(Extracts courtesy of A.N.T.A. publications, Ranger Hope © 2008 www.splashmaritime.com.au)



Safety management

Emergency planning

Life-saving equipment     



Hyperthermia & hypothermia

The fire triangle

Fire detection

Fire extinguishers


Emergencies at sea

To respond effectively to an emergency situation requires adequate equipment, appropriate training and a will to survive. By learning and practicing the skills of risk management, survival, and firefighting you may save your life.

The accidents that can befall a vessel and its crew are called Marine Casualties and may be:


Loss of rudder or propulsion.


Fire on board.



Man overboard.



Action to take in the event of the Marine casualties listed above is described in the accompanying workbook, Navigational Emergencies, as this workbook focuses on survival and firefighting.




Safety management

The process of documented management plans for standing orders, bridge, engine room, restricted visibility has long been implemented by sound Masters. The International Regulations for Preventing Collision at Sea in Rule 2 stipulate that the safety of the vessel is the responsibility of the owner, master, or crew, but an overall management plan that includes all parties (including the statutory authority) needs the pro-active and coordinated approach, like the WH&S used on land.

The hell of the “Piper Alpha” Oil North Sea oil rig fire and the equally devastating “Marchioness”, ferry mown down in London’s Thames River, its birthday party guests washed into the rescuing crafts’ propellers, were wake up calls that accidents waiting to happen keep happening. In 2002 the IMO published the International Safety Management Code (ISM) to address this problem.

The pro-active coordination required is called a Safety Management System and a designated person or persons are made responsible for the maintenance of its documentation, the SMS Manual. The SMS manual includes:

It should be available at work stations and be audited and updated in a systematic way.


The risk analysis process

The process of ensuring that occupational health and safety hazards are identified, recorded, investigated, analyzed, corrected (eliminated or controlled) and verified can be summarised by the four steps:

Identification of all potential hazards.              What could happen.

Assessment of the risk of each hazard.          How likely is it to happen.

Elimination or a control plan.                             How to stop it happening.

Monitor & re-evaluation.                                     To improve/update the plan.


Staff training, inclusion in safety planning and the valuing of safe attitudes are encouraged in order to develop safe procedures. In this context, examining “case studies” (such as the Piper Alpha and Marchioness) and relating them to your own operations are a key concept of ISM 2002. 



Risk assessment


Risk assessment may be informal (intuitively reached) or formal (by audit) and needs to consider the following factors:


Risk  Level = Consequence x  Exposure x Probability

(outcome severity) x (frequency/duration) x (likelihood)


The level of risk from a hazard will determine the scale and priorities of control measures required. Low risk activities may be suitable addressed over a period of some weeks, whereas high risk activities will require ceasing operations until the deficiency is rectified.


Monitoring and re-evaluation:

This is coordinated by the designated person/s with the responsibility for monitoring the safe operation of the vessel. Sources for their audit include:


Training & staff development:

The cooperation of the staff is essential in implementing of an effective control plan. While the necessity to monitor and document places a burden on staff, the encouragement of safe attitudes is the foundation of safe practice.





Emergency planning

All vessels must carry the safety equipment according to their class, trade and area of operation. For recreational vessels this is defined in law and enforced by the State Maritime Authority. They also annually survey the State’s commercial vessels to the National Standards for Commercial Vessels (NSCV). While the information in this workbook was correct at the time of writing, users must consult the NSCV and AMSA for currency.

However many life jackets, lifebuoys, life rafts or buoyant apparatus (Carly Floats) are fitted to the vessel, they will not be used to the greatest affect unless regular drills are undertaken to test the crews preparedness, the serviceability of the equipment and the feasibility of the emergency plan itself. Survival is all about teamwork.


Musters & Drills

The emergency assembly point for passengers and crew is called the muster station. In smaller vessels a muster station list must be prominently displayed detailing its position and the duties to be performed there by each crew member. On larger vessels the list will also include the survival craft allocation to each passenger and the emergency signals used by the vessel.

In the event of an emergency signal being heard, those aboard must go to their muster station as quickly as possible, taking their lifejacket with them. In an emergency it is inappropriate to take your luggage, but if warm clothing is easily to hand then take it too.


