200740 Free-fall lifeboat launch

01 Jul 2007 MARS

This report does not arise from an incident but is rather an advisory to ships’ crews who may have to operate free-fall lifeboats.

These are being fitted on many new ships and are recommended on bulk carriers by Solas Regulation III/31.1.2 and paragraph 6.1.3 of the Life Saving Appliances (LSA) Code. Regulations also require that these craft are launched once every six months, as opposed to every three months for conventional davit-launched lifeboats.

There is no standard procedure for launching free-fall lifeboats, as design and fittings vary considerably.

However, in order to inform seafarers on good practice, the following broad guidelines are given:

Before launching
1. Before the drill, carry out a risk assessment, identify hazards, take appropriate measures to eliminate or control them and record the same;
2. Fully brief all crew, including those who are assigned duties other than lifeboat crew, or are going to be observers, on the design features and the proper operation of all devices and controls;
3. Confirm lifeboat and launching/recovery crews fully understand correct procedures and contingency plans;
4. Obtain permission from harbour authorities, PFSO, as appropriate;
5. Release securing devices;
6. Disconnect battery charger;
7. Secure ventilation hatch watertight;
8. Switch electrical system to battery power;
9. Check off the crew on the muster list while they board the craft in the assigned order.

Once crew are in the lifeboat
1. Secure door watertight;
2. Ensure all crew members are seated with body and head restraints securely fastened. Confirm this verbally to coxswain during final headcount check;
3. Follow manufacturer’s instructions as to when to start engine and if the gear should be engaged or not at time of launch;
4. Ensure rudder is midships;
5. Coxswain to give verbal warning that launch is about to take place immediately before operating the release control;
6. Coxswain launches the lifeboat. If the main release device fails to launch the lifeboat, the assigned crew member operates the emergency lifeboat release lever.

Feedback to MARS 200740

In MARS 200740, in the section ‘Before launching’, item number 5 recommends ‘Release securing devices’ before listing four more tasks. Shouldn’t that be one of the last things you would wish to do during an exercise? I am of the opinion that securing devices should be released only after all the designated crew have boarded, been checked off and have secured themselves in their seats (item number 9), or even after item number 4 (Ensure rudder is midships) in the next paragraph titled ‘Once crew are in the lifeboat’.
Another factor that must be considered is the difference in drop height between the vessel’s ballast and loaded conditions. I work on tankers, and the height difference on these ships could potentially be 7 or more metres, meaning that launch in ballast condition can have a significantly greater impact on both lifeboat and crew. While launch drills must always be conducted at Master’s discretion, it should be in the ship’s and company’s interest to minimise the chance of either crew or vessel sustaining any injury/damage.

Editor’s note: This is a valid observation. However, the launching sequence, whether actual or simulated, should ideally follow the davit maker’s instructions. If it is felt that the safety or efficiency of launching / recovery can be improved by modifying the stated sequence or procedures, expert advice must be sought from management, class and makers, before implementing any changes.
For simulated launches, MSC/Circ.1137 gives the following guidelines:

3 Typical simulated launching sequence

  • 3.1 Check equipment and documentation to ensure that all components of the lifeboat and launching appliance are in good operational condition;
  • 3.2 Ensure that the restraining device(s) provided by the manufacturer for simulated launching are installed and secure and that the free-fall release mechanism is fully and correctly engaged;
  • 3.3 Establish and maintain good communication between the assigned operating crew and the responsible person;
  • 3.4 Disengage lashings, gripes, etc. installed to secure the lifeboat for sea or for maintenance, except those required for simulated free-fall;
  • 3.5 Participating crew board the lifeboat and fasten their seatbelts under the supervision of the responsible person;
  • 3.6 All crew, except the assigned operating crew, disembark the lifeboat. The assigned operating crew fully prepare the lifeboat for free-fall launch and secure themselves in their seats for the release operation;
  • 3.7 The assigned operating crew activate the release mechanism when instructed by the responsible person. Ensure that the release mechanism operates satisfactorily and the lifeboat travels down the ramp to the distance specified in the manufacturer’s instructions;
  • 3.8 Recover the lifeboat to its stowed position, using the means provided by the manufacturer and ensure that the free-fall release mechanism is fully and correctly engaged;
  • 3.9 Repeat procedures from 3.7 above, using the backup release mechanism when applicable;
  • 3.10 The assigned operating crew disembark the lifeboat;
  • 3.11 Ensure that the lifeboat is returned to its normal stowed condition. Remove any restraining and/or recovery devices used only for the simulated launch procedure.