Rescue Lifeboats: the First-Responders of the Sea

You’re probably familiar with the small lifeboats you find on ships, but did you know that there are many different types of lifeboats?

If you find yourself on a sinking ship, the provided lifeboats will provide temporary safety—but rescue lifeboats are what you’ll be watching the horizon for.

What Are Rescue Lifeboats?

Rescue lifeboats differ from the safety lifeboats found aboard ships in several important ways. Often, lifeboats on ships are fairly small and have no motor, with their main purpose being to help survivors of a shipwreck stay afloat until help can arrive.

Rescue lifeboats are that help. While there are many different types of rescue lifeboats depending on whether they are intended for use on lakes, rivers, or the open sea, rescue lifeboats tend to be sturdier and more powerful than on-vessel lifeboats. Designed for quick rescue rather than long-term survival, rescue lifeboats are generally motor powered and, if intended for use on the ocean, built to right themselves if they tip over due to strong winds or high seas.

Motor Lifeboats

Currently, the rescue lifeboat used by the United States Coast Guard is the 47-foot motor lifeboat. This powerhouse of a vessel is described by as “almost unsinkable,” and while this statement may be met with alarm from anyone familiar with the story of the Titanic, the confidence in this boat is completely understandable. It is designed to automatically bail any water it takes on, and is built to be self-righting should it ever tip over in a storm. In fact, according to the Coast Guard, if this vessel should happen to roll over, it can self-correct and be upright again in 30 seconds. 

It is vitally important for this vessel to be able to withstand the type of beating it could get in intense weather. Designed to help people during storms with strong winds and rough waves, the motor lifeboat is definitely an impressive vessel. These boats are also swapped out as they age, in order to make sure that they are in prime condition. The current 47-foot motor lifeboat is replacing the 44-foot motor lifeboats that the Coast Guard previously used. New vessels are being added to the Coast Guard monthly, with the goal of having approximately 200 47-foot vessels over the next five years.

Requirements of Rescue Lifeboats

While there is no universal standard for how lifeboats need to be designed, there are specific laws for the tools and equipment they need to carry. Because both rescue lifeboats and survival craft have such an important job—to save lives in dangerous maritime situations—there is some overlap in what they need to carry, and the regulations are quite strict. 

You only need to read through a few of the regulations to get a sense for just how much thought has gone into these requirements. Rescue lifeboats must carry a bailer and a bilge pump to help drain any water that may come on board. In case of fire they must carry a fire extinguisher, and they must carry a specially approved flashlight with spare batteries and a spare bulb, both of which must be stored in a waterproof container. It might surprise people to learn that rescue lifeboats must also carry a hatchet, and, if they carry two hatchets, they must be stored at opposite ends of the boat to ensure that they can always be reached.

Both rescue lifeboats and survival vessels are also required to carry provisions to help their occupants stay as healthy as possible. They must carry 2,390 calories worth of food per person, and are required to carry first-aid kits, seasickness kits, and even a special rust-proof drinking cup. So if you have a fear of sailing, don’t fret too much—plenty of thought has gone into exactly what you’ll need if anything goes wrong!