Emergency Signals


Differing vessels may use the blast of the horn, ringing of a bell or an electronic alarm. The commonly used signals are: 

Fire                                        The continuous ringing of a bell.

To emergency stations       Seven short & one prolonged blast on the horn.

To abandon ship                  One short & one prolonged blast on the horn repeated three times.


Do not jump overboard if you hear seven short & one prolonged blast on the horn.

A ship in an emergency that is not actually sinking may be a safer place to be than in the ocean.

The Skipper (or surviving senior officer) is the person responsible for the order to abandon ship after all efforts have been made to assemble all board, especially those engaged in damage control and machinery spaces.

The Skipper is also the person responsible for ensuring that drills are carried out. The details must be recorded in the vessels log book. The Masters responsibilities are more fully described in the accompanying workbook, “Responsibilities” workbook.



The scheduling of drills is determined by the Registering Maritime Authority. Typically for vessels with four or more crew the requirements are:


Emergency drills                         ..   Monthly

Fire drills                                     .    Two monthly    (Passenger Vessels)

                                                          Three monthly (Fishing Vessels)

Abandon ship drills                   ..  Three monthly (Passenger Vessels)

                                                         Three monthly (Fishing Vessels)


In vessels of less than four crew it remains the Master’s responsibility to ensure that the crew are adequately trained and practiced in the emergency procedures.

Such drills and training are required to be as real as safety allows. It is only by rolling out the fire hoses, or by launching the life raft that the plan can be tested. In a vessel that regularly practices, you will not find that the hose couplings seized or a fire bucket lanyard too short to reach the water.

If there is any deficiency is found in the plan or the equipment then it needs to be reviewed and something that works be put in its place.






Life-saving equipment


Life-saving appliances found on vessels of up to 12 metres in length will depend on the area and type of operation that particular vessel undertakes. This equipment could include any or all of the following:-

-           personal flotation devices (life-jackets)

-           lifebuoys

-           rubber flotation devices (life rafts)

-           buoyant apparatus

-           dinghies

-           distress equipment such as flares, radios, etc.

-           Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs)

-           any other equipment assisting in supporting the life of a vessels crew and passengers



For the requirements of your vessel refer to the NSCV and AMSA Regulations.

You should know these requirements and any other relevant information on the care of and operational procedures for such equipment.


Use of Life-Saving Equipment



There are many different types of Personal Floatation Devices (PFD’s) available with varying degrees of flotation ability. But Lifejacket is the term applied to life preservers that fulfill the requirements for commercial usage. The recreationally used PFD’s may keep a person afloat but not face up.

The most common types found on commercial vessels will be either:-

(a)        a coastal lifejacket

(b)        a SOLAS lifejacket

Regardless of the type carried, the regulation states that there will be a life jacket carried for every person on board.  In addition, extra jackets will be carried for people working in remote locations or on watch duties.

Lifejackets must also be provided for any children on board.


Coastal Lifejackets (Standard Lifejackets)

This is generally a bib type life preserver providing the wearer with full flotation support.  Jackets of this type are fitted with a buoyant head piece and designed to support the person with body inclined backwards with nose and mouth clear of the water.

They are also designed to be worn front-to-back and back-to-front, or clearly capable of being worn in only one way and, as far as possible, unable to be donned incorrectly.

The jacket is also fitted with six strips of retro-reflective tape on each side, a whistle and a salt water or manually activated light.

The donning instructions are printed on the jacket.

You should become familiar with the type of life jacket carried on your vessel and know how to put the life jacket on correctly.


SOLAS Lifejackets

These jackets are manufactured and tested to meet the SOLAS (Safety of Life At Sea) standard.  The jackets also carry the stamp of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA).  These jackets are designed to lift the mouth of an exhausted or unconscious person not less than 120 mm clear of the water with the body inclined backwards at an angle no less than 20o and no more than 50o.  Like the coastal life jacket, SOLAS jackets are fitted with the six strips of retro-reflective tape each side, the whistle and salt water or manually activated light (giving 8 hours of illumination with a power of 0.75 candelas).

