Guest Blog: a passenger’s view about lifesaving equipment

This guest blog is a follow-up to my posting earlier this week: UPDATE: How long can you tread water? House votes to repeal survival craft requirement

A passenger’s view about lifesaving equipment

By Richard Hiscock

Last fall we were passengers on a tour boat on America’s sixth great lake – Lake Champlain.  The vessel is 20 year old, fiberglass, diesel powered, forward pilot house with sheltered deck, approximately 50-feet in overall length (44.8 feet registered length). It is certified for 51 persons (POB) and carries Buoyant Apparatus for 26 stored on top of the shelter deck that will not keep people in distress out of the water.

We got underway about 10:30 with 46 adults (ranging in age from mid-twenties to late 60s early 70s) and one child – really an infant still in chest carrier.  Many of the passengers were in the area to attend a wedding later in the day.

As we got underway, there was no public announce regarding lifesaving equipment – the life-preservers stored in the overhead of the life-floats – their location or the location of instructions for their use.

The air temperature was about 55° F.  The water temperature was about 62° F.   We proceeded north on the Lake in the fog with no radar. There were no other vessels on the lake.  Coast Guard Station Burlington is 20 miles to the north.

WHAT IF there had been an explosion followed by a fire? The crew and 46 adults and the infant child would have been forced into the cold lake water.  They would have been expected to cling to the perimeter of the two life-floats with a rated capacity for 26 persons that hopefully would have floated free undamaged.  Had such an incident happened while in the fog, those on shore would not have seen the event.  Hopefully there would have been time to get off a radio message to the Coast Guard and the home base of the vessel.  And hopefully other vessels and the Coast Guard would have responded.

Given the water temperature is it likely that people could have died or been seriously injured? Yes it is. Particularly the infant which, if not kept out of the cold water, would have cooled very quickly despite the clothes it was bundled up in.

Anyone who thinks that such an explosion and fire could not occur, should remember that: the TITANIC was “unsinkable”; the ANDREA DORIA and STOCKHOLM were using the best available radar and still collided – the ANDREA DORIA sank; and that the COSTA CONCORDIA should never have run aground at Isola del Giglio in 2012.

If ‘we’ are so sure that casualties like these won’t happen then why carry any life-saving equipment at all.  If we are concerned that disaster can happen – despite our best efforts – and that passengers and crew might indeed have to evacuate even the best built, maintained and operated vessel, then the survival craft should keep them up out-of-the water.  And there should be enough survival craft for the individuals the vessel is certified to carry.

The fact that the many vessel owners do not support a requirement that all SURVIVAL CRAFT should keep individuals out-of-the-water and do not believe passenger vessels should have sufficient survival craft for all who might be on board would lead one to the conclusion that they are ignoring the possibility of a “TITANIC” type disaster.

Richard Hiscock is a long-time maritime safety consultant, advocating for marine and fishing vessel safety reform for over 35-years.  He maintains the safety website offsoundings.com.

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