Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Irrelevant Training on Obsolete Open Lifeboats

The OIL COMPANIES INTERNATIONAL MARINE FORUM did a survey (PDF) back in 1994 in which it was discovered that mariners had:
a surprising lack of confidence in modern lifeboats which is causing some reluctance on the part of ship crews to conduct the necessary lifeboat drills intended to help them protect their lives

It may have been surprising in 1994, today it's not just mariners who lack confidence, the IMO, because of concerns with the number of mariners killed and injured during lifeboat drills, amended SOLAS effective July 2006 so that it is no longer required that the crew be aboard during launching.

This has observers tsk-tsking and decrying the decline of seamanship and training of today's crews. For example the the New Zealand branch of The Nautical Institute is worried that:
The crew are no longer able to practice using the tricing pendants to bring the lifeboat alongside the embarkation deck; or release the pendants to clear the ship's side before lowering into the water.
I think that amount of training crews receive in the use of tricing pedants is adequate given that tricing pendants are not used on a modern enclosed lifeboat.

The photos below, from the Northeast Maritime Institute, a facility which provides training to meet Coast Guard and SOLAS requirements for proficiency in survival craft, shows an crew being trained in an obsolete open lifeboat

The first photo shows the boat in the stowed position. The span wire is equipped with manropes, these are for the crew to hold in case the lifeboat drops, modern enclosed lifeboats do not have manropes.

Click here for a larger image of an open boat in the stowed postion

Next, here is a photo which shows an open lifeboat that has been lowered to the embarkation deck. The boat is held at three points, from left to right, first the falls, the double set of wires which can be seen running from the sheave at the ends of the davit, the falls raise and lower the boat, next the tricing pendant, just inboard of the falls, this pulls the boat alongside so the crew can board. They will be released before the boat is lowered (the boat must be raised to release weight first) and the frapping lines which run horizontally to a cleat on the davits, these help control the swing of the boat.

Click here for larger image of the tricing pendant and frapping lines

Click here for a larger image of the lifeboat crew rowing an open lifeboat

I received my lifeboat endorsement at NMI myself, I am confident that if I find myself on a sinking WWII Liberty ship my crew ( say for example we get torpedoed by a U-Boat) and I will have a good chance to successfully launching the lifeboats.

Unlike the open boat on which the crew receives training, the modern fully enclosed lifeboat there are no tricing pedants, no frapping lines, no manropes. The crew boards the lifeboat in the stowed position. The gripes and davit locking pins) are removed, then the crew simply lifts the brake and down she goes. At least in principle, in practice it is a different matter.

For example in the video below a lifeboat launch the boat starts down, stops, then resumes it descent. As can be seen this causes the lifeboat to swing energetically.

The IMO publishes an excellent guide IMO Guidelines for Developing Operation and Maintenance Manuals for Lifeboat systems (PDF) MSC 1205 26 May 2006. With regards to this problem it has this to say:

-Do not stop the swinging out operation at deck position. Stopping shakes the lifeboat and may cause casualties.
- A rapid swing out may cause dangerous impact on the boat when the davit arm reaches the deck position.
- Inching operation shakes the lifeboat and is dangerous.
On ships I sailed on lowering the boat in accordance with the instructions, neither too fast nor too slow, requires a deft touch on the brake.

In the video the person at the brake starts out at full speed, which the IMO tells us: "may cause dangerous impact." Then the operator tries to slow down which the IMO says "is dangerous" but ends up stopping instead which causes the boat to swing.

The modern enclosed lifeboat and davits is an attempt to idiot proof the launching system. these systems have problems which can be partly mitigated with training.

As for critics who claim that the mariners reluctance to trust modern lifeboats shows a lack of seamanship, I say, have the critics keelhauled.


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