Courtesy of Hutchisson safety equipment

In addition to this, SOLAS type lifejackets are designed to give greater protection and may be fitted with anti-hypothermia hoods, water deflecting foam collar and other features.  The buoyancy is gained by the use of closed cell foam plastics, kapok, fibrous glass material or unicellular foam covered in synthetic, fabric or coated cloth.

The donning of the jacket can vary from design to design:- some have straps or tapes tied around the waist, others have ties both at waist level and across the chest, while newer types have snap locks and quick release buckle fastenings.

SOLAS jackets are required on Class B vessels operating more than 30 miles off shore.

Regardless of the type of jacket: - Know the Donning Procedure.



Stowage of jackets

Lifejackets are designed for use in emergency situations where time is of the utmost importance.

They must be available for immediate use.

The jackets are stowed in specially designated lockers or beneath bunks. Suitable signage must be provided indicating the location and donning procedures for the jackets.

It is your responsibility to become familiar with the location of life jackets on your vessel.

In some jackets, long term contact with moisture can affect the buoyancy cushions in the jacket, resulting in loss of support for the wearer.

Avoid stowing life jackets in the polythene bags in which they are supplied and store in a dry position on the vessel.


Care of lifejackets

Lifejackets should be inspected regularly to ensure good operating condition.

Routine checks should include:-




Lifebuoys are buoyant devices designed to assist in flotation until rescue is effected.

They are constructed of fibre glass or plastic foam covered by fibre glass and shaped in either circular or horse shoe form.

Lifebuoys are fitted with a lifeline becketted around the outside allowing for four hand holds.  Four strips of retro-reflective tape, are wrapped around it to assist in detection at night.

The lifebuoy will have the same identity as the vessel it is attached to (vessel name on buoy).

Other attachments include a buoyant line of suitable length, usually 27.5 metres, to retrieve a person in the water and a self activating light with intensity of 2 candelas for 2 hours, on at least half of the lifebuoys.

Lifebuoys are stowed on deck on float free brackets within easy reach of crew or watch keeper and arranged for quick release in an emergency.

Lifebuoys and the attached buoyant line and light must not be permanently secured to the vessel in any way.



Care of lifebuoys

Inspect lifebuoys regularly.  Check:-

*       lifebuoys are in position and access is easy

*        damage and wear to the casing

*         fraying of life line and becket seizing

*         the stowage/support bracket

*         the condition of the self activating lights and attachments

*         condition of retro-reflective tape



A liferaft must be either inflatable or of rigid construction and capable of support for the number of people it is designed for.  If the liferaft is your only survival craft it must have sufficient capacity for all the people on board the vessel.

The most compact and complete survival craft for small commercial vessels is the inflatable liferaft.


It is important to familiarise yourself with the operation of the raft and the equipment contained in and attached to it.


Location of the liferaft

Ideally the liferaft should be located in an area where instant access will be possible.

The position will depend on the size of the vessel and governed by survey requirements (usually located on an upper deck, flybridge, or foredeck and positioned such that if the vessel lists by 10º to port or starboard or trims by 15º either end, the liferaft will still float free of any obstruction).

Inflatable liferafts are packed in either a fibreglass container or a soft valise; the fibreglass container being the most common.



Fit the hydrostatic release unit and attach painter so that in manual launching the painter is secured to a strong point on the vessel while automatic release via the hydrostatic unit results in painter being connected to the vessel through a ‘weak’ link.


Care and maintenance

Routine checks on the liferaft should include:




Some vessels use buoyant apparatus as their main lifesaving apparatus.  These may include Carly floats or dinghies.  Carly floats are designed to float free off the sinking vessel and support people in the water.

They are fitted with life lines becketted around the outside edges and coloured for easy detection.

They are designed to support people in the water.



ü    ensure they are in good condition

ü  ensure they are in float free position and not secured such as to be pulled down by the sinking vessel.










Flares (pyrotechnical signal devices) are specifically used to attract attention in emergency situations.


Types of flares

Common types include:-

ü  orange smoke flares

ü  red hand held flares

ü  red parachute rocket.

Orange Flares

These are designed for day use only.  The hand held unit emits orange smoke for pinpointing position for a period of 60 seconds and have a range of approximately 4 kilometres on a clear day (sighting area - 50 km2).


