Have you ever wondered how large ocean vessels are prepared and stocked up so quickly for their next voyage? One important party that facilitates this turnaround are ship chandlers. 

Ship chandlers are a one-stop-shop that offer a full service to vessel operators. These services include but are not limited to food provisions, repairs, spare parts, safety inspections, medical supplies, general maintenance and much more. 

In other words, ship chandlers supply vessels with equipment and parts, facilitate the needs of the crew and ensure that the vessel is prepared for its upcoming departure. 

This article will focus on how vessels are prepared for their next voyage and what role ship chandlers play in this scenario. We’ll also be taking a closer look into the services and history of ship chandlers.

What is a Ship Chandler?

ship chandlers

Definition of Ship Chandler:

Ship chandlers are known to be a one-stop-shop or a full service company that offers food provisions, repairs, safety inspections and many other services to vessel operators. 

Any turnaround delays will impact the vessel schedule and incur a monetary penalty. In ship chandling terms, being able to perform in a high-pressure industry 24/7 is a must. 

A high performing port performs a vessel turnaround in 1 to 1.5 days. The port needs to maximize its revenue by working on the vessels, follow berthing schedules, and finish cargo loading/unloading. Therefore all needs and requirements of vessels need to be met with urgency.

This is where ship chandlers come in. Ship chandlers have their warehouses equipped with forklifts, racking systems, pallets, and customized software. They have ready stock of supplies to operate on a vessel at any given time.

Some ship chandlers even have their own dedicated logistics company complete with a trucking fleet to move in and out of the port to deliver their service to the vessel operators. They are able to fully supply a vessel and it’s crew faster than if the vessel crew managed this process themselves. 

Imagine you are part of a crew scheduled to leave Asia to the United States or Europe. All the food supplies, medical equipment and spare parts would need to be replenished, as there is no immediate help or assistance in the middle of the ocean.

Thanks to ship chandlers, that job is usually done in a matter of hours.

What Services do Ship Chandlers Offer?

Ship chandlers need to ensure that they are made aware of all of the supplies a vessel and its crew require before it arrives at the port of discharge. This gives them enough time to make the necessary arrangements to supply the ship. 

To put things into perspective here are some average transit times from Asia to the US and Asia to Europe:

  • Asia to Los Angeles Port: 21 to 23 days 
  • Asia to Hamburg Port: 28 to 30 days

With a quick turnaround time of about 1 to 1.5 days, the vessel needs to be fully stocked, repaired, and equipped especially to facilitate and support long voyages as exemplified above. Here are the most common services offered by ship chandlers:

1. Food Provisions 

Working on a vessel is very demanding. A crew must be given high-quality food and nourishment to perform at a high level.  

  • Food – fresh, frozen, chilled, locally available or imported 
  • Fresh bread and dairy products
  • Canned meat, vegetables, fish, fruit, and vegetables 

2. Ship Repairs

Ship chandlers may have existing contacts to supply vessel parts and services at a competitive price. This ensures that the vessel runs properly for succeeding voyages. 

  • General repairs for deck & engine departments
  • Crane repair
  • Overhaul and maintenance service
  • Emergency repairs 
  • Engine repair and overhaul

3. Cleaning Services 

Personal hygiene and a clean working environment are important when out at sea.  

  • Crew laundry services 
  • Cargo fuel tank cleaning
  • Deck cleaning
  • Room cleaning

4. Fumigation Services 

A vessel must be clean and void of any pest infestations. A ship chandler is able to also offer pest control services.

  • Pest control
  • Fumigation services (cargo and disinfection)

5. Rental Services

Ship chandlers can provide car or van services to allow seafarers to visit doctors, replenish supply or visit local sites. The service also includes a pickup schedule before boarding the vessel.

  • Car and van transport services
  • Use of shore cranes

6. Deck Services

Ship chandlers are also able to provide deck services to the vessel operator. These are common tasks that revolve around general maintenance and smaller repairs.

  • Maintenance of anchor and anchor chain 
  • Safety and life-saving equipment
  • Supply of marine paint and painting materials
  • Welding and maintenance work
  • General repairs

7. Engine Maintenance Services

A vessel’s engine needs to be in optimal condition. Engine maintenance is a scheduled task that is sometimes outsourced to ship chandlers.

