Measures to Stop Accidents on Lifeboats


Lifeboats, though designed with a view to saving you from trouble at sea, are not infallible. Nothing is. Of course, they do their job and they do it well, but this is not to say that they cannot themselves be involved in an accident. Thankfully, the vast majority of accidents on lifeboat occur during drills, perhaps because people are less alert than they’d normally be, because it’s not a “real” situation. People can become lax when partaking in something that is more or less a routine operation.The fact that these accidents more frequently take place during practices means that fatalities tend to be lower, although they do still occur, taking the lives of trained professionals.You will never be able to prevent all accidents on lifeboats from occurring; the best you can do is come prepared and know the main causes of them – forewarned is forearmed.

lifeboat_accident-1The Main Causes of Lifeboat Accidents

A recent study published by the International Maritime Organization and the Maritime Safety Committee stated that the following categories cover the overwhelming majority of lifeboat accidents that involved the injury or death of a crew person:

  • the failure of the on-load release mechanism;
  • the accidental usage of the on-load release mechanism;
  • the insufficient maintenance of lifeboats, launch equipment and davits;
  • failures in communication;
  • a lack of familiarity with lifeboats and the associated equipment;
  • unsafe practices during lifeboat inspections and drills; and
  • other design faults.


All of the above causes of accidents on lifeboats are easily preventable. But the question that still remains: how do you prevent these accidents from occurring altogether? How to Prevent Lifeboat Accidents?
The Committee came up with several methods in which they could increase the safety of lifeboat operation and cut down on the potential accidents on lifeboats. The first thing they did was to write a circular, then they asked Member Governments to bring said circular to the attention of any and all relevant parties, such as industry organizations and ship crew-members.

Included in that circular were the following instructions:

  • ensure that the on-load release mechanism is in compliance with the various requirements of the LSA Code (specifically paragraphs –;
  • make sure that all relevant information regarding the adjustment and maintenance of lifeboats and associated equipment is available on board;
  • all personnel carrying out inspections and maintenance of the lifeboat and associated equipment must be both fully trained in and familiar with said duties;
  • the maintenance of lifeboats and associated equipment must be carried out in adherence to the approved practices;
  • health and safety requirements apply to drills as they do to “real” procedures;
  • lifeboat drills must be conducted in accordance with the SOLAS regulation III/19.3.3;
  • any personnel carrying out maintenance or repair must be qualified for the job;
  • hanging-off pennants should be used only for maintenance, not during training;
  • lifeboat inspection must be regular and thorough;
  • all equipment must be durable in rough conditions and easily accessible; and
  • all tests for safety and life-saving equipment must be conducted rigorously to guidelines, newly created by the International Maritime Organisation.


What Else Can Be Done?

For the most part, accidents on lifeboats can be prevented simply by exercising some caution and common sense.

Make sure that everything on your lifeboats – both fixed and loose – is functioning as it should, and give the boat an inspection to ensure that the power supply, the engine, the steering and the bailing mechanism are all working correctly.

Keep crew down to a sensible level to avoid over-crowding, and regularly check over the davits;

if you see any corrosion or defamation, set to work repairing them and ensure they’re well-lubricated.

What steps will you take to prevent lifeboat accidents on ships? Let us know in the comments below.


Source: marineinsight


[Total: 1]


  1. When lowering the boat to the level of the boatdeck never keep crew and passengers along the gunwhale; they must be kept opposite. The dropping from the pendant boat will smash all those located at the gunwhale.

  2. i think when the methods change of course, for example before the lowering the boat must be load with some heavy píeces acording with the load that he boat was built, and all the wires of this equipment must be inspected and tested

  3. We are lowering the lifeboat as two centuries ago! Operational area should be completely closed and crew and passenger should be waiting for imbarcation not in the muster station but inside a dedicated corridor. System should be completely automathed and operated by compressed air reservoirs: crew should only push two buttons: one for put lifeboat in embarkation position and the other to lower it down to the water. We are going to send people on Mars but we are not able to state that lifeboat lowering should be completely automate: shocking!

  4. Modify the onload release capability of the hook preventing it from opening during launch and recovery. Once afloat open the hooks to release the falls. For drills and tender purposes onload release should not be required. On load release has killed more than it has saved.

