Lifeboat (shipboard)

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File:Brosen lifeboats scandinavia.jpg
Lifeboats on a passenger liner
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Inflatable liferaft
Inflatable liferaft in hard-shelled canister

A lifeboat (liferaft) is a small, rigid or inflatable watercraft carried for emergency evacuation in the event of a disaster aboard ship. In the military, a lifeboat may be referred to as a whaleboat, dinghy, or gig. The ship's tenders of cruise ships often double as lifeboats. Lifeboat drills are required by law on larger commercial ships.

Inflatable lifeboats may be equipped with auto-inflation (carbon dioxide or nitrogen) canisters or mechanical pumps. A quick release and pressure release mechanism is fitted on ships so that the canister or pump automatically inflates the lifeboat, and the lifeboat breaks free of the sinking vessel. Commercial aircraft are also required to carry auto-inflating life rafts in case of an emergency water landing, and are also kept on offshore platforms.

Ship-launched lifeboats are lowered from davits on a ship's deck, and cannot be sunk in normal circumstances. The cover serves as protection from sun, wind and rain, can be used to collect rainwater, and is normally made of a reflective or fluorescent material that is highly-visible. Lifeboats have oars, flares and mirrors for signaling, first aid supplies, and days' of food and water. Some lifeboats are more capably equipped to permit self-rescue; with supplies such as a radio, an engine and sail, heater, navigational equipment, solar water stills, rainwater catchments and fishing equipment.

The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and the International Life-Saving Appliance Code (LSA) requires certain emergency equipment be carried on each lifeboat and liferaft used on international voyages. Modern lifeboats carry an Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) and either a radar reflector or Search and Rescue Transponder (SART). In the United States, the US Coast Guard ensures the proper type and number of lifeboats are in good repair on large ships.


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A collapsible lifeboat carrying survivors of the sunken RMS Titanic.

By the turn of the 20th century larger ships meant more people could travel, but safety rules in regard with lifeboats stayed out of date - for example, British legislation concerning the number of lifeboats was based on the tonnage of a vessel and only encompassed vessels of "10,000 gross tons and over". It was after the sinking of the RMS Titanic on April 15, 1912, that a movement began to require a sufficient number of lifeboats on passenger ships for all people on board. The Titanic, with a gross tonnage of 46,000 tonnes and carrying 20 lifeboats, met and exceeded the regulations laid down by the Board of Trade, which required a ship of her size (i.e. over 10,000 tons) to carry boats capable of carrying a total of 1,060 people. The Titanic's boats had a capacity of 1,178 people on a ship capable of carrying 3,330 people.

The need for so many more lifeboats on the decks of passenger ships after 1912 led to the use of most of the deck space available even on the large ships, creating the problem of restricted passageways. This was resolved by the introduction of collapsible lifeboats, a number of which (Berthon Boats) had been carried on the Titanic.

Liferaft versus Lifeboat

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Modern lifeboats on the Sapphire Princess. Note the fully enclosed nature (with sliding side hatches), and the small ducted screw providing mobility.

Liferafts in general are collapsible, and stored in a heavy-duty fiberglass canister, and also contain some high-pressure gas to allow automatic inflation to the operations size. SOLAS and military regulations require these to be sealed, never opened by the ship's crew, they are removed at a set periodicity and sent to a certified facility to open and inspect the liferaft and contents. In contrast, a lifeboat is open, regulations require a crewmember to inspect it periodically and ensure all required equipment is present.

Modern lifeboats have a motor; liferafts usually do not. Large lifeboats use a davit or launching system (there might be multiple lifeboats on one), that requires a human to launch. Lifeboat launching takes longer and has higher risk of failure due to human factors. However lifeboats do not suffer from inflation system failures as inflatable liferafts do.

Recently, smaller self-rescue lifeboats have been introduced for use by boats with fewer people aboard: these are rigid dinghies with CO2-inflated exposure canopies and other safety equipment. Like the lifeboats used before the advent of the gasoline engine, these self-rescue dinghies are designed to let the passengers propel themselves to safety by sailing or rowing. In addition to their use as proactive lifeboats, these self-rescue dinghies are also meant to function as yacht tenders.

