What Food Is In A Ship’s Lifeboat?

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Lifeboats are designed to keep you alive in the event of an emergency onboard a ship. They give you all the necessities. Keeping you afloat so you have air to breathe and supplying you with water and food rations. But, have you stopped to think just what is the food inside a ship’s lifeboat?

The most common food in a lifeboat is Seven OceanS Standard Emergency Rations. It contains 2,500 kcal (10,300 kj) of long-life biscuits, designed to last one person 72 hours.

seven oceans ration box
Seven Oceans Standard Emergency Rations is the most common food found in a lifeboat.

Pro Tip: You can even buy emergency rations online so that you can taste them yourself before going sailing. Check them out on Amazon.

What food do lifeboats need?

A food ration is one of the compulsory pieces of equipment that all lifeboats and liferafts are required to carry. I have written a complete article about all the equipment that you find inside a lifeboat, which you can read here: What Is In A Lifeboat?

In terms of food, however, lifeboats are legally required to have 10,300 kj for every person that the boat is certified to carry. That is 2,500 kcal per person, the same as the recommended daily calorie intake for an adult male.

The food rations themselves need to be…

palatable, edible throughout the recommended shelf life, and packed in a manner which can be readily divided and easily opened

LSA Code

There are no requirements in terms of taste or lifestyle choices. You don’t get vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free versions. The food rations are purely there to give the body enough energy to sustain life.

Most shipping companies just look for the most cost-effective way to fulfill the minimum requirements. They figure that the chance of taking to a lifeboat is quite small. Then the chance of being stranded in that lifeboat without rescue for a prolonged period is even smaller still.

To meet the minimum requirement, Seven OceanS produce a Standard Emergency Ration. It is a box that contains 10,300 kj of energy, split into 9 bars. In turn, each bar is divided into three pieces. The pack has a shelf life of 5 years, and it complies with all international regulations. Lifeboats just need to have a single pack for every person that the boat is certified to carry.

What food do liferafts need?

Liferafts have the same food ration requirements as lifeboats. They need 10,000 kj (2,500 kcal) per person.

The difference between liferafts and lifeboats is in the amount of water they need. A lifeboat will have the equivalent of 3 liters per person. A liferaft only needs enough for 1.5 liters per person.

What is lifeboat food?

Lifeboat food is usually an emergency ration in the form of a biscuit. The most common sort that you find in a lifeboat is the Seven OceanS, Standard Emergency Ration.

This is a box that contains 9 biscuits made of highly compacted, nutrient-dense food. Each biscuit is further subdivided into 3 tablets, giving 18 tablets in total.

The tablets are designed to be eaten straight out of the box, with no need for any preparation. Each bar is made up of 3 tablets wrapped in greaseproof paper, with an outer wrapper of watertight foil. Outside, the box provides additional protection by way of a water-resistant coating.

The biggest selling point of the Seven OceanS brand is the approval by the national administrations of a large number of countries. 28 are listed on the box, with some approvals being classification societies which are, in turn, approved by other administrations.

Do cruise ship lifeboats carry baby food?

Cruise ship lifeboats do not carry baby food.

Babies have specific requirements for food that cannot be catered for on a lifeboat. There is no way of storing perishable milk, and there is no way of providing hot water to make up formula. Similarly, there is no puree food on the lifeboat for older babies either.

As part of the ship’s emergency drills at embarkation, passengers are told about certain things they need to bring in an emergency. Baby food is one of those, along with things like medication and warm clothing.

You will find that babies under 6 months are not permitted on most passenger ships anyway. A part of that is that there is no emergency provision for the formula or milk that they would need in an emergency.

There will usually be restrictions on babies between 6 months and 1 year on remote passages as well. Again, a part of that is the difficulty in supplying enough food should you need to board a lifeboat.

Do lifeboats carry vegan food?

Seven OceanS Standard Emergency Ration pack lists its ingredients as wheat flour; vegetable soya fat; glucose; malt; vitamins C, B1, B6. They also state that it is “All Vegetable”. Given the ingredient list, it would seem that this particular brand of ration pack is suitable for vegans. 

Within the regulations, lifeboats do not need to carry food to meet specific dietary requirements. The food in a lifeboat is for the specific purpose of giving the human body energy to survive in an emergency.

Some brands may be suitable for vegas, but that is purely coincidental.

Can you eat fish in a lifeboat?

You can, but it is not advised.

There is always a fishing kit included with the equipment inside each lifeboat. The kit is mainly there as a way to increase morale though. It gives people a job to do onboard, helping to pass the time, and establish a routine.

The problem with eating fish is that you also need a supply of water. Eating without water will just dehydrate you faster. Lack of water becomes fatal a long time before the lack of food does.

If you can establish a water supply, catching fish can keep you going. Possible water sources include rain capture, solar stills, or even barrels of water scavenged from the wreckage. 

There have been stories of people who have survived for months, and even years, by eating fish caught from a liferaft.

Can you take extra food into a lifeboat?

It is encouraged to take extra food onto a lifeboat. The more that you can take from your vessel when you abandon ship, the better. Usually, part of the emergency planning on a ship is to designate people to bring extra supplies from the ship’s main stores.

Onboard the lifeboat, standard equipment includes three tin openers. These have been specifically selected to help you access any food you take with you. Tinned food is common on ships as it has a long shelf life, naturally preserving food. The last thing you’d want is to go to the effort of salvaging lots of food, only to find you can’t access it.

If you can take fresh food, again that could help. The biggest concern, however, is preservation and contamination. You should never take food that could make you ill. Fresh meat is definitely off the menu. If you get ill, you will deplete your body’s water reserves, reducing your overall chance of survival. It is better to be hungry, with water in your body, than take a chance and make yourself ill.

How long could you survive without food in a lifeboat?

Without food, it is possible to survive for 4 to 6 weeks.

“Generally, it appears as though humans can survive without any food for 30-40 days, as long as they are properly hydrated.”

Source: Medical Express

In a lifeboat, hydration is a much bigger issue than food. Without water, you would probably not even survive for a week. If you establish a water supply though, you could survive for more than a month.

Despite that, the onset of hunger and the effects of starvation kick in much earlier on. This is the main reason for including food rations in a lifeboat. It gives you more energy to get through the early stages of survival.