Safety at Sea

Rapid responders in an emergency

Paul Gunton
Paul Gunton

14 March 2019

Rapid responders in an emergency

In addition to the lifeboats and liferafts required by SOLAS, ships are also obliged to be equipped with a rescue boat. For some passenger vessels, a fast rescue boat is stipulated. The prime purpose of the rescue boat is self-explanatory and is the recovery of persons from the water. Under SOLAS they also have a secondary purpose and must be capable of marshalling and towing liferafts that would otherwise be left to drift helplessly.

Rescue boats come in a variety of shapes and sizes and in rigid, inflatable and hybrid RIB types. A rescue boat may be between 3.8m and 8.5m in length and must be capable of accommodating at least five seated persons and a casualty on a standard SOLAS stretcher. The seating space may be on the floor of the craft for all but the helmsman but cannot be on the buoyancy tubes, gunwhales or transom. The power can be provided by a fixed engine or an outboard engine.

SOLAS permits the rescue boat to count towards the lifeboat provision providing it meets the performance standards for both types of craft. Passenger vessels above 500gt are obliged to carry two rescue boats, one on either side of the vessel but passenger vessels below this size and cargo vessels need only carry one.

Rescue boats must be equipped with certain items and stores needed for their rescue role. If a boat is counted as both a rescue boat and a lifeboat it must be equipped with both sets of stores and capable of carrying out its rescue role with both sets onboard.

The requirement to carry rescue boats was altered in 1989 when the IMO issued Resolution A.656(16), which recognised that fast rescue boats were being used in some offshore operations. The intent of the resolution was to set guideline standards for fast rescue boats which until then had not been codified. These guideline standards were later made mandatory.

The main differences between a ‘slow’ and fast rescue boat is that the latter must be over 6m and under 8.5m in length and capable of operating at 20kt during a four-hour period using a petrol engine. The 20kt requirement drops to 8kt if the sea is not calm or if the craft is fully loaded. A fast rescue boat is also intended to be launched and retrieved under severe adverse weather (Beaufort 6 with 3m waves) and requires a special launching appliance. It must also be either self-righting or capable of being righted manually by two persons. The rules also require that vessels obliged to carry a fast rescue boat must also have at least two specially trained crews available to man it.

The launching arrangements of rescue boats is similar to that for lifeboats and currently requires that they should be launched by means of gravity or stored energy. However, a proposal was made at SSE 5 in March 2018 that a manual launching method should be permitted. A draft wording for changes to the LSA Code was prepared for further discussion at MSC 100 in December 2018 which duly adopted the new wording. Amendments to LSA Code were approved, in order to accept launch of a rescue boat with manual hoisting from the stowed position and turning out to the embarkation position by one person instead of stored mechanical power on cargo ships equipped with the rescue boat which is not one of the ship’s survival craft, having a mass not more than 700kg in fully equipped condition.

Recovering persons at sea

Lifeboats and liferafts are primarily intended are intended to accommodate personnel whether crew or passengers carried onboard the vessel. Ordinarily, personnel evacuating a ship would be in a lifeboat when it is lowered but there will be times when they will need to be recovered from the water as will personnel who have fallen overboard or from other vessels, aircraft or offshore installations.

Recovery techniques should be included in a vessel’s ISM procedures, but some assistance may be necessary in drawing up the procedures. The IMO has addressed this and in November 2014 issued MSC.1/Circ.1182/Rev.1 Guide to recovery techniques, which is a 19-page document that explores most of the issues and obstacles that may be encountered in an emergency situation.