Has lifeboatsforall ever really worked

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Bob DiGiulio

I've been reading about ship sinkings post-Titanic, trying to learn if any ship with one-lifeboat-seat-for-each-person ever worked--that it actually saved all those persons from a sinking of their ship. All I can come up with are counterexamples, from the 1914 Lusitania to 1994's Estonia, both of which had more than enough lifeboat spaces, but due to unique sets of circumstances, suffered great loss of life. Anyone have any examples where lifeboats-for-all worked in a ship that sank/was sinking?
The importance of 'boats for all' has long been exaggerated when big passenger ships are considered. There are plenty of cases where people on small ships have been saved by the ship's own boats, but when we talk really big numbers we find few examples. The only case I know of in which more than 1,000 people have been saved by a ship's own boats, without outside assistance, occurred in 1999. The cruise ship Sun Vista caught fire off the Malaysian coast. When it was decided that the fire could not be controlled, everybody took to the boats and liferafts. The total saved was 1,093. The ship later sank and the people were picked up by a number of ships. The incident took place in warm weather and duckpond conditions. Whether the singing of My Heart Will Go On helped is debatable. The story is probably still on the BBC news site.

I'm talking here about peacetime accidents, but I doubt that in war there has been a case in which more than 1,000 were saved by their ship's own boats, without assistance.

You may be surprised to know that there has never been a law unambiguously requiring 'boats for all'. It has always been permissible to use a mixture of boats and liferafts and many cruise ships do. They typically have enough room in the boats for all the passengers, plus a few crew. The rest of the crew use liferafts.
>>Anyone have any examples where lifeboats-for-all worked in a ship that sank/was sinking?<<

Only when the ship took awhile to go down such as the Achille Lauro which took a couple of days to sink after she caught fire. In most real world casualties, as Dave pointed out, if a ship got in trouble, it was the arrival of rescue vessels that made the difference. Like the arrival if the Ile De France to where the Andrea Doria came to grief. After being T-boned by the Stockholm, the Andrea Doria took on a 22°+ list to starboard which rendered the boats on the port side useless.

The reality is that shipping casualties of any kind seldom happen under ideal conditions whether in peace or in war. Titanic was odd man out in that she didn't take on so much of a list that boats on both sides couldn't be launched. The same can rarely be said of any other. Even if fires, explosions or massive lists don't destroy or render some if not all of the boats useless, there is still the weather to contend with. Launching boats in even a dead calm sea is dangerous enough as it is. In stormy conditions, there's a good chance that boats being sent away can be battered to splinters and scrap metal against the side of the ship. If that doesn't get you, there's always the possibility of being swamped by high seas.

Boats for all is nice, but it ain't the cure-all some would have you believe.

Erik Wood

I post this while asking forgiveness from owners I have worked for, and fellow sailors who may disagree with my assessment.

The romantic notion that the Disney Magic or any other large passenger ship could be safely evcuated using the ships own equipment or that an upper percentage of the ships compliment could be saved is just that, a romantic notion.

The fact of the matter is most companies own policy on how to deal with certain emergencies (most notably fire) would stop complete, and quick evcuation of the ship.

In a fire situation you had better be pretty darn quick on your feet, because if you are not..you have a good chance of having to find your way to an open deck the hard way as fire doors in some locations automatically shut once the alarms in certain areas go off. Those that have cabins around uptakes and the main ventiliation housing are a good example.

In a ramming situation, most probably half of your boats will be unuseable. Lifeboats for all is both unattainable and worthless in most cases. A day not to far off we will see just how worthless...we are due for another "big one" as firemen say.
Frankly, I'm amazed another Big One hasn't happened in one fashion or another already. Cruise ships/liners have been doing nothing if not getting larger. The Queen Mary 2 is king of the hill now, but even larger ships are already being planned and built. A really major catastrophe is a bullet that the maritime community has been dodging for a long time now. I would hope it could last, but I'm not counting on it.
Just about, Bill. The funny...or perhaps not so funny...thing is that the next Big One may not even come about as a result of a casualty to a vessel at all. David Brown mentioned the possibiloty of a really virulant disease getting loose on a ship, and Norwalk may well have been a foretaste of things to come.

Thanks to rapid travel between continents thanks to Mr. Boeing and Airbus Industrie, somebody with a really exotic bug could meet a ship, get on board, and in the reletively close quarters, it doesn't take much of a stretch of the imagination to see what happens next. I haven't seen a lifeboat yet that can protect or save anyone from Attila the Germ. Depending on how bad the bug is, a lifeboat trying to get away from said Plague ship would not only go unrescued, it may even be fired on!

Erik Wood

You would be surprised at just how many mariners refer to the Titanic when it comes to the modern situation. The similarities are eerie.
Thanks, Michael. I remembered the right situation, but forgot the name of the virus, and thought Norwalk was a ship!

Well, actually it's the name of a town in Connecticut I took the train thru last spring.
Perceptions are more important than reality to human beings. For instance, passengers of airliners perceive that a crash is usually 100% fatal, so do not request parachutes or oxygen breathing apparatus as part of the safety "package."

Passengers at sea have the perception that it is possible to save 100% of the people from a sinking ship. So, they expect to have a seat waiting in the lifeboat that will whisk them to "safety."

Truth is, lots of plane crashes would be survivable if passengers were provided breathing apparatus to get through the smoke in the cabin. And, some ships sink so fast that no lifesaving apparatus is of any value.

But, perceptions rule. So, passenger ships have a boatload of lifeboats and everyone who flies to the ship feels they are "safe."

-- David G. Brown

Erik Wood

Another little tib bit is that there are only around 100 trained sailors to get off over 2000 passengers. These sailors go with each boat that leaves so as more and more boats go, you have fewer and fewer trained personal behind to do the rest of the work. My assumption is that the liferaft situation was created for this very purposes and that those washed off the decks would be able to find shelter in those rafts.
Dumb question ahead.

What does a 'liferaft' from an ocean vessel look like?

Does it hold provisions? How many persons does it hold? Can the waves wash the passengers off the raft? It can't be like the raft Huck Finn and Jim took down the Mississippi River, can it?

Marilyn P.
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