Laytime Calculation

Period of time within which the loading or discharging operation is required to be completed will be prescribed in the charterparty and is known as laytime. It is at the charterer’s free disposal in that he is regarded as having paid for it in the freight. In the words of Salmon LJ, ‘Laytime is a sort of bogey for the course.’ If such period is exceeded, he will have to pay compensation to the shipowner in the form of demurrage or damages for detention. It is obviously in the charterer’s interest for the laytime period to be as extensive as possible in order to allow for unforeseen contingencies, whereas it is to the economic advantage of the shipowner to have a speedy turnround of his vessel and, with this object in view, he is often prepared to offer an inducement to the charterer in the form of dispatch money if the operation can be completed in a shorter time. Calculation of laytime:  The period of laytime may be stipulated in the charterparty either as a specific number of days or hours or in relation to a fixed rate of loading or discharge. Occasionally the wording is less specific, as when the charterer undertakes to load his cargo with ‘customary dispatch’ or ‘as fast as the ship can receive’. Such phrases are interpreted as imposing an obligation to load within a reasonable time according to the custom of the port and the charterer is expected to exercise reasonable dispatch in conducting the operation. Where laytime is expressed as a certain number of ‘days’ or ‘running days’, this is construed by the courts as meaning consecutive periods of 24 hours running without interruption except in the case where specific days are excluded, e.g. ‘Sundays and holidays excepted’. In the absence of any such excepted periods, time would run continuously through Sundays, holidays and other periods such as Saturday afternoons, during which it was not customary to work in the port. As this wording is merely regarded as an abstract formula for the calculation of average loading time, it is immaterial that it may be illegal to work on some of these days at a particular port. Traditionally such periods of 24 hours were regarded as calendar days running from midnight, but under modern forms of charterparty they will be treated as artificial or conventional days of 24 hours starting from the time when the notice of readiness to load expires. An alternative method of describing laytime is in the form of ‘working days’. A working  day is a day on which work is ordinarily done in the particular port, excluding Sundays and holidays (Fridays in Muslim countries). The term describes the character of the day as a whole, and consequently the day will count even though the charterer does not intend to load on that day or is prevented from doing so by bad weather, unless the latter is covered by an exception. The number of hours in a particular working day on which a ship is required to load will depend on the custom of the port, and Saturday will normally count as a whole day although it may not be customary to work in the afternoon. The phrase ‘weather working day’ is a further refinement, excluding from the calculation of laytime those working days on which loading would have been prevented by bad weather, had any loading been envisaged at that time. It is immaterial that the charterer had no intention of loading during such periods, since ‘the status of a day as being a weather working day, wholly or in part or not at all, is determined solely by its own weather and not by extraneous factors such as the actions, intentions and plans of any person’. Where only a part of the working day is affected by bad weather, an appropriate deduction from the laytime will be made in proportion to the length of the interruption. The term ‘weather’ is widely construed by the courts and has been held to cover not only rain and gales but also accumulations of ice which prevented loading. On the other hand, the weather must affect the loading process and not merely the safety of the vessel, with the result that the mere threat of bad weather, which resulted in a ship being ordered from the berth by the harbour master, did not prevent the period in question from counting as weather working days. A different method of assessment which is increasingly used in modern standardized forms is to base the calculation of laytime on a specified daily rate of loading or discharging, e.g. 120 tonnes per weather working day. The number of lay days is then ascertained by dividing the total amount of cargo by the daily rate and it would appear that any resulting fraction must be treated as an appropriate fraction of the working day and will not, as formerly, entitle the charterer to an extra full day. Often this formula is qualified by being expressed as a daily rate ‘per hatch’ or ‘workable hatch’. In the former case, the overall rate is calculated by multiplying the daily rate by the number of hatches, but the assessment in the latter case is not so straightforward. The term ‘working hatch’ is used to ‘denote a hatch which can be worked either because under it there is a hold into which cargo can be loaded or a hold out of which cargo can be discharged. Once the hold has been loaded or discharged it ceases to be a working hatch. Therefore the average daily quantity to be loaded into or discharged from the ship cannot be ascertained until the loading or discharging operations have begun, and may vary as those operations proceed.’ Only if all the hatches remain ‘workable’ throughout the loading or discharging operation will the calculation be reasonably straightforward, since it can then be assessed in relation to the time taken to load the largest hold.