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Freefall lifeboat of the CCNI Magallanes

Freefall Lifeboats

Some ships have freefall lifeboats, stored on a downward sloping slipway, dropping into the water as holdback is released. Such lifeboats are considerably heavier to survive the impact with water. Freefall lifeboats are used for their capability to launch nearly instantly and high reliability, and since 2006 are required[1] on bulk carriers that are in danger of sinking too rapidly for conventional lifeboats to be released.

Tankers are required to carry fireproof lifeboats, tested to survive a flaming oil or petroleum product spill from the tanker. Fire protection of such boats is provided by insulation and sprinkler system, which has pipe system on top, through which water is pumped and sprayed to cool the surface. This system, while prone to engine failure, allows fireproof lifeboats to be built of fiberglass and not only metal.

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A rigged WW II airborne lifeboat in front of a Vickers Warwick from which it would be dropped to survivors on parachutes.

United States Navy liferafts

The United States Navy uses five types of custom inflatable life rafts as well as a number of commercial available Coast Guard approved life rafts. The 25-person MK-6 and 50-person MK-7 are used on surface ships, the 50-person MK-8 on aircraft carriers and LRU-13A and LRU-12A on aircraft and submarines respectively. Smaller combatant craft often use 6, 10 or 15-person commercial life rafts.[2] The number of life rafts carried on USN ships is determined based on the maximum number of personnel carried aboard plus 10% as a safety margin. Aircraft carriers carry either 254 MK7 life rafts or 127 MK8 life rafts. While both are similar to heavy-duty commercial life rafts, USN life rafts use breathable air as the inflation gas rather than carbon dioxide to ensure full inflation within 30 seconds in Arctic environments.

Base material used on MK7 life rafts is polyurethane coated fabric which has very high durability. Old MK6 and a few MK8 life rafts are manufactured of neoprene-coated fabric, however, the majority of MK8 life rafts are also manufactured of polyurethane fabric. The lifeboat is compact and made of separate compartments, or tubes, as a redundancy against puncture. Two air cylinders containing dry, breathable compressed air provide initial inflation. Depending on the model life raft, each cylinder may contain up to 5000 psi of compressed air. Each life raft is equipped with an external, automatically actuated light beacon and internal lighting. Power is provided by lithium batteries.

USN life rafts are stowed in heavy-duty fiberglass canisters and can be launched manually or automatically should the ship begin to sink. Automatic launching and inflation is actuated by a change in pressure sensed by a hydrostatic release device should the ship begin to sink. A hand pump is provided to "top-off" pressure at night when temperatures drop and internal air pressure decreases. Relief valves are installed in each tube to prevent overpressure. Repairs to holes or rips up to six inches in length can be made using special sealing clamps. Occupants in USN life rafts are protected from wind, rain and sun by built-in canopies which automatically inflate. Hatches are sealable to prevent rain and seawater from entering the life rafts. Survival equipment includes: manual reverse osmosis desalinator (MROD), bottles of fresh water, individual food packets, fishing kit, signaling mirror, rocket and smoke flares, flashlight, spare sea anchor, first aid kit, paddles, spare batteries and bulbs, and aluminized mylar sheets ("Space Blankets") to aid in caring for victims of hypothermia.

USN inflatable life rafts are serviced every five years. Each life raft is test inflated before repacking. The USN life rafts have a high reliability rate of inflation.

Other usages

A liferaft from the MS Estonia disaster

When the Apollo 13 command module was damaged by an explosion in the service module, the lunar module was used as a lifeboat as it had separate life support, propulsion and guidance systems that remained functional (though it was not a lifeboat in the sense that it was detached from the main vehicle).

Any small self-contained spacecraft designed to operate as a life-preserving vehicle or escape pod for the crew of a spacecraft in distress might also be termed a "lifeboat", and this usage frequently appears in science fiction.

See also


Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
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External links

cs:Záchranný člun ar:قارب نجاة de:Rettungsboot es:Bote salvavidas fr:Radeau de survie id:Sekoci it:Scialuppa he:סירת הצלה lv:Glābšanas laivas nl:Reddingsboot ja:救命ボート no:Livbåt pl:Łódź ratunkowa pt:Baleeira fi:Pelastusvene sv:Livbåt