Lifeboat Drills – Ensure They Are Safe

We noted the all too frequent reports on injuries and fatalities of seafarers whilst testing the launching and recovery of lifeboats. Industry misgivings have been brought before the International Maritime Organization (IMO) for several years; these are based on sound risk management principles, which understandably go in the direction of caution. The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) however, primarily concerns itself with the emergency evacuation of a ship. It does not take account of drills other than to say they should be conducted as realistically as possible. More importantly, SOLAS does not cover recovery of lifeboats in any detail, yet this is when most accidents have occurred.

The Industry Lifeboat Group (ILG) continues to apply pressure where it can, promoting good practice such as the use of Fall Preventer Devices (FPD) and hanging off pennants used to by-pass the hook. Photographs below show FPDs (between hanging-off lug and fall) and Hanging- off pennants (between hanging-off lug and davit arm) rigged for use.


It is important that FPDs are made of resilient material that can absorb shock. In the photo the same principle has also been applied to the hanging-off pennant. This ensures any failure of the hooks would not induce a large shock loading, which in a wire or chain could cause the latter to sequentially fail as the materials have limited resilience. Furthermore, as can often be found in incident reports, corrosion in wires can be present and could cause weakening of wire strops.

The master is the supreme authority responsible for the safety of his crew (See ISM Code). So it is in the master’s interests (and indeed the ship manager’s) to go further than the stated capabilities of the boats and davits and conduct a proper risk assessment to determine the consequences of a failure. Beware though; falls still remain a single point of failure. In the initial swinging-out operation, when many disruptive loads can occur they too can be by-passed by hanging-off or maintenance pennants that attach the boat directly to the davits (see photo). There have been some notable accidents recently in which falls parted and many seafarers paid with their lives (7 lives in 3 accidents!). We will discuss this in more detail in a future edition of Maritime FEEDBACK.