Lifeboat on a Ship at SeaLifeboats are essential for carrying passengers and crew to safety when their ship is damaged or inoperative. Since lifeboats can make the difference between life and death at sea, international regulations require crews to perform abandon-ship drills at least once a month. Lifeboat drills should include each step involved in the abandon-ship procedure, including:

  • Loading the boats (helping others into lifeboats and ensuring they put on life vests)
  • Lowering lifeboats into the water
  • Releasing the boat from the wires
  • Moving the boat some distance from the ship
  • Recovering the vessel with all crew aboard
  • Lifting and stowing the vessels back aboard the vessel

Unfortunately, seamen may be more likely to suffer an injury during lifeboat drills than during an emergency evacuation—and when these injuries occur, injured workers have the right to file for damages.

Experienced Lifeboat Drill Maritime Injury Lawyers

Several years ago Paul Hofmann settled the claims of two seamen, one from the Philippines, the other from Jamaica, who worked for a major cruise line mega ship.  One suffered a severe traumatic brain injury, the other orthopedic injuries, occurring during a lifeboat drill. The boat detached from its davit and fell approximately forty feet slamming into the ocean below.  For these injuries, we obtained very substantial (unfortunately confidential) settlements. Our firm developed expertise in the technologies of the equipment and the safety protocols that should be, but was not, followed.

How Jones Act Seamen Are Hurt During Lifeboat Drills

Since drills are required when a new vessel enters service, after repairs or modifications are made to the ship, or when a new crew is engaged, lifeboat drills may happen several times per month. Each time a drill is performed, Jones Act employees are at risk of injuries due to:

  • Faulty hooks and releases

In a 2013 drill in the Canary Islands, a lifeboat carrying eight crew members was being lowered into the water when the aft hook failed. The boat fell approximately 65 feet before capsizing, killing five crew members. The unintended launching of the on-load release mechanism can also cause disaster in the moments before the lifeboat touches the water.

  • Lack of proper inspection

Lifeboats, davits, and wires must all be inspected regularly, and any hazards identified should be remedied immediately. Even if all components seem in good condition, they may not be adequate for a measured descent. For example, closer inspection of a rust-free and tight wire rope may find that it’s made of a lower gauge or grade, compromising its strength.

Drills may involve both crew members and passengers, but it’s vital for crews to have regular drills to reinforce their initial training. Employees should be given adequate time to perform the drill, follow all safety checks, and discuss the training session afterward. If crew members duck out of these drills, the employer should have significant oversight protocols, such as removing the sailor from duty until training is complete.

  • Capacity changes

Many lifeboats still in use today have weight and capacity ratings that have not been updated to reflect bodyweight increases. A boat rated for 20 people may have been tested using men who weighed 180 pounds—far less than today's standards—leading to unintentional overloading of the boats.

  • Skipping drills

The more drills crew members perform, the more likely they’ll remember the procedures through muscle and mental memory. However, many of these drills are rushed or rescheduled indefinitely due to tight schedules and non-enforcement of safety protocols. As training becomes more lax, crew members may record but not complete mandatory drills due to unfamiliarity or fear of the equipment involved.

  • Communication problems

During lifeboat training, vessels with large, multi-national crews (such as cruise ships) face specific hazards. Even if all crew members are adequately trained to complete a drill, there’s a high potential for misunderstanding that leads to injury.

Our Jones Act Attorneys Can Help You Through Your Next Steps

After you’ve been injured in a lifeboat drill, you should seek medical treatment immediately. If on-board care isn’t enough to treat your injuries, your employer should send you back to shore for medical treatment as soon as possible.

Once you’re stable, you should speak to the legal team at Hofmann & Schweitzer to see who can be held responsible for your suffering. Our dedicated maritime injury attorneys won’t charge you anything to learn your options after an injury at sea.

Call us at 1-800-3-MAY-DAY or fill out our online contact form today to set up your no-obligation consultation, or learn more about these types of claims in our complimentary guide, Are You a Seaman Injured in a Maritime Accident? Know Your Rights.


Paul T. Hofmann
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Focused on personal injury, with an emphasis on maritime, railroad and construction worker tort claims.
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