They say, A friend in need is a friend indeed. On board ships, who can be your real friend who will help when you are in real need.

Did I hear, Life saving equipments ?  You are absolutely correct.

Life saving equipments are the only equipments on board which are for us. Do you agree ?

Free Fall Lifeboat

These are not there because of any cargo requirement, or any commercial need.

And yet, we find so many observations on life saving equipments during external inspections.

For example, as per USCG, detentions due to “rescue boat” was one of the top 5 deficiencies in 2015.

Isn’t it a worrying factor ? It surely is.

Deficiency Areas USCG

But why do we have so many observations on life saving equipments ? There are 3 factors that contribute to maintenance issues

  1. Maintenance not done as per schedule
  2. Person responsible for maintenance not sure what maintenance to do
  3. Spares / required stores not available

So Lets see what maintenance we need to do on free fall lifeboats to ensure that everything is alright.

Lowering requirement of Free fall lifeboat

As per SOLAS we need to lower the free fall lifeboat as follows

Every 3 months

Every 3 months we can lower the lifeboat either by free fall launching or by secondary means of launching. If lowering by free fall, the required crew need to sit inside the boat and launch it from inside.

Otherwise, we can lower the free fall lifeboat to water by davit. Crew can then board the lifeboat by embarkation ladder.

Irrespective of how we lower the boat, we need to manoeuver it in water every three months. We need to test the engine and sprinkler system during manoeuvring.

Every 6 months

If you are lowering the boat every 3 months by free fall means, there is no other thing you need to do every 6 month. But if you had lowered the boat by secondary means such as davit, you need to lower the boat by free fall every 6 months. Or you can carry out simulated launching provided lifeboat has the provisions for that.

Now what does it mean by “simulated launching” of the free fall boat ?

Simulated launching

Simulated launching replaces the requirement of lowering the lifeboat by free fall method. When we lower the lifeboat by free fall method, we are testing the release mechanism of the lifeboat. Simulated launching does same but without lowering the lifeboat with free fall.

In simple words, the boats that are fitted with simulated launching has a securing wire. One end of this wire is connected to boat and other on the ship structure. When the boat is secured, this wire will be loose with no weight on it.

One crew will operate the release gear of the boat. Once the boat releases, after moving slight distance, simulation wire will hold the boat. This test will make sure that the release mechanism is working.

After simulation test, the boat then need to be lowered with davit and manoevered in water.

Maintenance required on free fall lifeboats

Maintenance by Ship staff

Every company has a weekly and monthly checklist for lifeboat which we have to follow. But as a minimum,  we should do following maintenance on free fall lifeboat.

Lifeboat hull

It is good practice to check lifeboat hull for any cracks during drills. We must repair any crack in the hull at once.

Lifeboat Self contained air support system

Lifeboats fitted on tankers has self contained air support system. This is to maintain positive pressure inside the lifeboat in case of abandoning the ship in toxic environment.

Positive pressure inside lifeboat ensures that toxic gases don’t find its way inside lifeboat.

Every month we should check the pressure of the air bottles. The pressure of each bottle should not be less than 10% of the working pressure of bottle.

Usually there are three air bottles in the lifeboat. When checking the pressures, we should check the pressure in each bottle. When doing so for the second bottle, make sure to close the valves from the first bottle. Also you should release pressure from the line before opening the second bottle valve.

Sprinkler system

As I mentioned, we need to test the sprinkler system during maneuvering of the lifeboat. Apart from that every month we need to check and operate the sprinkler valve. This is to ensure that the valve is not frozen and we can open/close it easily.

Every time, sprinkler is tested with sea water, it is good practice to flush the lines with fresh water.

Lifeboat Engine

We need to test and run the lifeboat engine every week for at least 3 minutes (SOLAS Chapter III, Reg 20.6.3).

If the ship is trading in cold weather, it is important to check if the fuel for lifeboat engine is suitable for these conditions.

Every 5 years, we need to either change the fuel oil or send the fuel for analysis. As lifeboat fuel quantity is not considerable, renewing the fuel every 5 year is much economical option.

