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Life Boat Drill

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Huge waves are common during Winter months

lifeboat drill, lifejackets, ships, captain, hoist, brake, port, starboard, officer, davit, engines, weather, for Marine Naval Engineer Officer on board Ship
Life boat on Davit


Practicing rowing

Life Boat Drill

Toot….toot….toot….toot….toot….toot….tooooooooot. Six short blasts on the horn followed by a long blast. All of us on board know this by heart. It means "Abandon Ship"!

Luckily, this is not the real thing! It is just a drill. Seamen working on foreign-going ships often have lifeboat and fire drills. The voyages are long and very often the ship is the only large object in the vast ocean for hundreds of miles.

The temperature outside the ship was cold, the sky was cloudy, but the sea was relatively calm. We could hear people moving out from their cabins towards the lifeboat deck. All of them were familiar with the muster list posted at the alleyways. Each person knew his duties.

Generally, deck officers, with the Captain, will take the leading role in this drill. The engineers will test the lifeboat engines, or help out with machinery like hoisting motor, gravity brake. The catering department will be in charge of blankets, and other necessities of survival. Because of the cold weather, all that took part in the drill wore woolen clothing to keep warm. Each person wore his own life jacket.

As they assembled underneath the lifeboats, one group to port and another to starboard, their names were called up. The deck officer in charge of that lifeboat will verify the names to make sure that nobody is missing. In this case, the engineer on duty was exempted from the drill. He had to look after the engines. The ship was still running at full speed. The cold winds and the splash of the waves sprayed salty air into everybody's faces. All around, the waves were a grey color. Patches of white dotted the ocean all around as the waves broke into foam.

The 3rd Officer moved around his group and inspected their lifejackets. Were they worn properly? Was the whistle still intact? Were the lifejackets in good condition? He made sure that all of them were normal.

The orders come from the Captain through the walkie-talkie, "Lower the lifeboat on the starboard until flush with the lifeboat deck." All the crewmembers from portside went over to the starboard to witness the lowering of the starboard lifeboat.

The starboard crew swung into action. The deck crew dismantled the turnbuckles and cables, removed the lifeboat tarpaulin cover, and made sure that the lifeboat was free to swing down.

When the boat was ready to be lowered down, one of the senior crew, an AB, lifted up the braking lever by hand in a slow and controlled manner. The lifeboat was lowered down, on its own weight by gravity. The boat was lowered until the level of the lifeboat deck.

The gravity davit is the hanging device for the lifeboat. It is designed to make use of gravity to lower the boat. In actual use, this is the position where all the people will board the lifeboat. The boat will then be lowered onto the water below, and the hooks suspending it will be able to work loose once the boat is floating on water. Sometimes the boat will be lowered onto the water when the ship is at anchor. The person who lowers the boat will climb down the side of the ship by using a rope ladder.

Usually, the boat will not be lowered. Usually, the drill is just to ensure that all the crew knows what to do when abandoning ship. Usually, the lifeboat engines will be test started as a regular routine for the engineers, regardless of whether a drill is carried out or not. When testing the engine, and propeller, it is necessary to check that the latter is clear to turn. Since the boat is not floating on water, the engine will only be run for a short while. This is to prevent overheating and damages to the shaft seals. During cold weather, it is often difficult to start the engines. The engineers have to ensure that the engines will start when needed, in all kinds of weather.

After ensuring that the boat could be lowered smoothly, the boat was brought back up again. To do this, an air driven motor was connected and operated. The boat could also be raised up by manually turning a handle. In this case, once the boat was put in place using the air driven motor, the final movements was made manually. The cables, turnbuckles, and tarpaulins were put back and normalized back.

Another lifeboat drill was successfully carried out.

There is another type of boat called the inflatable boat. Seaworthy enough to be used by people who sail the oceans on sail cruisers, and very portable, they are certainly worth some consideration from people who wants to go to sea, but does not want the hassle of carrying trailers or other cumbersome equipment around.

© 2004 Yoon Chee Tuck    Contact me

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