The Ultimate Guide to Underwater Signage for the Energy Sector

So you’ve been tasked with finding the most suitable method of labelling your subsea equipment, where do you start…… well right here!

We have created this guide to help you through the decision process ensuring the correct material and fixing specifications are chosen for your project.

What is underwater signage?

Sounds obvious but, signage suitable for use underwater! Our oceans and waterway are used by the Energy sector in many ways, such as oil and gas extraction from the seabed and wave and tidal for renewables.

Subsea production systems can be complex – housing multiple production wells, supporting manifolds and templates which then connect to a series of flow and pipelines. The location and connection of each piece of equipment are meticulously designed, engineered, and planned on the surface, however, it is underwater that everything must be installed, hooked-up and maintained.

Why is good underwater signage vital?

Underwater signages help the diver or ROV (remotely operated vehicle) navigate the marine environment and safely identify and operatee subsea equipment.

What Are Aquasign Subsea Markers?

Companies that approach us are often in need of subsea signage that will last a long time (and save them money in the long-run) and be environmentally friendly. That’s why we created Aquasign Subsea Markers.

We talk a lot about our flagship product in this guide – Aquasign subsea markers, as this is the premium material to use in an offshore marine environment.

It provides guaranteed long term anti-fouling performance (prevents the build-up of marine growth) and has undergone a huge amount of third party testing to qualify its use in harsh environments.

Do you need premium signage?

Not necessarily.

Aquasign Subsea Signage is a premium product but it doesn’t mean it’s the most suitable for your application – maybe you don’t need something to last underwater long term or are not concerned about marine growth.

The likelihood is, you will still require some sort of signage, you may just need a cheaper or different kind of material. We offer both premium and cheaper alternatives, so do get in touch if you’d like to know more about our different products.

If you’d like to learn more about underwater signage you can read more in our supporting blogs;
· Subsea asset identification: What is it and why it matters
· 4 good reasons to include asset identification

What is Aquasign Subsea Signage Used On?

Aquasign has been used subsea for more than 30 years and in that time has been applied to pretty much every type of equipment.

1. Signage for Valves

Valves are designed to control the flow or movement of something. In a subsea environment, these are vital as they help control the flow rates of liquid or gas for the subsea production system. They can also be used to shut off or isolate specific areas or equipment.

2. Signage for Subsea Trees

A subsea tree is an assembly of valves and controls that are fixed over the top of a well to manage the flow rates from both of the reservoir and surface controlling fluid and/or gas injection requirements. Electronic and hydraulic functions are connected by way of umbilical or flowlines

3. Signage for Manifolds

These are the templates or structures used to connect the various trees or wellheads within subsea development. These too contain various valves and control panels that allow specific sections to be isolated for testing or sampling.

4. Signage for Platforms

Offshore platforms are huge structures fixed to the seabed and used for a variety of reasons, such as drilling, storage and processing. Sometimes referred to as jackets, fixed versions are typically constructed from steel or concrete (gravity-based structures) and are used in shallow to mid-water depths.

5. Signage for Floating Systems

Floating systems are more common in deepwater applications or area where it is more challenging to reach the sea bed. There are various type of floating platforms such as Spars that can connect to the subsea production system and seabed using tensioning but the most common type of floating applications would be FPSO (Floating Production Storage and Offloading). This is a floating vessel which can be used to hook up to the subsea production system removing the need of a fixed platform or assisting with additional storage and production facilities.

6. SURF & Pipelines Signage

SURF is Subsea Umbilicals, Risers and Flowlines. These are essentially the veins or nerves of the subsea production system. They provide an essential connection between the surface and subsea to enable the production process.

The flexible nature of the material and a wide variety of fixing options means that Aquasign subsea markers can easily be attached to coated steel panels, concrete pipelines and GRP grated manifold roofs.

What factors should I consider for my underwater project?

If you’re looking at investing in subsea signage, then you’ll need to understand the following:

  1. Cost Factors
  2. Signage Placement Factors
  3. Life Expectancy Factors
  4. Size and structure of the Subsea Systems
  5. How vulnerable your signage is to marine growth
  6. How much maintenance and repair you want to do

We’ve broken these down further below, so you can establish what kind of signage you require. This is a great activity to go through before you contact any subsea signage supplier – including us!

1. Cost Factors

Cost should be the only driving force in a purchasing decision. Here at AQUASIGN we have a host of materials and manufacturing processes to suit every budget and want to know more about your application so that we can ensure the correct products are used.

2. Signage Placement Factors

Understanding where the signage is to be applied and how long you need it to last should be the key factors.

3. Life Expectancy Factors

Subsea equipment has to be designed and engineered to be reliable enough to withstand the harsh marine environment throughout the lifespan of the field – typically 25 to 30 years, however, new projects are seeking to push life expectancies to 50+ years.

4. Vulnerability to Marine Growth Factors

Fixed or static equipment within shallow depths is more subject to marine biofouling. The marine growth on subsea assets can not only impact the ability to identify the correct piece of equipment but can create significant stress on the materials. The expected weight loading impact must be considered during the initial design phase and regular cleaning is required to identify the equipment and complete required maintenance.

Whilst biofouling will still occur, even at ultra-deepwater depths, the volume or mass of marine growth on structures is significantly reduced. However, there are other hazards due to the impact of pressure at this depth all installation, repair and inspection work must be completed by AUV or ROV.

