The cruise industry trade organization, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), announced with great fanfare a new lifeboat training policy. This is a result of what CLIA is calling the cruise industry’s "operational safety review" after the Costa Concordia disaster. 

Every six months, the CLIA cruise ships will conduct lifeboat drills.  The lifeboats will be lowered into the water either empty or with only a skeleton crew (probably one or two crew members) necessary to operate the life boat. 

The lifeboat itself will otherwise be empty. As USA TODAY explains:

Muster Station  - Lifeboat Chaos"The training will involve lowering a lifeboat into the water, filling it to capacity with crew members and then maneuvering it in the water to familiarize the crew to lifeboat operations. The crew will not practice lowering a fully loaded lifeboat."

The new policy is suppose ensure the public that the crew knows how to safely lower the lifeboats. But let’s be clear what this "new" policy is and is not about.  

It is only after the lifeboat is lowered will it then be filled up with crew members (this is actually the same IMO policy which has existed for the past 4 years).  The lifeboat operator will then practice driving the loaded boat around for a while.  The crew will eventually get out.  Then the lifeboat will be raised back to the cruise ship empty.  

This means that there will be no training whatsoever in loading and then lowering a fully loaded lifeboat safely into the water. So when the next disaster strikes, that means that there is a 100% certainty that whoever is lowering your life boat has never practiced it while it is loaded.

It is hard to understand why the emphasis in the "new policy" is practicing driving the lifeboats around. Watch the Royal Caribbean video below of life boats from the Serenade of the Seas driving around and around. The video has wonderful music.  Its a beautiful day in Pointe Seraphine, Castries, St. Lucia.  The water is completely calm. What fun!

You will never see a real emergency in pleasant conditions like this. The last person overboard from the Serenade of the Seas occurred last week (largely ignored by the U.S. press and Royal Caribbean is staying mum).  A crew member went overboard in the Adriatic early in the morning in high seas with winds gusting up to 100 kilometers. The ship didn’t even try and lower a lifeboat in those conditions. 

The problem with the Costa Concordia disaster was that the captain delayed ordering the passengers off the ship until the cruise ship listed to an angle where it was impossible to lower the lifeboat. There was chaos trying to round up and organize over 3,000 passenger into their designated muster stations, especially because there was no muster drill in the first place.

The "new" CLIA lifeboat drills don’t mention crowd control issues, language issues or anything that might reasonably address the deadly confusion which took place on the Concordia.

There are no recommendations for simulation drills or intense training, while encountering a wide variety of emergencies and diverse simulated weather conditions.

Think if a cruise ship as large as the Oasis or Allure of the Seas needs to be evacuated, The Oasis has 18 lifeboats which can carry 370 passengers in each one. Getting that many people into the lifeboat in a timely manner and then lowering the boat safely into the water takes practice – something the "new" CLIA policy guarantees won’t ever happen.

The truth of the matter is that some cruise lines have essentially discontinued lifeboats drills (actually lowering the lifeboats) because of the numerous injuries and some deaths during the drills. 10 years ago Royal Caribbean experienced a disastrous accident where numerous crew members sustained serious injuries.

There is a saying that most lifeboats injure or kill more passengers and crew than save lives.  Lifeboats can fall suddenly, get caught on the side of the ship or suffer malfunctions or failure of the cables and hardware.  Consider the incident in the video at the bottom which, although not involving a cruise ship, is similar to others incidents where cruse employees were injured.


 Photo Credit:  EPA via Telegraph 

  • Cynthia Garland

    OMG, That is how they launch a lifeboat, Those people in there are probably all dead or injured severely. What a joke, Maybe they were all hung over from the night before or even plastered during the drill. This really scare me and I’m fearless. I cruise 2 X ‘s a year and I surely don’t feel safe after seeing that, No wonder the Costa Concordia Sank.

  • Cherie Doughan

    Every cruise I take it makes me wonder how many people know how to run the lifeboat. The controls are all computerized. I think there should be a rudimentary lesson to designated people on board like passengers on aircraft to control it. I also would like to know if lowering the boats depend on electricity and if so how many people would it take for a controlled lowering. With this said I will still cruise.

  • Wesley Cotton

    As a student in a maritime school i can assure you that first of all, electricity is not required, it helps but its not big deal to not have it, ive launched these boats with and without, secondly making the acusation that a sailor was drinking before the launching of the vessels is a bit unlikely, the BAC limit for us is .04 and over that its basiclly good by liscence. as for how many people it takes to lower a lifeboat, 1 person can do it, however the most efficient is 4

  • joshua

    new? really? we are calling this new now? this kind of lifeboat drill dates all the way back during the Edwardian age it wasn’t uncommon for ships like the Lusitania (1900’s mind u) all the way until ocean liners during the 1940’s all did this…. think about that for decades an average life boat drill was simply one may even two crew members preparing and lowering a boat in front of passenger some of the boats never even touched the water but why did they stop this? one reason of course during a real disaster on some of these ships none of the passengers knew what to do mainly because they never really paid attention so when cruises started to come out after the age of the ocean liner died out companies decided to come up with muster stations and such basically they created the life boat drills we have today that was the 1970’s btw so think about it this isn’t a step forward in terms of safety this is a step back and the only question that remains is how many more people will die before cruise companies actually do something?

  • Tim

    Modern day Mega Ships lifeboats now hold almost 500 people each. Practice THAT!