  5. I work on cruise ships..
    The lowering with people inside it's a nightmare for everyone..imagin people who are forced to go inside for lowering..
    Instead of the yearly check of crain..winch..i suggest a 6 months mandatory check and it should be performed by qualified personnel only..not from shipboard..

    Every time a lifeboat drill must be done..every single lifeboat which will be lowered..must be lowered and rised at least three time with nobody inside..using the brake simulating a releasing break from the called emergency release...after the 3 times test..than can be the best time to ask the crew to board a lifeboat for a drill....never ever without doing the test without people inside FIRST..
    Many other accident could be prevented..
    I hope somebody will take in consideration this suggestion..

  6. Stop lifeboat practices lowering the lifeboat.mostly all participants in the lifeboat are from the hotel dept..and few crew from deck and engine dept.specially the old lifeboat stop lowering cause all mechanism are old and not working properly. ..

  7. The lifeboats are life saving appliances. They are all certified, underwent FAT and SAT and what ever other test and are subject to class regulation. Once installed it is all about regular operation and maintenance and training done by experienced personnel confident with the equipment. The 'regular, training and experienced' are the key words.

  8. Most of the Lifeboat Drills are not actually carried out. These are only fake entries in the Log-books.
    Crew are not familiar with the use of LSA & FFA.

    IF drills are actually carried out onboard and Master, Ch. Off, Deck officers take Intrest for crew familiarization, accidents can be avoided.

  9. It is sad to read those accident reports involving lifeboat drills. Nothing much has happened since I started my seagoing career 44 years ago except the fact that fatalities related to LB drills launch/recovery have increased dramatically. Some experts are blaming IMO, some manufacturers and unfortunately too many are blaming the operators. The reasons behind are quite obvious but may be argued depending on their position and from which point of view they might have. So all of them are perhaps right. However, we should stop arguing and instead start doing something. Regulations, design, regular operation, maintenance, prudent supervision, inspections and training are the keywords. Hook simulators could be used for advanced on-load release training onboard. Someone already mentioned the human ambition to go to Mars and in fact we have already been in the moon almost 5 decades ago, but we cannot make safe lifeboat release and recovery. With modern technology, this should be easy for the designers to make the system foolproof but there are too many regulatory hurdles from dinosaur time to pass. How many more lost lives are needed for real actions?

  10. I wonder how many people have been killed by/in lifeboats say since 1990. I think it is close to a hundred innocent lifes. How many have lifeboats saved in same timeframe? Would be interesting to get the data. The name LIFEBOATS indicate saving lifes, but crewmembers are today scared of them, as the opposite of saving have happen.

    I agreed with Granquist, design should changed completely. This is not taken seriously by industry. I do not know what it will take. Look at airline, what effort they put in after an accident, but in shipping, not much happen. Another example of how lapse rules are; ships built prior 1986(most all US flag ships) can carry open lifeboats, as new rules do not effect older tonnage. That means if a new improvement is made, it could take 30 years to be effective, as shipowners have a good lobby, that prioritize economy before safety.

  11. The biggest curse to lifeboats was the provision of on load release. Fine possibly when new but even when properly lubricated and maintained, wear through practice use coupled with the marine environment they have to endure plus their inherent sensitivity makes them unpredictable and dangerous after a few years. Given the increasing size of boat/tender these things are fitted to the scope and consequence of failure also increases having surveyed and witnessed the results of failure I speak with some knowledge.
    It's easy to blame lack of maintenance, poor launching techniques etc as causes of failure, however for me the principal culprit is the release mechanism itself. Like all critical pieces of machinery which cannot properly be evaluated as within tolerance they should have a shelf life i.e. renewed after a fixed period. Unpopular with owners but it's the only way lives will be saved.

  12. A lot of accidents happen during servicing. Use the Survitec Safelaunch.
    The award-winning, IMO-compliant Safelaunch release and retrieval system - designed, developed and manufactured by Survitec Survival Craft.
    Featuring only the highest quality materials and manufacturing standards, Safelaunch is reliable and robust - and requires minimum maintenance. Our global installation teams will train your crew on correct operation and maintenance - and we can perform refresher training during the annual maintenance inspection.

