Table of Contents

Introduction, Safety and Survival


Ships are running plants and a major number of facilities are provided within an enclosed space; e.g., the machinery space, the accommodation, the pump room etc. Accidents on board are not uncommon and people will have to be rescued from such locations to a safe area where medical care can be provided.

Ships are provided with lifesaving appliances (LSA) in the form of lifeboat, life-raft, and protective gears. In the event that the casualty will have to be taken off the ship, a helicopter rescue is also possible. All closed or poorly ventilated compartments, particularly those in which a fire has just occurred, are potentially dangerous. The atmosphere may lack oxygen, contain poisonous gases, or have presence of fire and explosion hazards.

If you are faced with the problem of rescuing an individual threatened by fire, explosive or poisonous gases, water or some other emergency, take action as deemed appropriate, until you have had time to determine the extent of the danger and your ability to cope with it.

Ship’s staff will have to be conversant with all LSA gear and practice regular drills in being familiar with the LSA equipment and safety procedures during a rescue operation.

Safety Guidance

The Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS) requires member states to ensure that flag state vessels are provided with adequate equipment on board to help preserve life at sea in an emergency. The convention is enforced by both flag and port states. Flag states through certification (The Safety Equipment Certificate) and regular checks to ensure compliance and by port states, through inspections of vessels calling into their port facilities.

For compliance, there are several requirements that flag vessels must follow and include requirements that relate to the carriage of life-saving appliances, the provision of muster lists and operating instructions and communication equipment to enhance survival at sea. This is to safeguard life at sea and thus must fulfill the purpose, that emergency alarms can be sounded whenever necessary, and to undertake search and rescue operation with correct and efficient communications and ready, at all times on board a vessel.

Chapter III of SOLAS includes requirements for life-saving appliances and arrangements, including requirements for life boats, rescue boats and life jackets according to types of ship involved.

The International Life-Saving Appliance (LSA) Code gives specific technical requirements for LSAs and is mandatory under Regulation 34, which states that all life-saving appliances and arrangements shall comply with the applicable requirements of the LSA Code.


SOLAS Convention

The current version of the SOLAS Convention is the 1974 version, known as SOLAS 1974, which came into force on 25 May 1980. As of March 2016, SOLAS 1974 has 162 contracting States, which flags about 99% of merchant ships around the world in terms of gross tonnage.

The first version of SOLAS was adopted in 1914 and came as a response to the Titanic disaster. Subsequent versions were adopted in 1929, 1948 and 1960. The 1960 convention was created to keep pace with technical developments in the shipping industry. The Convention was continuously updated with amendments. However, the amendments took a while to come into effect.

The present day international convention 'Safety of life at sea SOLAS - 74' adopted in 1974 came into force on 25th May 1980. Numerous amendments have been adopted and brought into force there after.

The accordion below explains the 14 chapters (Chapter II and XI have been split into 2 chapters each) of the 1974. Another 2 chapters have also been added as shown under the accordion. Responsibilities under the relevant requirements of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea.

Chapter I

It deals with the general provisions relating to the regulations and survey requirements of the convention. It also includes provisions for the control of ships in ports of other contracting governments.

Chapter II

It is divided into two parts; chapter II-1 and chapter II-2.

Chapter II-1 deals with the construction features of passenger and cargo ships. It also includes requirements regarding the subdivision, stability, machinery and electrical installations. ChapterII-2 deals fire protection, fire detection and fire extinction.

Chapter III

It deals with life saving appliances and arrangements, which include requirements for life boats, rescue boats and life jackets, depending on the type of ship. The technical requirements of life saving appliances are given in a separate mandatory booklet known as the LSA code.

Chapter IV

It deals with radio communications, which incorporate the Global Maritime Distress Safety System (GMDSS). The carriage of equipments like the SART (Search and Rescue Transponder) and EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) is made mandatory for all cargo and passenger ships of 300 gross tonnage and upwards. Chapter 4 is closely linked to the radio regulations of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

Chapter V

It deals with the safety of navigation and identifies certain navigation safety services provided by contracting governments. Some of the subjects covered include the maintenance of meteorological services for ships, ice patrol services, routeing of ships and the maintenance of search and rescue services. This chapter also makes it mandatory to carry the voyage Data Recorder (VDR) and Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) for certain ships.

Chapter VI

It deals with the carriage of all cargoes except liquids and gases in bulk. The regulations in chapter 6 also cover the requirements for stowage and the securing of cargo and cargo units, such as containers. This chapter requires cargo ships carrying grain to comply with the International Grain Code.

Chapter VII

It deals with the carriage of dangerous goods, which is subdivided into the following parts:

  • Part A covers the carriage of dangerous goods in packaged form.
  • Part A1 covers the carriage of dangerous goods in solid form in bulk.
  • Part B covers the construction and equipment of ships carrying dangerous liquid chemicals in bulk.
  • Part C covers construction and equipment of ships carrying liquefied gases in bulk.
  • Part D covers special requirements for the Carriage of packaged irradiated nuclear fuel, plutonium and high level radio active wastes onboard ships.

