If you are on a ship that’s about to sink, have you ever wondered what equipment or supplies you would have to survive in a lifeboat? Nowadays, ships always carry enough survival craft for everyone onboard. Whether it’s a partially enclosed lifeboat on a cruise ship or a free-fall lifeboat on a chemical tanker, the equipment you will find inside is broadly the same.
It’s actually written down in International law in a publication called the International Life-Saving Appliance code (LSA Code). The code tells us about all sorts of life-saving equipment like Life Jackets, Lifebuoys, Immersion suits, flares and the Survival Crafts. It tells us, for example, that lifeboats must be able to travel fully loaded at 6 knots for 24 hours or 2 knots when towing a fully loaded 25 person life raft. In case the engines break, they need to have sufficient oars to make headway in calm seas, saying that, free-fall lifeboats don’t need to have oars, that makes sense because they would cause serious damage during the launch.
Let’s take a look at all the equipment that you would find inside almost all types of lifeboats. One of the first things you will find even before leaving the ship are anti-seasickness tablets. The lifeboat will have sufficient to give everyone 48 hours worth. It’s absolutely critical to take them for the simple reason that it reduces loss of fluids. Even if you don’t usually get seasick, you should still take yours because it only takes one person in a hot smelly boat, and you trigger a chain reaction.
When it’s time to launch the lifeboat, the next thing you will use is the painter. You’ll actually be provided with two painters , in the stowed position on a ship, a painter will be permanently attached to the forward end of the lifeboat. The idea is that should the lifeboat need to launch when the ship has headway, the painter will keep it pointing forwards, so that it doesn’t capsize. You’ll likely need to release that painter to get away, hence the spare, it gives you a line that can be used for anything, like towing life rafts, etc.
So, now you have got away and your attention turns to preparing the boat for survival. If you know land is in a particular direction, you can use the illuminated magnetic compass that’s provided to make your way there, otherwise it’s best to stay close to where your ship sank because that’s the most likely place for rescuers to start searching.
To maintain the boat’s position near the ship, you will have to deploy the Sea Anchor. A sea anchor is like a large cloth bucket that’s designed to stream ahead of the lifeboat. When there’s any wind, the boat will tend to get blown along. Adding the resistance from a sea anchor to the forward end will keep your bow pointing into the weather, it makes the boat more comfortable and slows your rate of drift away from the ship’s position.
In case the sea anchor breaks, you can improvise with some of your other equipment. You have a buoyant bailer and two buckets. Obviously these are provided primarily for getting the water out of the boat but you can always tie a bucket to the end of the spare painter and you’ve got an improvised sea anchor.
Once you have settled in the lifeboat held in position with the sea anchor, the hope is that rescue will come quickly. You will want to draw as much attention to your boat as you can. It’s likely that rescuers are using RADAR, so you want to do all you can to show up. You have a Radar Reflector, so get that hoisted as high as you can. It uses the Cat’s eye effect to return electromagnetic pulses back to their sender, painting a clear image on their radar screen. The higher you get it, the better. Strap it to the end of an ore or use one of the two boat hooks, also part of your required kit to get it even higher in the air. Of course, if you have a SART (Search and Rescue Transponder), use that instead of the reflector, never use both at the same time though as the reflector can block your own SART transmission.
As rescuers get closer, you have whole host of equipment to choose from to get their attention. There are 4 rocket parachute flares which can be seen a long way off and 6 hand flares for shorter range, particularly at night. During the day there are 2 buoyant smoke floats that can be a brilliant indicator for aircraft as they just billow out orange colored smoke. If it’s daytime, why not use the sun as well? You have a signaling mirror which you can use to get the attention of passing ships.
In a way it is easier at night though because lights show up so clearly against a dark sky. You have a search light which is incredibly bright. You even have a torch and spare bulb and batteries, if you fancy communicating with a bit of morse code. There is always the old classic, a whistle as well.
Ideally you will rescued quite quickly near to where your ship sank, but what if rescue doesn’t come, what else does the lifeboat have to help you survive?
The basics like food and water of course, there are three liters of water per person, possibly also rain water collectors or solar stills to increase the supply. To measure it out there is a rust-proof graduated drinking vessel and to make sure you can get it out of the tanks and containers, a rust-proof dipper with a lanyard.
For food, you have 10,000 KiloJoules per person, often in the form of high energy biscuits. You don’t actually need much food to survive but if you find you have to climb a ladder or something onto a rescue ship, it’s good to take on a burst of energy beforehand.
Every lifeboat also has a set of fishing tackle, it is actually there for morale reasons rather than for food. It gives you something to do, eating raw fish would dehydrate you so you wouldn’t actually consider that unless you have established a plentiful supply of water already. Of course, you can always increase the food and water supplies by taking more with you when you abandon ship, this has been thought of as well, which is why you have 3 tin openers on the lifeboat, the last thing you’d want is to have some tin fruit and be unable to open it.
The final bits of equipment, all deals with different emergencies that you might have onboard. Needing to rescue people from the water is a distinct possibility, you have 2 rescue quoits with 30 meters of buoyant line, you can throw them towards anyone in the water, then pull them back on board. If they are cold, you can wrap them in a thermal protective aid, every boat has at least two, though boats designed for more than 20 people will have extras so that 10% of the occupants could have one.
If anyone is injured, there’s a first aid kit. For fires, you have an extinguisher that can cope with Class B or oil fires, should it really take hold, there are two hatchets, stored one at each end so you could break out of the boat if needed. It’s more likely that you’d use the hatchets to chop things like a stubborn painter. For smaller ropes, fabrics, food and things, you’ve got a jack knife. For anything that goes wrong with the machinery, you have got a basic set of tools for minor adjustments.
We have covered a lot, so it’s unlikely that you would remember all of this if you ever did have to be in a lifeboat. Fortunately they have even thought of that and there is a survival manual and a life saving signals card.
Finally, to summarize here is a list of lifeboat equipment which is standard for any type of lifeboat:
- A complement of buoyant oars, sufficient to make headway in calm seas (except for free-fall lifeboats).
- Anti-seasickness tablets sufficient for each person for 48 hours.
- Two painters.
- One Illuminated compass.
- One Sea anchor.
- One buoyant bailer.
- Two buckets.
- One Radar reflector.
- One SART.
- Two boat hooks.
- Four rocket parachute flares.
- Six hand flares.
- Two buoyant smoke signals.
- One Signaling mirror.
- One Searchlight.
- One electric torch suitable for Morse signaling with spare batteries and bulb (in a waterproof container).
- One whistle.
- Three liters of water per person in watertight packs or containers.
- One Rust-proof graduated drinking vessel.
- One Rust-proof dipper with a lanyard.
- A food ration with an energy value of at least 10,000 kJ (2390 Calories) for each person the lifeboat is designed to hold, packed in airtight and waterproof packaging.
- One set of fishing tackle.
- Three tin openers.
- Two rescue quoits with 30 meters of buoyant line.
- Thermal protective aids, two or for 10% of occupants, whichever is greater.
- One first aid kit in a resealable waterproof container.
- Fire extinguishing equipment suitable for liquid fires.
- Two hatchets.
- One jack knife attached by a lanyard.
- Tools for adjustments.
- One survival manual.
- One copy of life saving signals on waterproof paper.
Here is an interesting video nicely explaining the function of each equipment required to be carried in a lifeboat!