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7 Essential Life Saving Appliances on a Ship

  • Bharat Mohan 
  • 14 min read
Life Saving Appliances on a Ship

Accidents involving lifeboats were on a high alert during the fall of the 1900s and the early 2000s. Some of them were even devastating, accounting for numerous loss of lives and other major or minor ailments. We could narrow down the roots leading to such mishaps to 3;

  • Lack of Knowledge
  • Lack of Experience
  • Poor Maintenance by the Crew

But the most concerning fact is that such accidents in the marine industry still prevail and cause perils to a wide array of human life, ecosystem, global economy, and, in most cases, an enduring effect.

 Recently on 20th may of 2021, a Singapore-flagged cargo ship X-press Pearl, carrying tones of toxicity, was set ablaze on the West Coast of Sri Lanka, posing a considerable threat to the rich aquatic life on the zone. Likewise, an unexpected Cyclone Tauktae summoned fury over Barge P305 and took the lives of more than 25 personnel. Such catastrophes remind us about the need for bettering the efficiency of the life saving appliances on a ship.

Most General Life Saving Appliances On a Ship

 Even though your seniors would provide you with enough training and drills, The Golden Rule for any seaman devoted to handling safety equipment is to Read The Manuals thoroughly.

The compulsory and widely adopted seven essential Life-Saving Appliances onboard any ship is;

  1. Lifeboats
  2. Life Rafts
  3. Rescue Boats
  4. Lifejackets
  5. Immersion Suits
  6. Distress Signals
  7. Other Accessories


The 83rd amendment of the International Safety Of Life At Sea (SOLAS) Convention specified the three types of lifeboats as;

  • Partially Enclosed Lifeboats
  • Totally Enclosed Lifeboats
  • Totally Enclosed Fire Protected Lifeboats

Totally Enclosed Lifeboats have a propulsion engine and canopy covers to its existing Partially Enclosed framework, and the Fire Protected equips water spray systems and air supply devices. Their priority of usage is as;

ShipFramework of the lifeboat
Most Modern General Merchant ShipsTotally Enclosed Design
Passenger ShipsPartially Enclosed Design
Highly Flammable Cargo ShipsFire Protected Design

Launching The Lifeboats

 The quickest way to release a lifeboat is to make it descend on its weight in a controlled manner by operating either the remote-control wire inside the lifeboat or pulling the remote control lever on the ship’s deck.

 Different kinds of launching approaches are adopted. For example, Gravity-type Dartmouth’s were usually used for launching totally enclosed lifeboats. However, most recently built Bulk Carriers have free-fall launching devices.

The launching operation was performed in the following procedural manner;

  1. Ensure that communication is possible by a set of transceivers.
  2. Confirm that the cable for the storage battery charge has been detached.
  3. Attach the painter to the Painter Release Device on the lifeboats and the farthest bit of the parent ship.
  4. The over lashing wire ropes might be redundant and are removed and moved away from other wires to prevent entanglement.
  5. Pull out the Winch Brake Safety Pin to release the boat and pull out both the Davit Arm Stop Safety Pins and release the arm stop by pulling down the handle in one single motion.
  6. Draw in the remote control wire to the lifeboat to operate it from the inside

After all these pre-boarding procedures, you can board in by opening the lifeboat hatch. Now it is time to look on to the post-boarding practices;

  1. Close the bottom plug once onboard.
  2. Open the fuel valve and the cooling seawater valve and close the drain valve on the exhaust pipe.
  3. Mandate all the boarded members to fasten their seat belts.
  4. Once that is ensured, the operator can start the engine and pull down on the remote control wire to swing out the lifeboat into the sea. Again, it should be in a steady manner.
  5. Operate the remote-control wire to manually descend the lifeboat at a fixed speed using its weight and alert the crew about a possible splashdown

Releasing the Lifeboats could be in two manners;

  • Off-Load Release è Traditional Method
  • On-Load Release è Emergency Method

Off-Load Release is performed when the lifeboat is entirely waterborne, and there is no load on the hook, and the On-Load Release is carried out when it is not fully waterborne, and there is some load on the hook. Only advise the On-load Release if the hydrostatic unit is malfunctioning or when the seas are rough that Off-Load release cannot be employed.

