The safe operation of lifeboats


When I was Mate I did not enjoy launching boats but always picked good days in port to do them. As Captain I really hated watching the guys launch boats because my concern level increased dramatically especially as I watched guys try to recover these boats. I really hate it when USCG is standing there watching, no one needs that additional stress with the block swinging around


I recall when I was mate Capt Blowhard used to hide in his office in case something went wrong. He’d reappear when he heard the boats being secured in the davits.


I like the idea that many problems can be solved by the presence of freefall lifeboats, although the recent report that the PSA has found things wrong with the way in which some semis are operated is because the construction of the boats is not sufficiently substantial for them to survive the dive from the main deck. Also as someone has pointed out, if you have freefall lifeboats you need to have a proper rescue boat, and to be able to deploy and recover it safely.

But that still leaves us with thousands of davit launched boats. We should remember that over the years the launching systems have been changed apparently to improve the possibility of their use in adverse weather. Many of us who are now shore based or retired remember that the only way of launching a boat was to put it into the water and then unhook it, and the only way of recovering it was to hook it on again. Mostly this worked although people did get their fingers squashed. We then progressed to “off load” release gear so that when the boat was in the water you could pull a lever and release it, and then to “on load” release gear which allowed you to pull a lever and release the boat, even if it was still above the water (The latter system provided with an interface to ensure that the boat is in the sea, but which can be overridden). Both these systems require a cam to be reset and both have a number of moving parts which require maintenance. No matter what, the requirement for maintenance will not go away, and it is mostly during maintenance that boats have fallen off the falls, killing the occupants.

The need for lifeboats is a perceived requirement rather than a properly evaluated means of reducing the risk of loss of life, so is it time to re-evaluate their usefulness, or at least differentiate between oil industry objects and ships.


I don’t find anything in in the recent PSA reports to indicate that freefall lifeboats in particular has any deficiency with hull strength. The question of hull strength applies to both freefall and davit launched boats:

The detailed reports issued to Maersk, Transocean and Odfjell is available (in Norwegian only) by link and in PDF format .

I don’t believe that freefall lifeboats solve all problems, but it beats all other means of evacuation, except helicopter evacuation, or safe to port IMHO.

To allow covered and davit launched lifeboats to serve as MOB boats is as much a mistake as allowing small zodiacs launched by crane and placed aft near the propeller. Both is paying lip service to the rules.

Freefall lifeboats can at least get away quickly and reasonably safely. Try getting away from a rig or platform with burning oil on the water in a rubber liferaft, or from the loward side of a ship in a conventional lifeboat.

Agree. With properly equipped ERRVs in the field and helicopters on call 24/7 the evacuation needs are well covered.


The validity of this statement can be seen if anyone ever sailed aboard the SL-7’s. The lifeboats did not have (and still don’t to my knowledge) electric motors on the winches to pick the boats back up. You either cranked them up by hand or attached a portable air drill to the crank shaft to lift them up. I always found the setup rather amusing.


I missed this one by a few months, but it shows a lifeboat sheltering alongside on the leeward while awaiting arrival of a ship to rescue them:

This is the Slidre Timur wrecked on Parker Reef off Queensland, Aust. in 1971. All got rescued but three suffered minor injuries.


That’s the thing, there was never a single point where the boat switched from safe to unsafe, it was little by little. And not just the equipment gradually got less usable. Crews slowly shifted away from using the boats as work boats, heights slowly went from 7 or 8 meters from the sea to 25 or more meters, port times been getting shorter, few chances to launch.

Not to mention all the reports of mariners getting killed or injured.

Then one windy, choppy day with a new crew you think, I don’t think it’s a good idea to put the boats in.


Another lifeboat accident.


The Sheila McDevitt (currently Mississippi Enterprise) was the same way. We had to have the ABs lug out this heavy pneumatic pump from a locker way back aft and hook it up to the winch to get the boats home. It was quite a process… the only other option being to crank those bitches back up by hand.

When we brought the boats up with the pump it sounded like a NASCAR pit crew at work down on deck.


I heard she was supposed to get new boats in the shipyard. I guess they took it to Bahrain this summer (2018).


I recall asking the port engineer several times if there were any plans to do so, he routinely laughed it off as both unnecessary and expensive.

Guess that changed… thank goodness. I routinely had shit stolen out of those open boats in foreign ports, not to mention they were tired pieces of crap.