A motor-propelled survival craft carried by a ship for use in emergency. A ship should be its own best lifeboat but there are sometimes situations where abandonment of the ship is unavoidable.

Lifeboats are manufactured from glass-reinforced polyester (GRP). Construction and equipment must comply with the LSA Code, number and arrangement with SOLAS. Various types of lifeboats are in use such as partially or fully enclosed crafts, fire protected lifeboats for tankers and free-fall lifeboats.

The conventional lifeboat is secured into gravity davits, which enable the boat to be launched over the ship’s side without any mechanical assistance. Sometimes stored power davits are used.

People forced to use conventional lifeboats are exposed to the greatest risk during embarkation and recovery. An analysis of accidents involving lifeboats and davits reported by IMO shows that 60% were caused by lack of maintenance or improper resetting of hooks, release mechanism or winch and brakes assemblies. The most common cause of fatal accidents involving davit-launched lifeboats is the failure of on-load release hooks.

In the 11 accidents reported over a 10-year period, seven people were killed and nine injured. These figures suggest that although there are still relatively few such failures, the consequences can be fatal.

Many of the ships lost have sunk very quickly in heavy weather, and the crew did not have enough time to launch lifeboats from davits. A more effective way of saving lives in the event of a ship sinking is to provide ships with free-fall lifeboats. The benefits are clear: during rapid evacuation in emergencies, the boat slides out from a ramp onboard the ship/installation and hits the water well away from the ship or installation with a high positive forward motion. Passengers are safe and secure in an enclosed cabin, securely strapped to anatomically shaped seats. The lifeboat system is robust and can withstand high winds, powerful waves and extreme weather conditions. See also Survival Crafts and Rescue Boat Arrangement.

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