A release handle, assisted with a safety pin, is present on the side of the steering seat, complimentary with a hydrostatic unit and an interlock mechanism to prevent the lifeboat from plunging due to mishandling. The crew must execute the complete release within one continuous action.

 The hydrostatic unit is of two types;

  • A Direct System that detects water pressure and controls directly through an interlocked cable.
  • An Electric Type that electrically controls the interlock lever.

 The Interlock Mechanism gained much prominence. The LSA Code (Life Saving Appliances Code) of the 1996 amendment made it mandatory for all lifeboats to install the system to prevent accidental release before the lifeboat is waterborne.

The release action in both manners is identical except for on-load release; we should first fully raise the hydrostatic interlock by opening the interlock device’s cover and inserting a securing pin to release the interlock in an on-load release. After that, we can proceed with pulling the lever.

And later release the painter and immediately get clear of the ship.

Recovering The Lifeboat

Since most of the accidents occur during this operation, the procedures must be done with focus, especially mastering the proper way to reset the release gear.

This operation requires at least three people, and adequately resetting the released hook is essential to avoid a fatal accident.

The fault can be realized when the operator cannot smoothly insert the safety pin be back or when extra force is required to return the release handle to the set position. It is wise not to proceed and redo each step from the beginning to finish the process in such a condition.

  1. Commence the operation by pulling the release handle upward for about 30 degrees and simultaneously lifting the fore and aft hooks.
  2. The safety pin cannot be inserted unless the release handle is in its locked position, so ensure the hooks are in proper form.
  3. After that, install the Wench Hand Brake Safety Pin back.
  4. Adjust the suspension links to the proper height and simultaneously connect them with both the fore and aft hooks.
  5. Now the operator can hoist the boat upwards using the remote control wire.
  6. Once the boat is just out of the water, make sure that the fore and aft hooks are appropriately connected and also that the hydrostatic interlock lever has moved back to the locked position. Resume the hoisting.
  7. When the davit arm approaches a stowed position, it strikes the limit switch, and the boat winch stops automatically.
  8. The crew may disembark the lifeboat only after confirming that the winch has stopped entirely.
  9. Manually hoist the davit arm using a manual hoisting handle, and once the davit arm is in contact with the platform, cease winding. Don’t overwind and detach the hoisting handle.
  10. Immediately reset the davit arm stop and insert the safety pin in the Davit Arm Stop Handle.
  11. Lower the suspension blocks on the davit horn after removing the handbrake safety pin and later insert the handbrake safety pin back. Be sure to turn the end of the safety pin.
  12. Install the auto-trigger wire ropes and use turnbuckles to tighten it and tighten the whole boat using over lashing wire ropes.
  13. Be sure to attach the painter release hook to the painter at all times.

Rescue Boats

According to the SOLAS convention, any full vessel equipped with free-fall lifeboats may also include rescue boats.

These are of three types;

  1. Rigid Rescue Boat
  2. Inflatable Type Rescue Boat
  3. Combination Type Rescue Boat

The davit used for releasing a rescue boat onboard could be the same as one of the lifeboats. By the mechanism, it descends onto the sea at a fixed rate by its weight. Proceed with care during the release of the rescue boat to not have its wires entangled and for steady descending.

These boats are not enclosed and have propulsion engines to accelerate the craft to optimize its work on rescue operations.

Inflatable Life Rafts

Life rafts were also an obligatory addition to the life-saving appliances onboard the ship by the SOLAS 96 International Convention.

The Life rafts are typically folded and stored in FRP (Fiberglass Reinforced Plastic) containers, which are thin, durable, solid in nature, and are inflated to induce it for application. SOLAS 96 also insisted on having the instruction stickers on the surfaces of the containers.  The Life rafts employed are adapted to their environment. For example, those on tankers are oil-proof, which means they are impervious to oil and fireproof. Some Life rafts also incorporate a structure that prevents the accumulation of static electricity.