5. Size and Structure of the Subsea Systems

The size and structure of the subsea systems will vary depending on the purpose as well as geographical positioning. These can be fixed or floating, modular or extremely complex housing multiple wells in either shallow or ultra-deepwater – each of these pose their own set of challenges;

6. Maintenance and Repair Factors

Underwater signage on the equipment will aid throughout the complex installation process as well as inspection, repair and maintenance programs. Given the risks and hazards associated with these operations selecting the correct method and specification if vital, and this is where we can help.

What Options Do You Have When It Comes to Subsea Signage?

1. Design

First things first – what do you need on your signage – typically underwater markings are alphanumeric, however, there may be a need for a warning symbol or a desire for a company logo. There is also the possibility of using QR / bar codes or perhaps simply targets for inspection points.

Typically subsea markings are produced using black text/design onto a yellow background. This is said to provide the most effective colour contrast underwater. We can however produce any colour combination required.

2. Materials

Aquasign Materials – 
Aquasign is a unique silicone-based material that exudes oil (similar to a fish skin) to prevent the attachment of marine growth to its surface. Typically supplied to a 3mm thickness the material is extremely flexible making it suitable for both flat and cylindrical applications. The characters are moulded which limit the text size to 10mm, however, ideally, you do not want to be reading anything smaller than this underwater! Learn more about what Aquasign is made of.

Lumino –
This is a highly reflective digitally printed material encased within a polycarbonate shield. The new product developed specifically for deepwater applications where signage can be seen from a greater distance in low visibility environments.

Aquajet Nameplate –
Carbon steel, waterjet cut nameplates that are then coated in an appropriate anti-corrosive and antifouling paint scheme. Use restricted to flat applications given the nature of the material. Learn more about Aquajet Nameplates here. 

RFID/QR Codes –

We can produce QR or bar codes in various materials – this offers an alternative marking identification to the traditional alphanumeric and is commonly used for underwater survey applications.

RFID is more widely used on the surface, bringing it underwater is more of a challenge. We have worked with RFID manufacturers to successfully encase the chips within our Aquasign silicone material. This will ensure the chips are protected from the marine environment and that marine growth will not affect the ability to read them over time. Let us know what software you are looking to incorporate, and we can tell you more.

Metal Nameplates –

Traditional style nameplates that can be engraved or chemically etched and then infilled with paint to provide a robust method of capturing traceability information. We stock 316 marine grade steel in a range of thicknesses.

Laminated Plastic –

Cost-effective solution that uses multi-layered plastics which are engraved to create a colour contrast. Although widely used subsea there is no guarantees on the longevity of this project so best to avoid for critical markings that are required to be visible throughout the project life span. Available in 0.8mm, 1.5 and 3mm thickness with a wide range of colour options.

Vinyl –

Is another cost-effective solution, this can be provided as stencil templates to allow subsea marking to be painted into the surface or alternatively digitally printed signage. Again no guarantees can be provided on longevity so vinyl tends to be used for temporary applications.

6.Fixings

Attachment of your underwater signage can be just as important as the material selection itself, especially if you need it to withstand the saltwater environment. We have a choice of fixings suitable for every application and environment;

Self Adhesive – KISS

KISS (Keep It Simple Seal) is our innovative self-adhesive range. This is our standard fixing for coated steel applications. Removes the need to apply adhesive to the back of the marker, simply peel off the cover and stick into position. But to ensure this subsea sticker can withstand the test of time you must seal the edges of the marker using Biohesive 225.

Standard Adhesive

Biohesive 225 is our recommended all-round adhesive and sealer. It can be used on a wide range of substrates, has excellent temperature ranges and is really easy to use. It is a single component RTV (Room Temperature Vulcanisation) which basically means it starts to cure as soon as you use and no need for measuring and mixing.

Mechanical

The most common mechanical option is bolted, we can easily incorporate the required bolt holes into the signage material to allow fixing using bolts or rivets.

For tubular applications we offer a strapped fixing – we would attach signs to the strapping material in-house so they are delivered to you as one assembly and can be secured in place using a banding or cable tie system. Multiple signs can be attached to the one assembly for ease of installation. This is commonly used on umbilical or pipeline markings where there is a need for the marker to be visible at specific points around the circumference.

Ensuring your signage is applied correctly on the surface is one thing. Here at AQUASIGN, we strive to develop fixings that are easy and safe to use. We provide detailed installation guides as well as video – find out more in our learning centre.

The biggest challenge however is ensuring it can withstand deployment subsea as well as the saltwater conditions for a minimum of 30 years. All of these methods are qualified for long term attachment subsea, learn more.

How quickly can I get underwater signage?

This is dependent on material, manufacturing process and quantity. However, we pride ourselves in meeting our customers’ project deadlines. We are often the last piece of the puzzle and need to react quickly so most of our materials are stocked and our lean manufacturing processes mean our typical lead times are 5-10 days*
(with the exception of coated Aquajet plates which are subject to paint specification dry times etc. ~ 6 weeks)

How do I order it?

Get in touch with us using our contact form or email: Solutions@Aquasign.com

If you’d like to speak to someone, just call us on: +44 1224 897060

Let us know about your project and we can help provide the best solution. If you have drawings or designs great, share them with us – but don’t worry if you don’t we can create these for you.

Get in touch

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