Life boats

I guess the free fall would be ok but if there’s a big fish or something down there it’d certainly be a crash!, davits generally give time enough to deal with things but i guess above all I’d kick a raft over the side though waiting in the water wouldn’t be as nice as on the torpedo boat!


Not a good idea if you are on the windward side of a sinking ship, or there are burning oil on the water.
Freefall lifeboats gets clear from the ship in a hurry. They are tested and certified as “fireproof”:

PS> Instructors at the training centers do several drops a day for years without suffering injuries, so rumors about the danger may be exaggerated?

Mar 20, 2015
KatarsisTV joined cohort 93, when the fresh students were dropped 30 feet down to sea, during their penultimate day of the Crisis Management course at Falck Nutec:

Sorry, no subtitles.

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I’ll take my chances jumping overboard in a Bailey suit with an epirb had my own suit when I used to do yacht deliveries

Make sure you launch the raft off the lee side as the have a tendency to flip over if it’s windy and rough seas
Had to right one during a drill no fun

Hell of a way to make a living impact has to bounce your brain in your cranium
You wind up like an nfl player

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ok, ok, if the water is on fire the raft is out and yes, that enclosed boat stands up to swamping better than a life boat but i’ve been in those things and wonder if heavy seas wouldn’t manage to break one in two?
some of the longest survivals at sea were accomplished with a raft though!!
and they still float upside down!!, righting one, heavy weather or not isn’t easy and if you’re done in you’ll probably not get it done.

The yacht truism is you always step up into the life raft stay with the boat as long as possible
The round the world guys. Mostly Frenchman have a water tight compartment in the lazarett which you enter from the interior and exit through the transom. You can survive in there even if you capsize
The keel breaking off is not unusual

From what I have heard/seen It’s more often the recovery that causes incident rather than the drop itself. Also if the equipment is being used every day on the training ground, It’s probably in better shape than the davit and falls that are exercised quarterly. I Haven’t heard the same deadly rumors about a cruise ship’s tenders that often get worked weekly.

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Here’s quite a list, with and without injuries and deaths.

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Gravity boats are their own demons. Those hooks are so finicky that it can get anybody, which is why these accidents happen.

Free fall boats are much simpler, especially when in a drill. There’s no question as to whether or not the bridle is hooked up or not.


I struggle with this one. I too have heard the same quip everyone says about more killed/injured than saved. But I’m not sure that’s a useful metric. Even that statistic from the UK about 60 fatalities in 10 years during drills, so average 6/yr. How many vessels, how many drills, and how many participants were there in that 10 year period?

Gard P&I issued an article in 2004 stating they found from '92-'04 they had 32 accidental releases reported with 12 fatalities (and 74 injured). That is from all of their covered vessels (4,775 vessels in 2005). Assuming all of those vessels were holding their required weekly drills, that means by 2004 it was 1 fatality in nearly 250,000 drills, involving an unknown number of mariners…tens to hundreds of thousands? Is one death too many? Of course. Is there a better way? Not sure. Whats the statistical threshold for a major industry change?

Most of the incidents in that MarEx article appear to be maintenance related. Many were snapped cables. One linked incident was failed/corroded slings. Is that a design flaw? Maybe so, in that the design change needs to be to a less maintenance intensive system.

You could change to a marine evacuation system, but guess what, those have metal load bearing gear subjected to the same corrosive sea environment with required maintenance intervals. Though probably less likely to cause injury during a drill. But how does it compare in survivability in an evacuation? I’ve slid down one, somewhat straight forward, but you go one at a time then you still need to get everyone into a raft, in whatever weather you happen to be in.

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they are doing wonderful things in carbon fiber and Kevlar these days in terms of hardware, davit blocks and releases. spectra line would also be a significant improvement over steel wire rope which would not need slushing just shifting the nip on occasion at the hardspots on the davit blocks

I am only familiar with davit-launched lifeboats but I think the free-fall boats could be far safer to test.

This is from Safety4Sea, one of the reliable maritime websites: Lifeboat Launching Systems

Over-complicated design of systems and their components require extensive training to
operate correctly, but without high-quality instructions or operating manuals seafarers are
unlikely to acquire an adequate understanding of the system. This is supported by a 1996
amendment to SOLAS which requires thorough examination and testing of systems during
> survey by properly trained personnel familiar with the design. Unfortunately, this amendment
is not included in the legislation of many flag states.

It gets to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, if the crews don’t trust the launching system and testing is perceived to be unsafe the statistically safest move, at the margin, is to pencil whip the required log book entries.

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People die during lifeboat drills when a component in the lifting system fails when then boats are being lowered and recovered. The item that fails is often a hidden component that couldn’t have been detected by ship’s crew.

A simple solution to this is to ban people from being onboard lifeboats when they are being lowered/lifted. Unless it is an emergency of course. Elimination is the best way of eliminating risk and this would do that.

Some companies have banned the practice of people being in lifeboats when they’re being lowered and lifted but others haven’t. Banning it can create a lot of inconvenience for companies so they continue the risky practice.

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Lowering the boat in the water, releasing and running ahead and astern is required quarterly. If most professional mariners consider that to be unsafe how many are going ahead and doing the full drill?

Crew Confidence
Since 1989 there has been no incident reported under the U.K. regulations of a merchant
vessel using lifeboats to evacuate passengers or crew in an emergency. Some Masters have
reported that to raise their crew’s confidence in the system they regularly take an active part
in launching the lifeboats. However, it seems that number of people no longer feel that
carrying out drills is really safe and some crews seem to be reluctant to train with lifeboats. If
this reluctance is wide spread the necessary skills may not be readily available in the event of
a real emergency

From the Safey4Sea article.

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Maybe the Viking Life Craft system will solve the problem?:

At least on passenger ships and ferries, or other types of vessels where free fall lifeboat(s) is not practical.

PS> It is also possible to launch free fall lifeboat over the sides:

Source: Island Wellserver (03/2008) | Maritimt Magasin

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More on the Viking Life Craft:

The issue of inadvertent release is not the only problem with the davit-launched lifeboat, there is also the problem of getting the boat safely hooked back up to recover, especially in any kind of sea.

This problem is compounded if the crew lacks practical experience launching and recovering the boats.

There is a thread here of a rescue at sea where problems arose from a captain deciding to do a ship rather then a boat recuse.


I worked as engineer on ship for 13 years, mostly large tankers with freefall lifeboats. I now work as a lecturer, teaching the STCW short course, sea survival etc.
From what I can find, I’ve only read of one death from freefall, the guy fell from the platform where you board, so not actually a boat fault.
Davit launched lifeboats however kill people regular, it’s as big a killer as MOBs and enclosed spaces. Annoyingly this is all during drills and maintenance. Although a death in a real abandon situation would probs be classified as part of the ship sinking and not a fault in lifeboat.
I’ve been down many time in a freefall, as long as you’re strapped in properly and weight distributed evenly I feel perfectly safe, much rather launch off a boat that designed to fall, rather than go down on the davits where there is always a bigger scope for things to go wrong.

Test your limit switches before and after lowering/raising.
Use the correct thickness wire rope when replacing falls.
Use the correct grease.
A few of the common causes of failure.