Lifeboat battery

Lifeboat battery supplies power for lighting as well as for starting the lifeboat engine.

We have to make sure that battery can start the lifeboat engine multiple times. Many companies have a policy to renew the lifeboat battery every 2 or 3 years.

Maintenance done by shore service engineer

There are number of components that shore service engineer checks during annual inspection. These can be divided in different sections. Lifeboat Exterior, Lifeboat internal, Lifeboat Engine, Lifeboat Release gear, Lifeboat Davit and Lifeboat Winch.

Lifeboat Thorough Inspection

SOLAS requirements divides thorough inspection by shore in two parts.

1) Thorough inspection of lifeboat

2) Thorough inspection of Launching appliances

1. Annual thorough examination of lifeboat

Every year, lifeboat need to be examined by the shore service engineer. Class issues SEQ certificate on the basis of this examination along with the inspection of launching appliances.

We must make sure that before annual class surveys, the annual examination of lifeboats is complete.

During annual inspection, the shore engineer will check all the components we discussed under ship staff maintenance. These include lifeboat engine, battery, sprinkler and air support system (if fitted). His checklist also include the inspection of lifeboat equipment inventory.

We have already identified six areas that form part of thorough inspection. Each of these six areas further have many check points that service engineer will check.

For example, external inspection of lifeboat will have many checkpoints. Checkpoints such as looking for any cracks in hull and opacity of window glass etc.

Check points Lifeboat External

Likewise the service engineer goes through the checkpoints for other areas too. Any shortcomings are brought to the attention of ship staff. Only after rectification of such deficiencies service engineer issues the service report.

2. Annual Thorough Inspection of Launching appliances by shore 

SOLAS chapter III Reg 20.11.1. requires

i) thorough annual examination of launching appliances

ii) Dynamic test of the winch brake every year with weight of the boat.

iii) Operational testing of free fall lifeboat either by free fall launching with operating crew on board or by simulated launching.

Launching appliance include the davits and winch of lifeboat, liferaft and rescue boat.

i) Thorough inspection of free fall lifeboat davit

So what does shore service engineer do during annual thorough examination of davit ? It is all in the name. Thorough examination means detailed inspection and that’s exactly what he does.

Annual thorough inspection of davit of free fall lifeboat include at least checking of

  1. Winch
  2. Electrical components
  3. Davit fall wire
  4. Davit structure
  5. Hydraulic system and
  6. Operational test of the davit.

Again any deficiencies is brought to the attention of ship staff for rectification either by ship or shore.

Annual Dynamic test of winch brake

The davits of free fall lifeboat has hydraulic brake.

For conventional boats, the brakes are opened up and checked for condition. But this is not required for free fall lifeboat davits. This is because, opening of hydraulic brake decreases rather than increases the reliability of the brake.

The purpose of the dynamic test is to see if the brake can take the load of the boat. If the davit brake can hold the lifeboat in its position, we consider the test pass. If the brake does not hold and boat is moving even slightly, we consider the test as fail.

As per SOLAS, Every year, this test needs to be done with the weight of the boat. For this, shore engineer just lowers the lifeboat with the davit to perform this test.

Free fall lifeboat on Davit


iii) 5 yearly dynamic test of winch brake

SOLAS requires to carry out dynamic test with higher loads every 5 years. This load is 10% higher than the weight of the boat with all its compliments and equipments.

So the required weight is

1.1 x (Weight of the lifeboat + all its equipments +weight of full compliments of lifeboat)

Below picture shows the calculation of the weight for 5 year dynamic test.

Load test calculation for Lifeboat Davit

There are two ways in which we can conduct this test.

1) By placing the required weight inside the boat and then lowering the boat with the davit.

2) By suspending the physical weight on lifeboat davit.

As this test is usually carried out in dry dock with easy availability of shore crane and weights, the second option may be the preferred one.

Dynamic test for free fall lifeboat davit

3. Lifeboat on Load release gear test

On load release gear of free fall lifeboat is different than conventional boats. Some says that this does not come in the category of on load release gear.

