Thursday, June 29, 2017

Lifeboat Supplies

While doing my reviews/testing on the five different brands of emergency rations, I noticed that most of them were “USCG approved”. This lead me to research what the requirements are for this approval, and that led me down a rabbit hole of specifications for life boats and the gear that they are supposed to have in them. The United States Coast Guard doesn't actually test items; they just set out the requirements and let independent labs do the testing.

After various disasters at sea, the US Coast Guard developed rules and regulations for the maritime industries. These regulations have changed over the years, and they are codified in 46 CFR 199.175 - Survival Craft and Rescue Boat Equipment. For those of you who are not conversant with government regulations, that gibberish translates as “Code of Federal Regulations number 46, Part 199, Subsection 175”. I've dealt with various regulations most of my adult life, so navigating through them is second nature to me, but I know they can be daunting at first glance. They are also a sure cure for insomnia.

Now, I live in a landlocked state (rivers don't count) so I'm not likely to ever be on a ship big enough to require life boats, but that doesn't mean that some of you won't be. If taking a cruise on one of the monster liners that wander around the Caribbean appeals to you, it might be nice to know what emergency preparations they have made for you in case an errant iceberg decides to rip a hole in the side of the ship. (Personally, I feel that the idea of being trapped in a floating city with three or four thousand tourists is one of the outer circles of Hell. After about two days, I'd be wishing for an iceberg.)

Working a merchant vessel is an option for some folks, and it has been used as a plot device in books and movies as an alternative to buying a ticket on a passenger ship, which is something to consider if you're looking for optional ways to get back home. Knowing what you can expect to find in a lifeboat might set your mind at ease about traveling over water, and it may also give you a starting point if you're building you own “lifeboat” for emergencies. Most of the items on the list below are generally useful in any emergency, and would make a good addition to a bugout vehicle. When you think about it, a life boat is the bugout vehicle of the seas.

Here's a list of what you should find in a standard lifeboat, with the USCG requirements listed first and the International Maritime Organization requirements for Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) in parenthesis. I won't describe the specific requirements (caution: deep rabbit hole), but will elaborate some of the terms that may not be familiar.
  1. Bailer 1 (1) – a cup on a string for dipping water out to the bottom of the boat.
  2. Bilge pump 1 (0) – a pump connected to the lowest part of the boat (the bilge), used to pump out any water that may have gotten in the boat.
  3. Boat-hook 2 (0) – a long stick with a hook on the end of it, used to manually push or pull a boat around other things.
  4. Bucket 2 (0)
  5. Can opener 3 (3) – a lot of the supplies will be packed in steel cans to protect them.
  6. Compass 1 (0)
  7. Dipper 1 (0)
  8. Drinking cup 1 (1)
  9. Fire extinguisher 1 (0) – specifically a type B-C (dry chemical) extinguisher.
  10. First Aid kit 1 (1) – they specify a very simple kit.
  11. Fishing kit 1 (1)
  12. Flashlight 1 (1) – with spare batteries and bulbs.
  13. Hatchet 2 (0) – one on each end of the boat, attached with a lanyard.
  14. Heaving line 2 (1) – a piece of rope with a floating weight on the end, used by throwing one end of the line (heaving) to a person in the water or another boat.
  15. Instruction card 0 (1)
  16. Interior light 1 (1)
  17. Jackknife 1 (0)
  18. Knife 0 (1)
  19. Ladder 1 (0) - helpful for getting into the boat from the water
  20. Signal Mirror 1 (1)
  21. Oars 1 (0) –  oars lock into the sides of a boat.
  22. Paddles 0 (2) –  paddles are held in the hand.
  23. Painter (free floating link) 2 (1) –  a tow line attached to the front (bow) of a small boat.
  24. Provisions/rations per person 1 (1) –  roughly 2400 Calories per person.
  25. Radar reflector 1 (1)
  26. Rainwater collector (or Reverse Osmosis desalinator) 1 (0)
  27. Sea anchor 1 (2) –  a small parachute that drags in the water, slowing the drift of a boat.
  28. Searchlight 1 (0)
  29. Seasickness kit per person 1 (1)
  30. Smoke signal 2 (2)
  31. Hand flare signal 6 (6)
  32. Parachute flare signal 4 (4)
  33. Skates and fenders 1 (0) –  plastic or wooden “bumpers” that help reduce damage while launching or recovering a small boat.
  34. Sponge 0 (2)
  35. Survival instructions 1 (1)
  36. Table of lifesaving signals 1 (1)
  37. Thermal protective aids 10% of occupancy –  blankets
  38. Tool kit 1 (0)
  39. Towline 1 (0)
  40. Water (liters per person) 3 (1.5)
  41. Whistle 1 (1)
All of the small items have to be stored (stowed, in naval-speak) in the lifeboat in such a manner as to prevent loss or damage, which mean that they should stay with the boat even if it capsizes. Containers and racks for this equipment must be marked with international symbols designating the contents.

Lifeboats have to be inspected and overhauled every year, with perishable goods replaced as they reach their expiration dates.

While most people choose to cross oceans by airplane these days, there are still passenger ships working some of the less-travelled routes. Having looked at the supplies available in a standard lifeboat, I'd have to say that the Robinson Crusoe of today would have a pretty good head start on staying alive until he was found.

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