Chapter VIII

It deals with the basic requirements for nuclear powered ships with regard to radiation hazards.

Chapter IX

It deals with the management for the safe operation of ships and makes the International Safety Management (ISM) Code mandatory.

Chapter X

It deals with the safety measures for high speed crafts.

Chapter XI

It is further divided into two parts and deals with special measures to enhance maritime safety. Chapter XI-1 deals with the requirements related to the authorisation of recognised organisations that carry out surveys and inspections. It also deals with enhanced surveys, ship identification number schemes and the operational requirements of the port state control. Chapter XI-2 deals with the adoption of the International Ship and Port Facilities (ISPS) code.

Chapter XII

It deals with additional safety measures for bulk carriers which include structural requirements for bulk carriers more than 150m in length.

Chapter XIII

Verification of Compliance 

Under III code – IMO Instruments Implementation Code - contracting governments shall use the provisions of this code for implementation in the execution of their obligations and responsibilities in SOLAS Convention. This was made mandatory from 1 January 2016 the IMO Member State Audit Scheme.

Chapter XIV

Safety Measures for Ships Operating in Polar Waters

The Polar Code - International code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters has been developed to increase the safety of ships operation and mitigate the impact on the people and environment in the remote, vulnerable and potentially harsh Polar Waters. The chapter was made mandatory, from 1 January 2017, the Introduction and part I-A of the International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters (the Polar Code).

Principles of Survival at Sea

In the event of abandoning a ship, chances of survival can be high, provided a few important principles are followed.

"Abandon ship" order is only given by the Master verbally, on ships public address system.

The four cardinal principles for survival at sea are:

  • Keep Afloat
  • Maintain Warmth
  • Prevent Water Ingress
  • Seek Search and Rescue Assistance

The accordion below explains these principles.

Lifesaving appliances are provided onboard and in the lifeboats to assist in maintaining the principles of survival. These include, life jackets for staying afloat, immersion suits and thermal protective aids to maintain body warmth, lifeboat and life raft canopy covers to prevent water ingress and Search And Rescue Transponder (SART) and Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) to aid in search and rescue operations.

Use of Survival Equipment

Life saving appliances are provided onboard merchant ships and include survival crafts, personal life saving appliances and other equipment. The survival craft consists of lifeboats and life rafts. Personal life saving equipment consists of lifebuoys, life jackets, immersion suits and thermal protective aids. Other equipment includes portable radios, SART, EPIRB, line throwing apparatus and pyrotechnics. Pyrotechnics consists of buoyant smoke floats, rocket parachute flares and hand flares.

Survival in the water

Jumping into the survival craft

Whenever possible survival craft must be boarded before they are lowered. They could be boarded directly from embarkation ladders too. If it is necessary to jump onto them, do not jump onto people already in the survival craft. Remove all footwear and other sharp objects before jumping. Avoid jumping unless it is the last resort.

Jumping into the water

If it is necessary to jump into the water, jump from the lowest possible point of the vessel and then swim to the survival craft. Reasons for this are as below:
  • There is a possibility of the chest flotation pillow hitting the wearer’s jaw on impact or the collar could impact the wearer’s throat

Do the following if jumping into the water:
  • Keep elbows to the side as much as possible
  • Cover nose and mouth with one hand
  • Grasp the jacket collar and pull down with the other
  • Ensure that the jacket is securely tied before jumping
  • Make sure water is clear


Cold water shock

When entering cold water, persons may experience the following symptoms:
  • Involuntary gasping
  • Hyper-ventilation leading to choking if water is inhaled
  • Muscle cramps
  • Increased blood pressure
  • An increased heart rate that may lead to cardiac arrest

These effects usually subside two to three minutes after immersion

HELP – Heat Escape Lessening Posture

This posture can be used by a survivor wearing a lifejacket. The posture works like so:

  • Survivor must remain motionless
  • Head must be out of the water
  • The inner sides of the arms are held tight to the sides of the chest, thighs must be raised close to the groin region

‘HELP’ is said to increase survival time by nearly 50 percent.


The ‘group’ huddle

Where several survivors are in the water together their survival will be enhanced if they form a ring facing towards the centre and linking arms close together. This is known as the ‘group huddle’. The water in the ring is calmer than the outside, lessening the adverse effects of wave splash, and reducing heat loss on one side of the body.

Some of the other advantages of the ‘group’ huddle are:
  • Provides support to the weak and injured
  • Increases survivor morale

Safety of personnel and ship

Before a seafarer is assigned to shipboard duties, he should be trained ashore and should be familiarised with the various safety appliances used onboard a ship.

Personnel should be trained in the donning procedures of lifejackets, thermal protective aids, immersion suits, breathing apparatus and should be briefed on the operation of various other equipment. The images show the following procedures of donning an immersion suit and a lifejacket.

Key personnel in charge of launching, handling and operating safety equipment should be sufficiently trained.