  • Checking on valves, pipes and fittings
  • Supply of spare parts for main and auxiliary engines
  • Supply of lubrication oil and chemicals
  • Supply of bolts, nuts and screws
  • Maintenance of hydraulics, pumps and compressors

8. Radio Department

Communication with the crew and port is necessary for performing various ship operations. The ship chandlers must also have their contacts in the event computer and radio equipment need maintenance.

  • Computers and communication equipment
  • Photocopy machines and consumables
  • Supply of radio spare parts

9. Safety Equipment Inspection

Ship chandlers can also supply first aid kits, safety helmets and gloves, fire extinguishers, and hoses.

It is no secret that maritime accidents happen. The safety of seafarers should be given the utmost priority. Safety and life-saving equipment must be functioning in the event an accident happens while at sea. 

  • Inspection of lifeboat and raft
  • Inspection of fire fighting equipment
  • Inspection of safety equipment

As you can see the services of ship chandlers are vast and essential for a vessel to operate efficiently. The ship chandling business is a very competitive industry, whereby high service demand and competitive pricing are key points.

Ports, vessel owners and crew work together for maximum efficiency to avoid delays. Ship chandlers are expected to follow suit, operating 24/7, in the supply of ship requirements in the port of call.

Why Use a Ship Chandler?

As you know by now, ship chandlers play an extremely important role in the vessel supply chain. It’s best to understand the importance of ship chandlers by asking the following questions:

  • How do items get resupplied? 
  • What if there is a medical emergency? 
  • How does the crew address its needs? 
  • How does the crew sustain itself?
  • Who repairs the vessels?

Most people are used to the weekly service of the preferred carrier, its cutoff time, berthing schedule and container loading/unloading status. When cargo is urgent we want to be sure that our shipment gets loaded on the intended ETD. 

Using a ship chandler service speeds up the overall vessel supply chain. Like ports, convenience and efficiency are integral to the process. From the time of docking, a ship needs to be turned over within 1 to 1.5 days on average. 

Since most of the work is done by the port operator the crew must also be in tip-top shape. Ship chandlers service different types of vessels such as bulk carriers, container vessels, and oil tankers. Instead of talking to various parties, a ship chandler makes its service available exclusively to a vessel’s needs. 

A ship chandler commits to service on time and offers the competitive pricing for the goods and services the owner of the vessel requires. 

In summary, approaching a Ship Chandler will benefit the shipowner by:

  • Saving turnaround time
  • Offering discounts to purchases 
  • Giving attractive pricing to specific commodities 
  • Allowing for advanced supply preparation

History of Ship Chandling

Ship chandling is nothing new and has been around for many centuries. In the early years of shipping, it was common for vessel operators to resupply, repair and maintain their own ships during berthing. This was typically done by the crew.

It was only a matter of time until people realized that outsourcing most of these activities allowed vessel operators a faster turnaround time, which in turn saved them a lot of money.

Over the years, ship chandling has evolved and proven to be an important factor in timely vessel preparation. From providing rope, sail, and sail cloths, ship chandling now includes services such as provisions for food, vessel repair, transportation assistance, among many other services. 

There have been technological advancements such as the development of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software which allows ordering online even before a vessel berths. 

Investments in temperature-controlled rooms, reefer trucks, portable generators, and continuous training of staff have also been present trends that are taking ship chandling to the next level.

How to Become a Ship Chandler?

Generally speaking, setting up a ship chandling company is not hard. There are usually several country-specific requirements that can easily be looked up.

What is particularly challenging in the ship chandling industry is meeting a full range of scope and working under time pressure. The team involved may need to have a formal educational background, necessary accreditation to do vessel inspections, engine repairs, and safety inspections. 

The startup capital should also be enough to facilitate cost outlays and operating on credit. Pricing is generally very competitive and setting up a network of reliable suppliers is crucial. 

Balancing capital exposure and budget management are necessary skills in maintaining a ship chandling business. Down the line it may be recommended to join associations to learn industry best practices. 

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Gerrit Poel

Co-Founder & Writer
at freightcourse

About the Author

Gerrit is a certified international supply chain management professional with 16 years of industry experience, having worked for one of the largest global freight forwarders.

As the co-founder of freightcourse, he’s committed to his passion for serving as a source of education and information on various supply chain topics.