The life-saving system on a ship is an extension of emergency escape routes. To develop a planned, rational life-saving system the basic phases of the problem must be examined, i.e., pre-abandonment, abandonment, survival, detection and retrieval.
Pre-abandonment concerns the training, maintenance, stowage, capacity, protection and provision for effective usage of life-saving equipment under operating conditions. Abandonment comprises all operations required for breaking out of stowage and the safe disengagement and clearing away of the life-saving equipment with full complement from the stricken ship.
Survival is the preservation of groups of persons and individual persons at sea until rescued.
Detection is the accurate determination of the location of survivors. Retrieval is the safe and expedient transfer of survivors to a position of safety.
The combination of life-saving equipment carried on the ship must be such that collectively all of the needs in these five areas are met. Any single piece of equipment cannot be expected to answer all problems. The mission of the vessel will have an impact on the degree of importance of each of these phases.
Existing life-saving systems are based on “abandon ship” approach. When a ship suffers a fire, collision, grounding or any other potential disaster, focus of people on board quickly turns to survival crafts, and on how these or other life-saving appliances might be used to escape from the stricken vessel. However, evacuation by lifeboat or liferaft is, in any case, fraught with danger. There is little chance of successful evacuation during a severe storm or from a ship with a pronounced list.
A major impetus for considering alternatives to the “abandon ship” approach was the rise of the mega-cruise ship. Modern cruise liners have the capacity of carrying several thousand people on board and even though accidents involving such large passenger ships are rare, if a serious accident should occur, its consequences could be disastrous.
One of the answers to the challenge of safe evacuation of large passenger ships is, paradoxically, not abandoning ship at all: people could stay safely on board as the ship proceeds to a port or to a place of refuge. The idea is to design ships which would not need to be evacuated at sea. Such ships must incorporate safety levels beyond today’s state of art in respect of resistance to capsizing, sinking and fire safety – see Safe Return to Port (SRtP).