Smoke canisters are available for man-overboard situations.  These emit dense smoke for a period of 3 minutes.  They are also standard issue in Solas Liferafts.

Red Hand Held Flares

Particularly useful at night time and can be quite effective during daytime.  For use only when potential rescuers are in sight.  Red hand flares burn for a minimum period of 60 seconds at an intensity of 15,000 candela and are visible up to 10 km (314 km2) on a clear dark night.


Red Parachute Distress Rockets

A hand held self contained distress rocket, ejecting a parachute suspended red flare.

Fires to a height of 300 metres and burns for a minimum of 40 seconds at a brilliance of 40,000 candela.

Visible up to 15 kms on a clear day and 40 km or more on a clear dark night.


Parachute Rockets are normally fired vertically to gain maximum range of visibility. If cloud level is low (below 300 metres) an angle of 45o is recommended, while in windy conditions the rocket is best fired slightly downwind.

These rockets (flares) are designed to be used for attracting potential rescuers in position out of range of the distress raft (over the horizon conditions).

Use the para-rocket if you can hear a vessel or aircraft but can not see it or if you can see the glow of lights of a vessel.

Do not use a para-rocket flare when search aircraft are directly overhead unless it is an absolute necessity.

Important Points Relating to Flares

ü  Carry the correct amount of flares – as required for class of vessel.

ü  Obtain officially approved flares - approved flares will be marked with manufacturer and expiry dates and serial/batch number        

ü  check shelf life of the flares, usually 3 years - check length of time available before buying.

ü  Moisture and temperature changes can cause problems with flares.  Store in sealed plastic bags and in a weather tight container.  Stow the container away from direct sunlight or heat generated from engines, galleys, etc.

ü  Know the operating procedures of the flares on board your vessel and instruct crew members in their use.

ü  Know which flare to use and, or for what, circumstance.


Firing a flare

Firstly read the instruction for operation - this will differ greatly from flare to flare.

General precautions with firing flares:-

-                      keep in protective seals until ready for use

-           do not fire all flares off at once

-           use the most appropriate flare for the occasion

-           when using a flare with a striker cap ensure to hold the flare away from the face, as small segments of the striker pad can cause burns to face or eyes

-           hold the flare by the section indicated on the flare (some flares  will  become white hot in certain parts)

-           remove the strikers from a used flare and keep for emergency

-           waves or water will not greatly affect the operation of a lit flare

-           dropping an exposed unlit flare in water for a short period (2 mins) should not affect the operation of the unit

-           flares with caps `on' and exposed to water for a period of 2 hours should not have their operation affected

-          do not bring a used flare into the raft/craft unless it has been cooled.








Emergency position indicating radio beacons are buoyant radio transmitters that when activated allow satellites and aircraft locate their position.

EPIRB’s are compulsory for AMSA class C survey vessels and NSW recreational vessels greater than 8 metres operating more than two nautical miles off the coast, but it is recommended that all vessels carry an EPIRB.


Types of EPIRB’s currently in use:

The two types of EPIRB’s are the simple 121.5/243 Mhz (phased out for marine use, now reserved for aviation) and the newer 406 Mhz. The 406 type can be detected anywhere in the world and in the signal encodes information about the users vessel that can assist rescuers to find you.

The sea surface is a reflector for the EPIRB signal so it should be turned on immediately on entering the liferaft and floated beside it tied by its cord.

You cannot hear the radio signal from an EPIRB (it is a transmitter, not a receiver) so there is no point turning it on to see if it works. EPIRBs have a battery state test facility (test switch and indicator light). If an EPIRB has been inadvertently activated it should be reported to the Authorities and left on until they request you to turn it off. This is so they can discount it from any simultaneous real emergency activation.







  Hyperthermia & hypothermia


Survivors will feel the affects of exposure, the body getting sun burnt, too hot or too cold, depending on the immediate environment and cover available. Exposure can be a killer.


Hyperthermia is the body getting too hot. Its solution is by lowering physical exertion, removing the source of heat and supplying water to avoid dehydration; not easy in an open liferaft in the tropics.