  13. Approximately twenty-three years ago a major offshore oil and gas E&P company assigned their ergonomic consultant to conduct an extensive evaluation of lifeboats made in the U.S. in preparation of buying lifeboats for their newest deep water rig. A part of this evaluation was a review of reports covering approximately 100 lifeboat accidents that had occurred on ships and offshore structures over the previous ten-year period. Not surprisingly the root cause of the majority of these accidents were deemed to be due to operator error. Poor design which encouraged, allowed or even forced crew members to make unsafe acts was the most frequent assessed "root cause" but other human elements such as poor training, poor or non-existent manuals and instructions, incomplete or incorrect maintenance, and supervision were also identified as "causes" of lifeboat accidents, which almost always occurred during drills and not during actual launch. My guess is that few, if any, of you are aware of that evaluation. One lifeboat manufacturer was however and aggressively incorporated many of the recommendations made by the HFE consultant in their new lifeboat designs. I wonder if that company's boats have ever been involved in a dropped lifeboat accident?

  14. Like with many things, it starts with the design which should take human element issues into account: everything from easy maintainable, understandable for the actual end user. Combined with actual competence management for those intended to use the appliance (determining what makes the ship's crew competent to inspect, maintain and operate the equipment), rather than limiting same to the reactive legislative approach (training requirements generic and reactive). Training and operation on board based on detailed risk assessment as well as frequent to create a sense of automatism and a shared mental model among the members of the crew and the company personnel. It's not really a hard thing to do, it's just that there are many other things that need to be done as well and what we publicly say is our no.1 priority might not actually be.

  15. Lifeboats are designed as one-way escape life saving appliances....not as training devices. The offshore industry is switching to simulation training to ensure competence and enhanced maintenance regimes to ensure equipment reliability. A modification to SOLAS to align with modifications to the MODU Code would go a long way to enhancing lifeboat safety onboard ships. Crews need to be confident that they can evacuate under difficult conditions. I doubt that the existing training strategy is achieving this goal.

    • There have been some dramatic results with Sim training. 1000 practice launches per year under realistic conditions on a single oil platform. Transport Canada has done extensive testing and skills learned in the simulator can be directly transferred to the boat. Some Canadian and US schools have already switched to simulation training and the North Sea has started installing systems on offshore installations. It's defiantly worth a second look.

  16. I'm sure that could prevent accidents if the crew follows procedures (ISM code) and practice regularly according to the manual. It is also very important to check the maintenance of onboard equipment.

  17. I work on a cruise ships as SCE . The way we do this is to lower the lifeboats without any crew inside. The Rescue boat is lowered as well and once it is in the water, the commanders and 2nd commanders of the lifeboats embark the rescue boat from a side platform which is taking them to their lifeboats. Once the drill is finished, they hook the lifeboat and the crew exit into the rescue boat. So in that case the lifeboats are lowered and restored with out crew member inside.

  18. Design...Design...Design....

    Its time the marine industry learned from the air industry. By the time its decided to use a lifeboat, its a one way trip and should be designed as such. Air Industry evacuations are one way only with no intention of recovering equipment or personnel.

    Its a one way trip, marine or air, design as such.

  19. There are many different release mechanisms used on multiple different lifeboats and rescue boats ,crew may be trained in one type then sent to a vessel with another yet still be expected to carry out drills .Until there is a standardized system and people dedicated to keeping skills up to date on board there will continue to be accidents .Lower the boats with no crew in them first to be sure the davits operational ,send my company out to assess the competence of officers and crew annually ,a fresh set of eyes will save you money and lives .

  20. This is an abnormal situation.
    İn many times Wè had been seen some fatal problems during Thé Life Saving drill o/b.
    İt had been caused seafares deads and injury.
    Espicially High Risk vessel, over 10 years old.
    PSCOs, Audit, they feel better to see when check "abandon Thé ship" drill in port times.
    As a Captain, if its happens normal training times, hopefully can easly occur in emergency times. Can you imagin That in bad weather condition, vessel list one side, crew in weak moral etc.
    İf Thé ship designer helps to win money for owners; some money should spend for crew safety more.

  21. You mention "A recent study published by the International Maritime Organization and the Maritime Safety Committee". I would like to see this study as part of my research. Would you be able to point me in its direction?