GARD seminar on whether lifeboat "onload" release hooks should be banned

P&I Club GARD hosted a seminar this week at its headquarters in Arendal, Norway, focusing on whether or not "onload" lifeboat release hooks should be abandoned due to the high frequency of accidents and deaths involving such hooks during drills.


To facilitate discussion a number of stakeholders had been invited to talk over the current situation and work out a possible way forward. These included INTERTANKO along with P&I Clubs, ship owners, manufacturers, classification societies, flag state representatives, and also a senior representative from the IMO.



The function of the release hook is to free the lifeboat from its wire falls once the lifeboat has been cleared of its cradle on the ship. Historically, the hooks could only be released once the lifeboat had become waterborne, when the weight of the boat would be shifted from the hook due to the buoyancy of the lifeboat. This type of hook is called an "offload" release hook.


However, due to several accidents where the lifeboats did not become fully waterborne resulting in the death of the crew due to fire or other reasons, new regulations were introduced by the IMO in 1986. These regulations require ships built after 1986 to be equipped with hooks which can be released while the lifeboat is under load, i.e. is hanging in its wire falls. This enables a lifeboat to be released without being waterborne. This hook is therefore called an "onload" release hook.


Unfortunately, a great number of accidents have occurred due to the fact that some "onload" release hooks have opened prematurely. The main reason for this is, if and when there is a failure in the release mechanism, the hook can sometimes open. This scenario is called either "fail-to-unsafe" or "fail-to-open" and is, of course, very dangerous!


However, not all hooks that fail are dangerous. There are "onload" release hooks on the market which, if they fail, remain in a closed position and can therefore be categorised as safe hooks.


Thus ship owners need to determine which type of hooks their vessels are equipped with, and to take the necessary action before an accident occurs.


The Seminar

One of the dilemmas for the seminar was that since "onload" release hooks were introduced, some said that the number of accidents had increased, while some said the opposite. It was difficult to reach a consensus because of the lack of available data and statistics.


The seminar was told by a representative from the International Group of P&I Clubs that, from its perspective, all deaths caused by these accidents are categorised as "avoidable deaths". Its statistics showed that as many as 13 seafarers die every year due to accidents with lifeboats.


It was emphasised that crews should familiarise themselves with the equipment onboard and should study instruction manuals before they carry out any work or drills. If an accident, or indeed a near accident, occurs then they should report it to their owner, flag state, classification society and P&I club.


The general feeling among the audience was that "onload" release hooks should not be banned, but those "onload" hooks which are "fail-to-unsafe" should be phased out.


The group thanked GARD for its initiative and stressed the need to meet again for further discussions, perhaps as a workshop.


INTERTANKO will continue to work on its members' behalf towards safer hooks and safer lifeboats. One of the means for achieving this is the Lifeboat Feedback Forum, where anyone, and seafarers in particular, can give their feedback or comments on lifeboats by sending an e-mail to:


Contact: Fredrik Larsson