While this test is not required as per SOLAS for free fall lifeboats, it is still sometimes carried out during dry dock. Sometimes because of company’s policy or because of class insists it to be carried out.

To understand the testing of on load release gear of Free fall lifeboat, we need to understand how free fall lifeboat is released.

There are different arrangements for different make of free fall lifeboat and davit. But the fundamental principal is same. Free fall lifeboat holds onto a hook and this hook is released by hydraulic pressure generated from the hand pump inside the lifeboat. As the hook releases, the boat slides on the channel to drop into the water.

Lets look at one of such arrangement. Have a look at photo below.

How free fall lifeboat release system works

As you can see, the boat is holding onto a rod. There are two pins protruding from inside the lifeboat. When we increase the hydraulic pressure through pump, the pins start moving outwards. As the pin touches the rod, and as we keep increasing the pressure, pins lifts the boat upwards. At one point, boat is clear of the rod, and boat moves through the channel to drop into the water.

See below close up photo for more better view of pin and bracket holding the boat.

Free fall lifeboat release arrangement

The two pins would not move together. Only one pin would come out and lift the boat to release into the water. The second pin is for emergency system for lowering. This is used when primary system fails.

Now that we know how free fall lifeboat’s release system work, We are in a better position to ask ourself this question. What do we mean by on load release gear test of free fall lifeboat ?

The pin we mentioned, need to push the weight of the boat including the weight of all the crew sitting in the boat. What if, there is leakage in the hydraulic system. Or what if hydraulic pump cannot generate that pressure to lift the boat enough to release it.

When we talk about free fall lifeboat on load release gear test, we are talking about testing the capacity of the hydraulic system. This is to ensure that it has enough power to lift the boat.

I keep saying lifting the boat on the basis of release gear example I mentioned earlier. But the design of the release can be different. Some design require the securing pin to release by the hydraulic pressure to release the boat. Nonetheless, it is hydraulic pressure that removes the lifeboat from secured point to release.

On load release gear test is done with 10% more weight than the weight of boat + weight of all crew. Though this is the requirement for conventional boat, same criteria is applied for free fall lifeboats if it is carried out during dry dock.

How this test is done ?

First calculate, how much hydraulic pressure is equivalent to the required test weight. This is simple mathematical calculation which I will not go deep into.  Below is the actual calculation for one of the ship.

On Load Release gear test calculation

As you can see, Hydraulic system of this ship need to generate & hold 275 bar pressure to pass the test. During dry dock, in the yard workshop the hydraulic system is pressurised to perform this test. Below is the photo of actual test for the same ship.

First calculate, how much hydraulic pressure is equivalent to the required test weight. This is simple mathematical calculation which I will not go deep into.  Below is the actual calculation for one of the ship.   As you can see, Hydraulic system of this ship need to generate & hold 275 bar pressure to pass the test. During dry dock, in the yard workshop the hydraulic system is pressurised to perform this test. Below is the photo of actual test for the same ship.


More and more ships these days are fitted with free fall lifeboats. And the main reason for that is ease of use and ease of maintenance.

There are certain maintenance requirement as per SOLAS. And we need to make sure we do that. The maintenance include both that can be done by ship staff and the one done by shore service engineer.

Ship staff need to do weekly and monthly checks which usually form a part of on board company checklist.

Shore engineer need to perform annual and 5 Yearly tests.

As long as we carry out maintenance as per schedule, we can be sure of operation condition of the lifeboat.

Related Blogs

Follow us Today on
our social network

Capt Rajeev Jassal

About Capt Rajeev Jassal

Capt. Rajeev Jassal has sailed for over 19 years mainly on crude oil, product and chemical tankers. He holds MBA in shipping & Logistics degree from London. He has done extensive research on quantitatively measuring Safety culture onboard and safety climate ashore which he believes is the most important element for safer shipping.

Search Blog


Rahul Srivastava
Rahul Srivastava
Apr 25, 2016

Quite elaborate and informative article.