Under the liferaft canopy provides the best cover available, and on some double bottomed liferafts the inner compartment can be deflated during the day to provide a cool surface. This may have to be re-inflated at night to stop the occupants becoming too cold. If sharks are seen in the area keep all your body inside the raft.

Water is unlikely to be available in quantity, so efforts must be made to reduce dehydration by not consuming salty foods (cans, fish or salt water) or vomiting through seasickness (anti-seasickness tablets should be taken early)

People’s will to live is strengthened when they are occupied. Passing time is a big issue in a survival craft. The person in charge should keep the survivors busy with duties and keep them comfortable.

Smoking exacerbates thirst and should not be allowed if the water supply is low. If smoking is to be allowed, be very careful with matches and cigarettes. As well, the comfort of other occupants should be kept in mind.

Morale may be sustained by singing, prayers, discussions and by telling jokes. Remember, however, that these activities may make the throat dry and there should be enough water.



Hypothermia is the condition of low body core temperature. The normal body temperature is 37°C and in cold conditions the body will fight to maintain that temperature. At first the body will raise goose pimples on the flesh (a remnant of our ancestors increasing the heat trap of their raised fur) and then it will start to shiver in order to generate more heat. If this is insufficient to increase body heat, the blood will be directed away from the skin surface to the core body organs.

The start of hypothermia can be rapid, a process exacerbated by heat loss from wet skin being greater than that from dry skin and wind chill.
The symptoms of hypothermia
Symptoms of developing hypothermia are:


Unconsciousness occurs when the internal temperature falls below 31°C, the shivering ceases and the pupils dilate. As the temperature falls below 30°C, the person will die rapidly without immediate assistance.


Prevention from hypothermia includes:


HELP (heat-escape-lessening posture)

The help position protects the high rate of heat loss areas of head, neck sides of the chest and groin region. It also reduces the need to expend energy in swimming.

The castaway shown would have considerably increased his chances of survival by wearing a woolly hat, shoes and more clothing. In rough conditions it will be appreciated that most of the time this person would be swallowing sea spray and gulping green water. The advantage of a hood or spray visor is obvious.


Group Huddle

The water inside the ring will be calmer than outside, and the heat lost to the water will concentrate within the ring.

Children or the injured can be more secure held within the ring and the sight of a seemingly large creature in the water would be more daunting for a lone shark to mess with.


Treating hypothermia

If possible, remove the victim horizontally from the water to prevent after drop and remove the victim’s wet clothing and replace with dry ones. Avoid rubbing or roughly handling the victim.


Raising the body temperature

If you wrap the cold victim in thermal blanket you may be keeping the cold in. You need to get something warm next to their skin to raise their temperature. This can be a warm bath, water bottle or heated beach stones wrapped in a towel. Often using other peoples’ body heat, by huddling together under a blanket, is the only practical way to transfer heat to the victim.

In water of 10°C the predicted survival time is less than three hours. If not anticipated and planned for in colder climates, death by hypothermia will be rapid.






The fire triangle

The three elements necessary for a fire to start to burn and continue to burn are:


The heat of the fire vaporises the fuel and maintains the chemical chain reaction.


Flash Point

The temperature that a liquid gives off flammable vapours is called its flash point.  Technically petrol and diesel are cocktails of hydrocarbons of different flash points. Commonly 0° C for petrol and 60° C for diesel is the temperature that they will burn if a spark is applied.  Diesel is seen to be safer than petrol to use in that regard.


The spread of fires

Heat moves (transfers) in three ways:

Convected hot air and flame will always move upward, trapping anyone or anything that cannot climb quicker than it does.

Conducted heat may transfer through steel bulkheads or pipes from welding or flame into another compartment remote from the fire itself.

Radiated heat may grill anything that is close enough in front of it.


Classes of fire

The six classes of fire are defined the type of material burning.




Class A

Solids containing carbon

Wood, paper, cloth, plastic

Class B

Combustible liquids

Petrol, oil, tar, paint.

Class C

Combustible gases

LPG (liquid petroleum gas).

Class D

Combustible metals

Aluminium, sodium, potassium.

Class ‘E’

Live electrical equipment

Switchboards, generators.

