Cruise Ship Lifeboats – How Are They Tested?

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The law contains high standards of compliance and manufacturing regarding safety aboard a cruise ship. Any deviations from these stringent regulations can be a punishable offense for any cruise line. While cruise ship lifeboats are rarely deployed, they are essential to the safety of guests and crew. They must be ensured to be in proper working order at all times.

Lifeboats are often lowered while the vessel is still in port to train their crew and to test whether the equipment is in working condition. Crew and officers are expected to engage in regular training to meet regulatory requirements. All crew have assigned emergency tasks for every imaginable situation, such as if people need to be evacuated via lifeboats. 

Governance indicates that cruise ships must be equipped with sufficient lifeboats to board a full complement of individuals in only ten minutes, which is the optimal time frame. Tests are usually done in fine weather over the day with agile volunteers.

The Use of Mega Cruise Ship Lifeboats

Cruise lines have established the mega ship, so why not a mega lifeboat? Over time, the size and capacity of these vessels have evolved. LSA code indicates lifeboats are approved when they accommodate more than 150 people. Recent advances have seen a high-standard lifeboat containing 370 individuals. Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas was the first to use mega lifeboats. 

Manufacturers of lifeboats test products by using water weights as a safe load test procedure. A water weight bag is placed in lifeboats already lowered into the water. Each boat is remotely pumped and drained using water. Bags mimic passengers’ weight closely and can be placed anywhere to test their load results in various situations.  


The International Maritime Organization contains information on servicing, drilling, and maintaining all lifeboats. Weekly and monthly inspections are expected to be administered by the crew, with yearly or long-term inspections done by a representative of a lifeboat manufacturer.

Lifeboat Inspection
LIfeboat Inspection (Photo Credit: Igor Shoshin / Shutterstock)

Frequent inspections and training result in a safe lifeboat operated by a competent crew. Trained inspectors who are qualified are to report any compliance issues to the International Maritime Organization.

Cruise ships are durable and strong, created to resist weather conditions found on the open seas. Guidelines are put into place to remove the element of human error, making it safer than ever. Procedural upgrades have resulted in more rigorous testing. Lifeboats use the best technology and materials. Cruisers can enjoy their stay with little safety concern.

How Many Lifeboats on a Cruise Ship?

The number of lifeboats found on a ship varies depending on the size of the vessel. Cruise ships contain enough lifeboats for every passenger that is on the cruise ship. Several larger cruise ships will contain a total of 20 lifeboats.

In addition to lifeboats, there are also inflatable life rafts. These tend to be left for the crew since they aren’t as comfortable. The crew may need to use slides to reach the rafts, whereas passengers step onto lifeboats from the deck.

Cruise Ship Lifeboats
Carnival Cruise Ship Lifeboats (Photo Credit: Rose Makin / Shutterstock)

There are enough lifeboats for every passenger on board. However, crew members that aren’t manning lifeboats for guests use inflatable rafts. There is provision for all guests to be rescued safely, but it is physically impossible to have adequate numbers of lifeboats for everyone on a ship.

So, How Is Everyone Rescued? Can They Be Taken to Safety?

Lifeboats take up space along the side of a cruise ship, and there must be adequate room to allow them to be lowered into the ocean. They additionally require a person to launch them. Therefore, there needs to be an alternate way for people to evacuate a cruise ship safely. 

According to the law, cruise lines do not need enough lifeboats for everyone if there is a capacity for 37.5% of guests on each side of a ship. This equals 75% (37.5 x 2) in total. The remaining people can be rescued using life rafts

Most cruises incorporate the additional capacity for lifeboats. It is better for the cruise line and safer for guests.

Lifeboat Compared to Life Raft: What Are the Differences?

A lifeboat is a solid open boat hanging on the side of each cruise ship. It is powered using an onboard motor. A life raft is an inflatable raft that can be fully collapsed. They are often contained in a heavy-duty canister. Unlike lifeboats, life rafts have no motor.

As mentioned, lifeboats are frequently inspected to ensure they fully work. Passengers will often see crew members testing them while on a cruise. Life rafts contain high-pressure gas canisters that allow them to inflate automatically and quickly once deployed.

Cruise Ship Liferafts and Lifeboats
Cruise Ship Liferafts and Lifeboats (Photo Credit: Artem Pachkovskyi / Shutterstock)

As SOLAS mandates, they cannot be tested by the crew; they are to remain sealed and never opened. To maintain proper safety protocols, the crew removes them at established intervals and takes them to a certified facility that inspects, opens, and examines the life rafts and their contents.  

Another bit of good news is that there are more life rafts located on a ship than is necessary. The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, or SOLAS, states life rafts should be on both sides of a cruise ship. They should be able to sufficiently hold the entire ship’s capacity minus the expected lifeboat capacity for that location. 

Why Is This Done?

If a cruise ship capsizes or the lifeboats aren’t usable, guests who are not very mobile are placed as a top priority for lifeboats found on the opposite side. Those who are physically able to join the crew in life rafts to exit the ship.

What Is a Lifeboat’s Capacity?

Older lifeboats can hold 150 individuals, whereas modern lifeboats are significantly larger. A Schat-Harding CRW55 can hold 370 people. According to SOLAS, larger lifeboats are now permissible. However, they must meet the same standards in terms of safety as lifeboats that are limited to only 150 guests. Modern lifeboats provide twice the guest capacity yet are only longer by one-half.

Cruise ship lifeboats are continually tested to ensure they meet stringent safety standards established by various organizations. The safety of passengers is always a top priority, no matter what cruise you are going on. The crew ensures everything is safe at all times, and extensive protocols are put into place in an emergency.

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