Two clarifications by the International Maritime Organisation, IMO, have been issued that may go someway to enhancing safety during lifeboat drills, but…
First, there has been confusion about the use of slings, or fall preventer devices, during drills involved manned lifeboats. Some administrations have forcefully promoted their use in the past (See The Case of the Killer Catch in the Library) but there has been much footdragging in this critical issue until now.
An IMO clarification says: “The use of FPDs should be considered as an interim risk mitigation measure, only to be used in connection with existing on-load release hooks, at the discretion of the master, pending the wide implementation of improved hook designs with enhanced safety features. Member Governments are invited to use the annexed Guidelines when approving the use of fall preventer devices (FPDs), and to bring them to the attention of all parties concerned.”
It would appear that the intention is to ban the use of FPDs on vessels fitted with improved hook designs replacing those in current use. It is to be hoped that sufficient time will be allowed to elapse to ensure that any newly introduced on-load release hooks work as they are supposed to do.
The second measure clarifies SOLAS regulation III/126.96.36.199 that, during launch for a drill in compliance with “the assigned operating crew should not be required to be on board lifeboats during launching, unless the master, taking into account all safety aspects, (decides) that the lifeboat should be launched with the assigned operating crew on board. “
Having the rescue boat standing-by in the water is certainly a good idea when undergoing a manned launch, of course. One issue is whether boarding the lifeboat once it’s in the water presents another layer of hazard.
So, before the drill, review what you’re going to do and what should happen and identify potential hazards, particularly if there has been any change in procedures.
One concern regarding unmanned launches is that seafarers may not get the experience they need to be confident in a real-incident launch.