As we explored the issue of freefall lifeboats and stretcher casualties recently another concern emerged: Will a freefall lifeboat actually survive a ‘sea of fire’? After all some models are fitted with waterspray systems for just such an eventuality and these should ensure a safe flight through floating burning liquid.
The fact is that there is a danger of overconfidence if you don’t factor in the time taken to get the spray system working. The coxswain’s seat may be a source of life-threatening delay.
Concerns regarding the g-forces invoked during freefall lifeboat launch have resulted in designs featuring seats that ensure the safety of the coxswain. One type features a seat that tilts back leaving the coxswain looking towards the roof of the lifeboat, in another the seat is rotated so the coxswain sits looking towards the rear.
While giving greater protection against g-forces, these seats put the lifeboat controls out of reach of the coxswain until his or her seat is put into the appropriate position, something that may take the help of a second person.
Waterspray systems usually require the lifeboat engine to be at full ahead. While the engine can be started prior to launch it cannot be run at full speed until it is in the water, otherwise the engine will seize in a few seconds. It is often not possible for the coxswain to reach the engine controls while in the launch position.
Under actual operating conditions it may take up to 20 seconds to bring the waterspray up to full activation.
That is a long time to sit in burning oil.
So, how do you deal with that situation, or what does your company/organisation recommend?