Accessories onboard a life raft includes;

  • Canopy Light
  • Room Lamp
  • Seawater Battery
  • Lithium Battery
  • Safety Valve For Chamber
  • Inflation Gear
  • Sea Anchor
  • Retro-Reflecting Tape
  • Boarding Ramp
  • Smoke signals
  •  Radar Reflector
  •  Dye Marker

A Sea Water Battery is a particular type of battery that uses seawater as the liquid solution to capture, store, and eventually discharge energy and incorporate sodium as its primary ingredient for electricity.

Each one of these items is specific for various onboard contingencies;

  • Some are to be used at an early stage during launching and initial rifting.
  • Some are employed to maintain the physical strength of the crews while adrift.
  • Some are used to maintain the performance of the life raft.
  • And others are used for transmitting distress signals.

There are different types of life rafts such as;

  • Throw Overboard Life Rafts.
  • Davit Launched Life Rafts.
  • Self Righting Life Rafts
  • Open Reversible Life Rafts
  • Leisure Life Rafts

Life rafts conforming to the SOLAS 96 are of the weak link type, possess an Automatic Release Device with an intuitive operating mechanism triggered by water pressure, and are not operable manually. Some older types of life rafts feature an automatic release device with an additional manual dropping handle.

However, it is possible to manually initiate a gravity fall of the cradle and trigger the life raft’s inflation in an emergency. Ships might also employ a deploying method using davits, which means that the crew does not have to get wet.

It is mandatory to cross-check all the following factors before the drop of a life raft;

  1. No entanglement occurs around the container.
  2. No foot obstruction occurs around the auxiliary rail rotating pin of the cradle.
  3. The painter is connected correctly to the hydraulic release equipment.
  4. The connection of the week link is confirmed.
  5. The safety pin is attached correctly to the cradle’s release handle.

 Strictly follow the instructions and avoid being caught in the whirlpool while rowing it.


Accessories Common to Both Lifeboats And Life Rafts

  • Rescue quoits
  • Sea anchor
  • Bailer
  • Food rations
  • Freshwater
  • Drinking vessel
  • First aid kit
  • Anti-seasickness medicines
  • Seasickness bags
  • Thermal protective aids
  • Safety knives
  • Tin openers
  • Whistle
  • Fishing tackle
  • Surviving manuals and instructions for life-saving signals
  • Flares and smoke signals
  • Waterproof electric torch
  • Daylight signaling mirror
  • Radar reflector
  • Sea dye marker
  • De-Salinator

Unique Accessories for Life Boats

  • Buckets
  • Dipper
  • Hatchet
  • Compass
  • Painters
  • Oars
  • Clutches
  • Boat hooks
  • Engine repair tools
  • Fire extinguishers

Unique Accessories for Life Rafts

  • Paddles
  • Safety scissors
  • Sponges
  • Repair outfit
  • Topping up pump

Distress Signals


Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) is an automatic device triggered to initiate transmission of data, including the name and position of the vessel via satellite, once it is disrupted from its original place.

The disruption will occur immediately if the ship sinks and the EPIRB float by itself.

  • SART

Search, And Rescue Transponder (SART) indulge in locating survivors via Global Maritime Distress And Safety System (GMDSS). The transmissions from radar units installed on every search and rescue boat and aircraft on the mission are received, and it responds via signals.

Visual Signals

Some safety devices onboard embark on emitting signals which are more visually perceivable. The most common are flares and batons, which emit Orange Smoke to help identify the transmitter’s position. They are stored in resin containers and have a life expectancy of about three years.

Orange Smoke (Life Saving Appliances on a Ship)
Orange Smoke

Self-Activating Smoke Signals are either a distress signal for the parent ship or a position indicator for a lifebuoy or a person in need. When thrown overboard, they act on their own and produce smoke for 15 minutes or more. They are tied to the lifebuoy when used.

