Lifeboat safety: The mariners’ view

In a study of the use of mandatory equipment aboard cargo ships, the London-based Seafarers International Research Centre found:

• 55 percent of mariners would prefer a davit-launched closed lifeboat in an emergency.
• 40 percent would prefer a freefall lifeboat.
• 5 percent would prefer a davit-launched open lifeboat.
• A small number said they would choose a life raft.

When asked if they were happier to take part in drills where they did not board lifeboats or if they preferred drills where they did, seafarers were evenly split.

Researchers identified “a considerable amount of fear” among seafarers related to both davit-launched and freefall lifeboats. With freefall lifeboats, seafarers were most frequently fearful of the impact associated with a launch, citing stories of mariners sustaining back and neck injuries in drills. 

The study revealed that some captains avoided launching lifeboats due to concern for the safety of their crew, or for fear of being unable to retrieve a lifeboat undamaged — or at all — following a drill. In these cases, launches might be logged as having taken place when in fact a substitute drill may have occurred (a “table‐top” exercise, for example). 

Researchers also cited seafarers who refused to participate in drills because of safety concerns.

By Professional Mariner Staff