Onboard training should focus on training the ship's personnel in the use of ship specific equipment. Training and maintenance manuals should be provided for reference. Instructional training on the “Launching and recovery procedures of lifeboats” survival procedures and first aid treatments should be imparted to all the ship's personnel.

Safety movies will help to weed out any misconceptions in operating safety equipment. A structured training program on operating safety equipment should be conducted. Training manuals, “muster lists” and instructions for onboard maintenance should be updated.

Proficiency in handling emergencies makes the crew’s ability to prevent disasters. For emergency preparedness regular onboard training, instructions and drill for crew is very important.

Definitions, Survival Craft and Appliances

  • Anti-exposure suit is a protective suit designed for use by rescue boat crews and marine evacuation system parties.
  • Certificated person is a person who holds a certificate of proficiency in survival craft issued under the authority of, or recognized as valid by, the Administration in accordance with the requirements of the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers, in force; or a person who holds a certificate issued or recognised by the Administration of a State not a Party to that Convention for the same purpose as the convention certificate.
  • Detection is the determination of the location of survivors or survival craft.
  • Embarkation ladder is the ladder provided at survival craft embarkation stations to permit safe access to survival craft after launching.
  • Float-free launching is that method of launching a survival craft whereby the craft is automatically released from a sinking ship and is ready for use.
  • Free-fall launching is that method of launching a survival craft whereby the craft with its complement of persons and equipment on board is released and allowed to fall into the sea without any restraining apparatus.
  • Immersion suit is a protective suit which reduces the body heat loss of a person wearing it in cold water.
  • Inflatable appliance is an appliance which depends upon non-rigid, gasfilled chambers for buoyancy and which is normally kept uninflated until ready for use.
  • Inflated appliance is an appliance which depends upon non-rigid, gasfilled chambers for buoyancy and which is kept inflated and ready for use at all times.
  • International Life-Saving Appliance (LSA) Code means the International Life-Saving Appliance (LSA) Code adopted by the Maritime Safety Committee of the Organisation by resolution MSC.48(66), as it may be amended by the Organisation, provided that such amendments are adopted, brought into force and take effect in accordance with the provisions of article VIII of the present Convention concerning the amendment procedures applicable to the annex other than chapter I.
  • Launching appliance or arrangement is a means of transferring a survival craft or rescue boat from its stowed position safely to the water.
  • Length is 96% of the total length on a waterline at 85% of the least moulded depth measured from the top of the keel, or the length from the fore-side of the stem to the axis of the rudder stock on that waterline, if that be greater. In ships designed with a rake of keel the waterline on which this is measured shall be parallel to the designed waterline.
  • Lightest seagoing condition is the loading condition with the ship on even keel, without cargo, with 10% stores and fuel remaining and in the case of a passenger ship with the full number of passengers and crew and their luggage.
  • Marine evacuation system is an appliance for the rapid transfer of persons from the embarkation deck of a ship to a floating survival craft.
  • Moulded depth
  1. The moulded depth is the vertical distance measured from the top of the keel to the top of the freeboard deck beam at side. In wood and composite ships the distance is measured from the lower edge of the keel rabbet. Where the form at the lower part of the midship section is of a hollow character, or where thick garboards are fitted, the distance is measured from the point where the line of the flat of the bottom continued inwards cuts the side of the keel.
  2. In ships having rounded gunwales, the moulded depth shall be measured to the point of intersection of the moulded lines of the deck and side shell plating, the lines extending as though the gunwale were of angular design.
  3. Where the freeboard deck is stepped and the raised part of the deck extends over the point at which the moulded depth is to be determined, the moulded depth shall be measured to a line of reference extending from the lower part of the deck along a line parallel with the raised part.
  • Novel life-saving appliance or arrangement is a life-saving appliance or arrangement which embodies new features not fully covered by the provisions of this chapter or the Code but which provides an equal or higher standard of safety.
  • Positive stability is the ability of a craft to return to its original position after the removal of a heeling moment.
  • Recovery time includes the time required to make preparations for recovery on board the rescue boat such as passing and securing a painter, connecting the rescue boat to the launching appliance, and the time to raise the rescue boat. Recovery time does not include the time needed to lower the launching appliance into position to recover the rescue boat.
  • Rescue boat is a boat designed to rescue persons in distress and to marshal survival craft.
  • Retrieval is the safe recovery of survivors.
  • Ro-ro passenger ship means a passenger ship with ro-ro cargo spaces or special category spaces as defined in regulation II-2/3.
  • Short international voyage is an international voyage in the course of which a ship is not more than 200 miles from a port or place in which the passengers and crew could be placed in safety. Neither the distance between the last port of call in the country in which the voyage begins and the final port of destination nor the return voyage shall exceed 600 miles. The final port of destination is the last port of call in the scheduled voyage at which the ship commences its return voyage to the country in which the voyage began.
  • Survival craft is a craft capable of sustaining the lives of persons in distress from the time of abandoning the ship.
  • Thermal protective aid is a bag or suit made of waterproof material with low thermal conductance.