Rajeev Jassal
Rajeev Jassal
Apr 25, 2016

Happy that you liked it Rahul...

Apr 25, 2016

hi, hydraulic hoses of the freefall L/B davit has to be renewed every 5 yrs or as condition permits. denso to be applied on the couplings to prevent corrosion. there are 2 school of thoughts on this.. whether to apply denso or not. if not applied, u risk corrosion but are sure of the condition of hose couplings. what would u suggest? another doubt on ur anchoring article.. after anchor brought up, is it a good practice to secure the anchor chain on the windlass brake or keep the load on the bow stopper? i have seen different masters following different practices.. please advise

Rajeev Jassal
Rajeev Jassal
Apr 25, 2016

MSC Circ 1206 Rev 1 gives a detailed information on what all elements need to be checked during annual & 5yearly inspections and it mentions checking the condition of hydraulic hoses. There is no statutory requirement per se to change the hoses but it is considered as the best practice to change the hose & many companies have renewal of hose as a 5 yearly job in their PMS. As you rightly said about denso, these are useful but does not eliminate the need of checking the coupling at an specified interval in PMS. If applied, there should be a PMS job to remove and check the condition of coupling say every 6 months. Thanks for pointing out these very good points.

Rajeev Jassal
Rajeev Jassal
Apr 25, 2016

Regarding the anchoring, both school of thoughts are right. Both methods have pros & cons as I have mentioned in that blog. As I had said, the problem with chain resting on the stopper is that in high wind force, the stopper can deform and in emergency we may not be able to pick up the anchor. But if we combine this fact with the fact that most of the companies do not allow the vessels to stay at anchor if wind force is more than 6, the stopper should not deform. I personally used to rest the cable on the stopper but it would be wrong to say that other method is completely incorrect.

May 9, 2016

I have seen FFLB without hydraulic release system, fitted with normal lever and wire system to lock down the hook which is holding the boat with a strong point on ship by means of a chain. So how to do the onload release testing on such system . Secondly what is frequency of onload release testing on both types of boats.?

Rajeev Jassal
Rajeev Jassal
May 10, 2016

If you have system with no Hydraulic to lower the FFLB, for 5 year load test, physical weights (like sand bags) equivalent to the 1.1 times the weight of fully loaded boat (empty boat + full complements + all equipments) are put into the lifeboat. It is then secured with the davit as a safety measure and released from inside the boat. Test will pass if we are able to release the boat with this full load.

Jul 30, 2016

Good day sir i really liked all ur articles, dey are elaborated quite well,sir i heard term ERD ,what does dis mean?

Rajeev Jassal
Rajeev Jassal
Sep 20, 2016

Hi Milan, sorry to have missed your comment. If by ERD you mean Emergency recovery Device (called recovery stropes) then it is Nylon straps used for recovery of on load release lifeboat in heavy weather.

Sep 3, 2016

thank you sir , very informative , especially the photos makes understanding very easy.

Rajeev Jassal
Rajeev Jassal
Sep 20, 2016

Glad you liked it Avinasha..

Sep 21, 2016

Hi Rajeev, very nice article. But SOLAS reg 20-11.2.4 suggests the Free fall lifeboat does not need to be tested at 1.1 times her load. The test can be carried out with only the operating crew onboard or by a simulated launching as per MSC Circ. 1206

Rajeev Jassal
Rajeev Jassal
Sep 22, 2016

Thanks Mayank for correcting me. You are right. This amendment was adopted in 2012 by MSC. Even though this test is not required by SOLAS, this is still done in dry dock if the class insists or company want it to be done. I have now made some change in wording to adopt the correction pointed out by you.. Thanks

Sep 21, 2016

For the on load release gear test i meant

Oct 27, 2016

Hi Rajeev, One question. The free fall boat HAVE to be launched in the water every three months, or 6 months?

Rajeev Jassal
Rajeev Jassal
Oct 28, 2016

SOLAS want us to try to lower by free fall every 3 months But if it is not possible for some reasons, it allows us to lower the lifeboat with davit and then manoeuvre once every 3 months but it must be lowered by free fall atleast every 6 months. So it is OK to lower the lifeboat by free fall every 6 months but it must be manoeuvred in water every 3 months.