Class F

Cooking oils and fats

Sunflower oil, olive oil.







An electrical fire is only so classified to point out the risk of electrocution or death by fighting with water based extinguishers when the current is on. Switch it off and the fire reverts to another of the classifications.




Fire detectors and alarms

The commonly available detectors are:


Ionisation Smoke Detector

They react to the visible and invisible products of combustion and are common in accommodation areas.


Photoelectric Smoke Detector

They are triggered by smoke obscuring their photoelectric beam. They will also alarm with fumes and dusts, so are not practical for most engine room spaces.


Fixed Temperature Thermal Detector

The atmosphere reaching a pre-set temperature activates the alarm and are commonly used in the vessels galley.


Variable Thermal Detectors

Both the atmosphere reaching a pre-set temperature and too rapid a rise in temperature activates this alarm. They are ideal for engine room spaces.


Ultra-Violet Flame Detector

These detect the ultra-violet radiation emitted from flames and warn at the earliest moment, but only if they can “see” the spark or fire. They are only suitable for uncluttered spaces with no blind spots.






Fire Fighting Equipment

In vessels of lengths up to 12 metres, the most common types of equipment found for controlling or extinguishing fire will include:-

-           fixed fire fighting equipment

-           fire pumps

-           portable extinguishers

-           fire blankets

-           fire bucket

-           isolation and control equipment

With all types of fire equipment, it is imperative that the units are:-

-           in the correct position

-           free from obstruction

-           in a ready to use condition


Portable Fire Extinguishers

There are various types of portable extinguishers available.  You should know the colour coding of these extinguishers and the extinguishing capabilities for particular classes of fires.


Water Extinguishers (coloured - Red)

These are operated by expelling water under pressure from the extinguisher.  Usually in 9 litre bottles with stored pressure or CO2 pressure charge.  Operated by pulling the safety pin or ring and squeezing the operating handle fully.


Foam Extinguishers (coloured - Red with Blue band) Stored Pressure Extinguisher

Foam extinguishers are designed to extinguish fire by excluding the oxygen with a blanket of foam.

Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) has the added advantage of partially cooling the liquid surface by producing a water film which extends across the surface of a liquid fire.

Operating principles are similar to water extinguishers, however you need to ensure you do not block the air intake on the nozzle.


Dry Powder Extinguisher (coloured - Red with White band)

Various types of dry powder extinguishers are available, the most suitable unit for a vessel being the type suitable for extinguishing Class `A', `B', `C' fires.

Various chemicals are used in dry powder extinguishers including sodium bicarbonate, ammonium sulphate and ammonium phosphate.

Dry powder extinguishers are more effective in fighting fires due to chemical reaction with the burning fuel and smothering effect.

Safe to use on electrics.

You need to check the operating procedures set out on the extinguisher as some manufacturers use different procedures.


Carbon Dioxide Extinguishers - (Coloured - Red with Black Band)

Carbon dioxide is stored under pressure (in liquid form).  When the trigger is squeezed, the liquid vaporises, and the resulting gas is used to smother the fire.

To operate - pull pin, depress actuating handle and test operation of extinguisher.

-           approach as close as possible to the fire

-           direct horn at base of fire

-           depress trigger fully

-           direct the gas over the fire area in a sweeping motion.


Wet Chemical Powder Extinguishers - (Coloured - Beige/Oatmeal)

These are special purpose extinguishers designed for cooking oil fires as in fish and chip shops.

They are designed to extinguish the fire by turning the burning liquid into a soapy solution which will not sustain combustion.


Vaporizing Liquid Extinguishers

Halon Extinguishers have been removed from service and halon replacement gases have been developed for portable extinguishers.  Vaporising liquid extinguishers contain a blend of hydro chlorofluorocarbons called NAF P-111, they are coloured Red with Yellow Band.

Care of Extinguishers

Portable fire extinguishers are required to be serviced at 6 monthly intervals (date noted on tag on bottle).  The charge in the cylinders will be replaced at:

-             5 yearly intervals for all extinguishers (excluding CO2 extinguishers 10 yearly intervals) {as per USL Code} or:-

-             6 yearly intervals (except for CO2