Our Ref: HSR/2/6
Head Office Circular: NP/240/21
6th July 2021
To: The Secretary

Dear Colleague,


Further to Head Office Circular NP/203/21 (LIFEBOAT LEGISLATION CHANGE), dated 9th June 2021, concerns have been raised that RMT is finding about incidents second or even third hand.

Members need to be made aware that any incidents involving lifeboats should be reported directly to the Union.

Members should not be afraid to take a stand.

Our recent survey on lifeboat safety highlighted the following:

Over 56% of members are asked to descend in the lifeboat during drills, with less than 16% of members refusing to do so.

Although only around10% of members are unaware of any regular maintenance undertaken on the lifeboats, over 27% have noticed any potential areas which need attention in the lifeboats and, more disturbingly, nearly 62% of these potential areas needing attention have not been reported to the employer.

Over 70% of members have you been involved in and/or witnessed any accidents involving lifeboat drills.

Employer’s policies re: drills are varied: many have them every week, some once a month, others only every few months. Some lower the boats to embarkation deck every week, lower one boat into the water every fortnight;

Some have everybody participating; others only the lifeboat crew; in some companies Mates and Masters never have to do this dangerous practice - only Second Mates and lower ranks

Some have the right to refuse; others cannot refuse.

Other information we ascertained included the following:

some companies use a fall arrester
some companies’ drills are just a muster on deck
in some companies the boat is launched from the freefall position using the A-frame and boarded by personnel transfer using the FRB
some members get in once dropped to embarkation level, then loosen ropes from ships side and descend
the lifeboat is always dropped to just above the water with nobody in it as a dummy run; the training safety pins are always in position before the boat is lowered
boats are normally lowered to embarkation deck but once every 3 months must be lowered to water and manoeuvred as per regulation
Safety equipment is installed so accidental release cannot happen and only a minimum launching crew are allowed in the boat
the lifeboat is embarked at the embarkation deck;
it must be ensured all the working gear and davits have had full registration pass surveys by the appropriate bodies and all PMs are up to safety standards as well as the crews are in familiarisation with all lifeboat and liferaft methods of launch and recovery especially in certain weather conditions

Members’ fears about being lowered in the lifeboat during drills include:

the fact that more people are killed in lifeboat drills than they have saved
stability and maintenance;
hook failure; wires or mechanisms parting, collapsing or giving way, leading to a fall; davit failure
lack of competence with some of the non-UK trained European deck officers could make it a dangerous situation
back injury
the boat dropping unexpectedly- when descending during a drill the lifeboat suddenly dropped around ten feet whilst several crew were inside
a company relies on a brake drum system to slow them down and stop when lowering and lifting; there are more advanced systems available but that would be more costly. It is too dangerous to be using on a weekly basis considering that they are in theory a one-use system, not to be repeatedly used, wearing down on the components. This has been proven before on ship resulting in the system failing casing the lifeboat to fall injuring crew members. This was blamed on the crew and dubbed human error
bad weather conditions
on one occasion the bowsing gear was not released and the boat lowered with one end leaving the boat at 45 degrees; a crew member received severe back injuries when he fell in the boat
incorrect use of the brakes/ brake failure
poor training

When asked what they viewed as a reasonable way of undertaking lifeboat drills safely, our members were keen that lifeboats were boarded at sea level and in port only. They noted as follows:

well maintained equipment by competent crew, and regular inspection
lower to water edge, and board by pilot ladder, unless in emergency
no drills when excessively windy
a minimal amount of crew in lifeboats
would like to see pins in the onload release hooks to prevent an inadvertent release
training in lowering operation, but without being in the boat at a height
lowering to water from the deck then embarking from a work boat or ladder
rescue boat should be no more than one deck level above the water line
drop the boats without personnel on board, and have them board from FRB
boats to be lowered on a regular rotation without crew in them, to above the waterline, to check the condition of wires. Boats to be hung-off safely when crew are in them for maintenance purposes, minimal personnel in the boats when this is happening. When boats are being launched to comply with legislation, minimum crew inside (one Coxswain, two to tend falls, one who should be a mechanic), with FRC crew on immediate call, in case needed
lifeboats should be deployed down to the water line using the break on the main deck, whilst lifeboat crew using a pilot ladder board a rescue boat and then taken to the lifeboat to descend the final metre to test the onload/offload release system
if the ship is underway. the bridge team should maintain a good leeward side and not manoeuvre whilst lowering the rescue boat, but if the ship is turning as in altering course it could result in the rescue boat being sucked into the side of the ship or rescue boat turns around whilst still connected to the main hook on the fall.
use videos for training purposes

I have shared these observations with all shipping employers with whom RMT has a relationship, with the Cypriot and Bahamian flag state and also with the International Transport Workers Federation and Maritime and Coastguard Agency, seeking any comments they wish to make on the above and taking this opportunity to offer to work with them on members’ concerns.

Please bring the contents of this circular to the attention of relevant members.

Yours sincerely

Michael Lynch
General Secretary