Buoyant Smoke Signals are designed for daylight signaling purposes, and they continuously produce smoke for 3 minutes or more. Their ignition is manual, and the performance is almost identical to the self-activating smoke signals.

Self-Igniting Lights are automatic lights that ignite and continuously produce white light or flashes when thrown into the water for at least two hours. They are also tied to the lifeboats.

Rocket Parachute Signals can be launched as rockets to a height of over 300 meters, and they descend with a parachute while producing a red flare of about 30,000 candelas for 40 seconds or more.

 Rocket Star Signals are also rockets launched to a height of about 150 meters and produce red stars of about 250 candelas for 3 seconds or more.

Hand Flares also indicate the position of lifeboats and life rafts as it emits a red-colored flare of about 15,000 candelas for at least one minute.

Floating Lifebuoys are mainly cork, and their weight ranges from about two point five kilograms to four kilograms.

These must be used only during emergencies and with extreme precaution.

Other Accessories

Lines-Throwing Appliances

Line throwing appliances launches lines that can reach over 230 meters towards any distressed vessel.

Immersion Suits

Following the amendment to the SOLAS convention in July 2006, all cargo vessels at 500 gross tonnages shall equip immersion suits in numbers sufficient for all people onboard. They are dry suits that cover the whole body except the face.

Immersion suits come in two types;

Suit TypeLowest Temperature WithstandablePossible Survival Timespan
Inherent Insulation Immersion SuitsTwo Degrees CelsiusSix Hours
Non-Inherent Insulation Immersion SuitsFive Degrees CelsiusOne Hour

For Non-Buoyant Immersion Suits, a lifejacket could be used in conjunction with it.

Life Jackets

Perhaps the most known and essential life-saving equipment onboard, life jackets must meet the sufficient value of buoyancy and strength to improve the survival possibility. Therefore, it’s built to withstand jump from even 4.5 meters height and get neither torn off nor injure the user.

Life Jacket (Life Saving Appliances on a Ship)
Life Jacket (Source-

There exist two types of lifejackets;

  • Rigid Buoyant Type
  • Inflatable Type

Lifejacket also includes manually operable lights, which can remain lit for eight hours or longer.

According to SOLAS, since 2010, all lifejackets used on newly built vessels should equip a buddy line to allow survivors to link themselves together and a lifting loop.

Inspection And Maintenance Life-Saving Appliances

Since July 2006, SONAS made it an obligatory routine to inspect, service annually, and repair lifeboats onboard the ship. The manufacturer’s representative or a person appropriately trained and certified by the manufacturer must conduct the inspections.

However, maintaining the said life-saving appliances on the ship to retain their reliability and quality lies on the shoulder of the whole crew. Therefore, the staff must carry out weekly and monthly inspections per the instructions provided by manufacturers. Thus, both visual and operational inspections are incorporated.

Periodical maintenance of the work on engine includes inspection on;

  1. Engine Start
  2. Clutch of Engine
  3. Amount of Fuel Oil, Lube Oil, and Coolant
  4. Gauges

Periodical maintenance of the electrical components involve inspection on;

  1. Illumination
  2. Electrical Wiring
  3. Battery Fluid Levels
  4. Voltage

All onboard devices must be routinely visually inspected for rusts and cracks, and every dynamic component’s lubing is a must.

Air supply systems on lifeboats must be inspected for rusts or drop in pressure values. The prescribed Pressure value is from 17.7 – 19.6 MPa.  Also, check the water supply vices in fire-protected lifeboats for clogging. Finally, the spray pipe must be cleaned with fresh water after every use.

The Cradle of the life rafts must be clear of lashes from other wires and ropes. Ensure the proper insertion of safety pins wherever employed.


The ocean is absolutely a beautiful paradise with treats to the mind but, at times, can also be your greatest fear. But no seaman must fear in the face of any imminent threat but be prepared with a brave heart to fight it off and ensure the safety and security of the onboard fraternity. Knowledge is a must, practice empowers, but your mindset is everything.

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