before a marine casualty occurs. Investigations into several recent groundings in the Pacific Northwest have revealed that the VDR equipment was not operating properly and not configured in accordance with SOLAS requirements.

In one instance, over sixteen inputs were not recorded, likely due to improper initial programming of the unit. In another incident, personnel had difficulty accessing the information, possibly due to changes in a computer operating system. Although the data was eventually extracted, critical radar information was not captured.

Other areas of concern established by casualty investigations over the years point to insufficient deck officer knowledge about the operation of the VDR and most importantly the method to capture the data immediately after an incident.


If an owner or operator is uncertain about the functionality of a vessel’s VDR, now might be the time to validate its performance. Because of these recent incidents it is strongly strongly recommended that owners and operators of vessels equipped with VDRs take the following actions:

  1. Ensure Deck Officers understand VDR operation and know how to initiate the “Save Data” function immediately after an incident;
  2. Employ a qualified service engineer to perform line-by-line functionality validation of all the required inputs, their storage, data coverage timeframe, and ability of this data to be properly played back with the appropriate equipment, operating systems and software available. The line-by-line validation of VDR inputs, data storage and quality of data may be achieved through a download of the data, analysis, and playback on appropriate equipment. The service provider should also check and inspect all batteries, enclosures, location aid devices, and power supplies with their associated alarms in accordance with manufacturer instructions.
  3. Implement a company policy to periodically test the VDR (in additional to the required annual certification) to ensure complete operation of the system; and
  4. Incorporate the above recommendations in the vessel’s Safety Management System and maintenance record keeping systems.

This safety alert is provided for informational purpose only and does not relieve any domestic or international safety, operational or material requirements.


[Total: 2]


  1. As a safety investigator for many years, I found the VDR backup after an accident/incident was often not done despite my requests. I think some crew don't understand that it is actually in their interest to have the records captured! On too many occasions I also found the VDR was not operating or not correctly operating. It was very frequently the case that those on board did not know ( or particularly care ) about how the equipment worked.
    As the standards change ( increase) some of the problems will disappear but oversight and interest in the equipment needs to increase to everybody's benefit.

  2. Also all Deck officers need proper familiarization and should be familiar with frequent function check for the input/sensors. It’s not enough to have an annual shore based certificate on board.Company policy should be there for periodically test the VDR to ensure the equipment not tampered and functioning properly for the purpose.

  3. I agree with comments of Capt.Nazrul , It is often observed (audits) that the responsible Officers are not familiar with the periodic testing operation and maintenance that must be performed according to the VDR manufacturer's recommendations .

  4. Like all good SMS it must be led from the top! People are more likely to do things if they can see a reason or benefit for themselves! If managers were to install and encourage use of the replay facilities available with VDRs for instance, junior officers might use them for their own training purposes. It would be useful for them to be able to review a pilotage at a not so busy time to better understand things like BRM, manoeuvring, tug work etc. Companies might also make use of them to pass knowledge about a particular port to masters and officers who have not been there before or after a long absence.

  5. As a past Manager of a Ship Inspection & Vetting Department for an Oil Major we started, in 2006, promoting the pro-active use of the VDR. This was after noting issues highlighted above when assessing casualty investigation reports. OCIMF has now an Information Paper (available via their website) and additional information is available from Avenca (a company specialising in analyses of, and benefits from, such positive use). The pro-active use of the VDR is now an example of Best Industry Practice within the Tanker Industry.