Nov 26, 2016

Good day sir Rajeev, I have one question regarding lashing of FFLB is it necessary to remove during emergency?. The lashing of FFLB is quit small and its look like cannot withstand with the wait of FFLB.

Jan 29, 2017


Jan 8, 2017

Dear Sir, what is the minimum depth of water, required for launching of FFLB, for the 3/6 monthly test.

Aung san
Aung san
Mar 30, 2017

Very good

Asagar Abbas
Asagar Abbas
Jul 23, 2017

Dear Sir, kindly advise if life boat can be painted on board?

Sep 11, 2017

good day will change lifeboat wires and sheaves and my question is should i made load test after replacing this parts or not ? FYI next load test date after 1 year from now thanx and best regards Sherif

Pawan Duggirala
Pawan Duggirala
Jan 18, 2018

Dear Capt.Rajeev, Appreciate your very well written articles. I see the hard work required in keeping the articles updates to the latest, May i suggest change to procedure for simulated launch :- (MSC.1/Circ.1578) revoking Annex 2 to MSC.1/Circ.1206/Rev1. "The new guidelines emphasise that simulated launching carried out during drills is a means ......achieved without the physical activation of the lifeboat’s release mechanism." Source :

sharad gupta
sharad gupta
Jan 18, 2018

i really enjoy reading your articles sir. keep up the good work. your articles show the immense hard work you have done and knowledge you have gained and shared. i have read almost all the articles and has really helped me dispe lmy doubts. thank you so much.

isaac Owonikoko
isaac Owonikoko
Jun 13, 2018

Nice right up sir please can you give me names of device that clean /maintain vessel

Sumit Juneja
Sumit Juneja
Jul 23, 2018

Thanks a lot. Very nicely explained in simple words.

Mohammad Irshad Ahmad
Mohammad Irshad Ahmad
Aug 9, 2018

Good morning sir How much depth of water need for free fall life boat . When we launching free fall boat

Mar 6, 2019

Many thanks for this blog, really good and clearly written about everything. GL

Apr 4, 2019


Apr 13, 2019

Nice article Sir,easy to understand. Q. When to secure the boat with Harbor pin?

Nikhil Vakati
Nikhil Vakati
Jul 15, 2019

Sir, Maintenance for davit launched lifeboat

Jul 25, 2019

if vessel involved in collision by the stern or the aft portion of ship under fire, how a free fall lifeboat can be launched?

Nguyễn Văn Lạng
Nguyễn Văn Lạng
Jul 28, 2019

Thanks a lot. Very nicely explained in simple words. By the way, could you please have a article regarding RESCUE BOAT like the article above. Thanks sir and Best Regards !

Kumud Ranjan
Kumud Ranjan
Sep 17, 2019

Sir, your all article are very helpful for me candidate like is a blessing that people like you are writing blog .I kindly request you to plz make video on these topic it will be very helpful for seafarer.The way of writing article make it immense helpful.thank a lot sir.

Marcelo Recio
Marcelo Recio
Sep 25, 2019

Dear Capt. Rajeev: I have seen several FFLB where the lashing for preventing the boat to "jump" during bad wheather is linked to the ship´s structure through a hidrostatic release unit. Eventually, the purpose of this HRU should be to allow the boat to float free in case it is not possible to launch it before the ship sinks. I have followed the lashing wire and also inspected the release gear and it seems that the system would indeed work in a real situation. But nevertheless, I would like to know if that "solution" comes from a SOLAS regulation or if it comes from on board practices and experience. I have read SOLAS and also LSA Code but didn´t find anything related to that matter. With regard to HRUs employed, they normally are not the disposable ones which nowadays are common sight on board. They are the stainless steel serviceable type, which implies that if their use is mandatory the should be serviced at least annualy . I would highly appreciate any advise or information about this matter. Thank you very much in advance.

Leave Comment