Lifeboat Equipment List - A Checklist for Yachters

Dimitris Tsapis
May 8, 2021

Lifeboats remain an essential piece of safety equipment for yachts, even though most would enjoy them best unused. 

In case of unpredicted mid-sea emergencies, lifeboats ensure the safety and survival of everyone on board. Whether it is vessel damage, fire onboard, or any other unfortunate situation, the crew needs to: 

  • maintain and resupply them regularly
  • be properly trained to respond effectively

This is why we wrote this post. In this guide, we go over different types of lifeboats and the basic lifeboat equipment list to keep on hand. We also provide additional resources on maintenance guidelines and lifeboat launching procedures. So bookmark this post for future reference, and let’s get started.

Contents

Types of lifeboats

In 1914, shortly after the sinking of the Titanic, the SOLAS treaty noted that lifeboats should accommodate 100% of the crew and passengers. 

Depending on the usage of the main vessel, there are different types of lifeboats that can be encountered. Before we provide our detailed lifeboat equipment list, let’s have a quick overview of the different categories. 

Open lifeboats

open lifeboat

Open lifeboats have no roof, which allows the crew to actuate them manually by oars in addition to their small ignition engine. 

Previously, open lifeboats were found almost on every ship but, today, they are mostly used on smaller vessels. Their usage has been greatly reduced over the years due to their limited protection in harsh weather conditions (storms, high waves, etc). 

Closed lifeboat

enclosed lifeboat


Closed lifeboats are the most popular type of lifeboat on this list. They possess a roof, which protects the passengers from the elements.  

More importantly, closed lifeboats are much more stable and can resist high waves. If toppled, they can stand upright on their own which makes them much safer than open lifeboats. 

Finally, closed lifeboats can be further divided into two categories - fully enclosed and partially enclosed lifeboats. Both types are commonly used on industrial boats and larger yachts. 

Freefall lifeboat

freefall lifeboat

Freefall lifeboats are similar to closed lifeboats, albeit with an entirely different launching procedure. As their name suggests, these lifeboats are dropped from the aft of the ship, providing the best clearance in case of an emergency. 

To compensate for their freefall evacuation method, they are usually heavier and stronger than the common closed lifeboat. The checklist bellow applies for this vessel as well, even though it is not commonly found on yachts. Hence, a free fall lifeboat equipment list is pretty much the same as any other category discussed in the following chapters.

Hyperbaric lifeboat

Hyperbaric lifeboats are lifeboats that are designed to rescue divers from the dive support vessel while they are under a hyperbaric condition (where the atmospheric pressure is at least 10% higher than at sea level). 

As such, they consist of a sealable pressure chamber that allows divers to enter and exit the vessel without suffering the effects of sudden decompression

Fireproof lifeboat

As their name suggests, fireproof lifeboats are designed to resist fires and extreme heat thanks to their remarkable insulation. They are mostly used for rescuing seamen from oil spills and during fire emergencies. 

Yacht lifeboat or life raft?

Depending on the size of the vessel, yachts may come equipped with the traditional lifeboats mentioned above. However, smaller yachts will usually be outfitted with more practical life rafts instead. 


lifeboat equipment list

Life rafts have the same functionality as lifeboats - to provide buoyant shelter and save lives in case the unthinkable happens. However, they take up much less space due to their inflatable nature. 

Consequently, the ship’s crew needs to check and maintain their self-inflatable mechanisms regularly. Commonly, life rafts used in tropical conditions should undergo maintenance every year. 

The ISO 9650 standard defines life raft standards, and separates them into two categories, depending on their size and geographical usage: 

  • Type A has better insulation to endure more extreme temperatures (-15C to 65C)
  • Type B is better suited for warmer climates (0C and above)

Equipping your vessel with ISO-compliant rafts will ensure the best safety standards available in the industry. 

The grab bag - Important element of life raft equipment list

Due to their reduced size, life raft equipment is limited to life-saving essentials. A sensible addition that might help alleviate this limitation is a personal grab-bag. 

lifeboat grab bag


These waterproof bags will help passengers carry additional items such as: 

  • Personal medication
  • Important documents such as boating licenses, ID, passports, etc. 
  • Glasses, sunglasses, and sun cream
  • Handheld radio or satellite telephone, and a spare set of batteries
  • A transmitter for sending an emergency signal
  • Additional food items to those already present in the life raft
  • Whistle and flares.

