TB2 - Free-fall lifeboats

Many shipowners build vessels, even very large vessels, with fully enclosed free-fall lifeboats in the belief that this is a safer means of saving the crew in case the ship has to be abandoned.

A free-fall lifeboat is a boat which does not depend for launch on the trim or list of the vessel in any way and which can easily be hydrostatically (float-free) launched should the vessel go down too fast for the crew to board and launch it themselves.

Unfortunately, many accidents have occurred when training crewmembers (and during inspections, due to a lack of training) and testing as per SOLAS requirements. Some of these accidents have been fatal.

When organising the training of crews in the use of these lifeboats, you should first ensure that all personnel are aware of the primary safety procedures for boarding and properly securing themselves in their seats prior to any free-fall launch.

All manufacturers provide operation manuals for these appliances and it must be stressed that this operation manual (along with all other safety equipment operation manuals, as appropriate) should be read and the contents understood by all persons involved in the testing of the appliances prior to any free-fall or davit tests. Several ‘dummy runs’ are advisable and a competent person should ensure that all personnel within the lifeboat are correctly seated and secured – especially the head restraints.

Sources of Information: UK P&I Ship Inspection / Loss Prevention Department, SOLAS and MCA


Staff Author