Lifeboat equipment list

As we previously stated, lifeboats are there to provide a safe refuge for its passengers in case of an emergency on the main vessel. With that said, they are also supposed to allow the crew to survive for extended times at sea while awaiting rescue. 

For this reason, in addition to the life-safety essentials, our lifeboat equipment list will also itemize some additional inventory needed for communication and survival. 

Essential equipment:

Lifeboats should always be equipped with the following essentials: 

  1. Survival at sea manual - every lifeboat equipment list should start with this booklet. This step-by-step guide helps passengers organize and understand the layout of the lifeboat. It also encompasses a lot of knowledge for survival at sea, such as first-aid procedures and navigation tips. 
  2. Buoyant oars - to help the crew propel the lifeboat in case of engine malfunction or fuel shortage. 
  3. Fire extinguishers - suitable to put out oil-based fires. 
  4. Engine tools - for minor adjustments and repairs. 
  5. A buoyant bailer and two buckets - to evacuate excess water from the lifeboat. 
  6. Compass - in addition to the compass embedded on the vessel, each lifeboat is required to carry an additional copass for rescue missions. 
lifeboat equipment list
  1. A first aid kit - to be able to treat minor injuries that might have occurred during the evacuation. 
  2. Hatchets and jack-knife - to be used as survival tools for cutting rope, wood, gutting fish, etc. 
  3. A set of fishing tackle - to provide an additional source of food through fishing.
  4. Sea-anchor - to stabilize the lifeboat and reduce its speed in case of a storm. 
  5. Freshwater -  3 liters of water per person the lifeboat is supposed to fit. Additionally, the lifeboat can contain a desalinator providing fresh water through reverse osmosis
  6. A dipper (or ladle) - to avoid spilling drinkable water and maximize its preservation and rationing. 
  7. Food rations - kept in airtight packages and equating to 10.000 kJ per person. 
  8. Thermal protective aids - to keep passengers safe from cold and hot weather. 
lifeboat equipment list continued

Communication equipment

Our lifeboat equipment list would be incomplete if we didn’t include the key elements for on-sea communication. 

  1. Whistle - to sound-signal other vessels. 
  2. Portable searchlight - for locating fallen passengers in the sea during nighttime. 
  3. Flares and smoke signals - to draw the attention of upcoming rescue parties and pinpoint the lifeboat’s position for an extended period of time. 
  4. Signaling mirror - used to reflect light and communicate with other vessels at sea during daylight. 
  5. Waterproof torches -  for Morse signaling at night. Each one should have at least 6 hours duration and a spare set of batteries available. 
  6. Radar reflector - to reflect radar energy from other vessels' radars so that the lifeboat shows up as a consistent target. 
lifeboat communication tools

Lifeboat launching procedure 

Now that you have everything ready on your lifeboat equipment list, make sure everyone on board knows how to use them. If you are new to the ship, use the manual and learn how to operate one before setting sail.  

Additionally, ensure that both crew and passengers know what measures need to be taken in case of an emergency through safety drills. These drills will largely depend on the launching procedure of the lifeboat in question. 

After loading the passengers in the lifeboat, these procedures usually fall into the following three categories. 

  • Off-load mechanism - this mechanism releases the lifeboat from the hooks once it hits the water. Usually, this automatic mechanism functions if there’s no rush to release the lifeboat and the sea, presents favourable conditions. 
  • On load mechanism - this mechanism can release the lifeboat in the sea while it’s still hanging in the air by the cables. This means that the boat can be lowered and released in the sea while the vessel is still making way through the water or in the rough sea. With that said, it’s not recommended that lifeboats are released from a height over 1m. Otherwise, it could result in severe injuries for the crew or cause structural damage to the lifeboat.  

The video below explains both of these release mechanisms in detail. 


  • Free-fall mechanism - in a free-fall mechanism, the lifeboat can be released from up to 30m in height. This allows for rapid evacuation and helps the lifeboat hit the water well away from the main vessel. 

Closing words

The goal of this article was to provide you with a complete lifeboat equipment list. However, we also went over some of the essential characteristics of lifeboats. 

To summarize, we:  

  • Went over the different types of lifeboats and their common functionalities. 
  • Talked about Inflatable life rafts, emergency grab bags, and what they should contain. 
  • Provided an illustrated lifeboat equipment list, including lifesaving and communication essentials. 
  • Explored the different launching procedures for lifeboats. 


All in all, this guide should come in handy whenever you are looking to resupply your lifeboats with essential survival equipment. You should follow the guidelines for maintenance and inspection by the letter to optimize your lifeboat’s lifesaving capabilities.