What Is In A Lifeboat?

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The equipment required inside a ship’s lifeboat is defined within the International Lifesaving Appliances (LSA) Code. This code is published by the International Maritime Organisation, and among other things, tells you what equipment needs to be present inside a lifeboat. 

Inside a lifeboat, you will find:

  • 3L of water per person
  • Dipper & drinking vessel
  • 2390 Calories of food per person
  • Fishing tackle
  • First aid kit
  • 48h of seasickness per person
  • Thermal protective aids
  • Oars & boat hooks
  • 2 buckets
  • Bailer
  • Survival manual
  • Compass
  • Sea anchor
  • 2 painters
  • 2 hatchets
  • Pyrotechnic flares
  • Electric torch
  • Signalling mirror
  • Life-saving signals poster
  • Whistle
  • Jack knife
  • 3 tin openers
  • 2 rescue quoits
  • Manual bilge pump
  • Tools
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Searchlight
  • Radar reflector

Food and Drink in a Lifeboat

Lifeboats are designed to contain enough food and drink to sustain the occupants until rescue arrives.


Out of all the rations onboard, water is the most important. Each occupant is allocated 3 litres of fresh water overall. Official advice is to not issue any water for the first 24 hours, unless an individual is injured / pregnant / sick etc. After that, the ration is for 500ml water per day. 3 litres of water should be enough to survive for 1 week.

There is a rustproof dipper and a rustproof graduated drinking vessel provided to ensure water is given out fairly, in the correct quantities.


Each occupant is provided with 10,000 kJ of food, in the form of emergency rations. The most common ones I’ve seen have been Seven Oceans Emergency Rations, which you can see closer on Amazon here: Severn Oceans Emergency Food Rations.

Consumption of food on board is not strictly essential. A human can survive for weeks without consuming any food, assuming they have access to fresh water. The rations are mainly there to increase morale, and potentially give a boost of energy before rescue.

If you are going to be climbing up a ladder to a rescue ship, it is a good idea to have a source of energy immediately available before attempting the climb.

Supplementary Food

One of the things you do in an emergency is to take any food and water you can to the survival craft with you. On ships, one of the emergency duties is to take as much from the store rooms as you can.

Tin openers are provided on each lifeboat for exactly this reason. The last thing you would want is to have lots of tinned food and water available, but have no way of accessing it.

What About Fishing?

The sea itself is a huge source of food. It is full of marine life, which could be turned into food.

Indeed, you’ll be able to find a set of fishing tackle inside every lifeboat.

The fishing tackle is actually included for morale purposes rather than for a source of food though. Theoretically, you could survive by eating fish, but you would have to establish a better source of water first. Eating raw fish increases the amount of water your body consumes.

The best use for the fishing tackle is to give people a job to do. Having a solid routine in place will increase morale, and subsequently increase your chance of survival.

Medical Equipment in a Lifeboat

Lifeboats all contain a first aid kit that has all of your standard first aid equipment. You are not going to be able to perform surgery or issue drugs, but you will be able to do the basics.

It contains things like bandages; plasters; dressings etc. Basically, just enough to deal with small injuries that could occur within the lifeboat.

One important medical item that is included is anti-seasickness tablets. One of the first things you will do on entering the lifeboat is to make sure everyone has taken them. This is mainly because seasickness will result in the body losing water unnecessarily.

The other reason for anti-seasickness medication is that it keeps the lifeboat more sanitary. It is a lot easier to keep a lifeboat clean and hygienic if no one inside is seasick.

A ship’s lifeboat is expected to be able to navigate independently. To do that, it needs both machinery and navigation equipment. All the machinery considerations are set out in international conventions. You can read about UK requirements by clicking here.

For example, the boat needs to have enough fuel onboard to travel at 6 knots for at least 24 hours. It also needs to be able to tow a 25 man liferaft at a minimum of 2 knots.

Should the engine stop, buoyant oars are provided. Each lifeboat must have enough oars to make headway through the water. There isn’t a specified number, you just need enough to make way through the water.

As for the navigation equipment, the main requirement is an illuminated compass. The compass helps the coxswain to keep the boat on a steady heading. This is essential at night if there are waves and swell. You want to keep the boat pointing towards the worst of the weather.

To help with manoeuvring, securing yourself to other boats, or towing liferafts, there are two painters provided. The painter is a rope that attaches to the bow of the lifeboat and can be used to pull it along. Painters are critical for launching if a ship is moving ahead. The lifeboat will be secured to the ship by the painter so that when it touches the water it is pulled forward.

Should you experience heavy weather and be unable to propel the boat, a sea anchor is provided. This is sometimes known as a drogue, and it just keeps the boat pointing into the weather. You can attach it to the painter, then stream it ahead of the boat. As the wind blows the lifeboat backwards, the sea anchor pulls on the bow. This just acts to keep the bow pointing towards the wind.

Emergency Equipment in a Lifeboat

The whole purpose of a lifeboat is to survive in an emergency. Not only do you want to survive the emergency of abandoning ship, but you also need to survive any emergencies that may occur within the lifeboat itself. To help, you are provided with a survival manual and lots of equipment.

As it is a boat, you need a way of removing any water that gets on board. Either the lifeboat will be self-bailing, or you will be given a manual bilge pump. In addition to that, there will be a bailer and two buckets.

To help rescue people in the water, there are two rescue quoits, each with 30m of floating line. The idea is that they can be thrown towards survivors. The survivor will put their arm through the ring and can then be pulled towards the boat. As they get closer, there are 2 boat hooks to help get them on board. Once back onboard, you have at least 2 thermal protective aids (TPAs) to help keep them warm. On larger capacity boats, you need enough TPAs for 10% of the occupants, so 15 on a typical 150 person lifeboat.

Should there be a fire, there is a fire extinguisher, or other fire fighting equipment suitable for liquid fires. There are also two hatchets (small axes), located at each end of the boat. They can be used to break up any fires, cut ropes or break out of a jammed hatch.  

More generally, you have a jack knife on a lanyard and some basic tools for adjustments. The intention of these is to give the occupants enough to be able to be creative with their equipment. For example, they may cut off part of the canopy to make a solar still or rain water capture device. With some basic tools, the possibilities are endless.

Emergency Signalling Equipment in a Lifeboat

Inside each lifeboat there is a copy of life saving signals on waterproof paper. This is a document that shows distress signals, and tells you how to communicate with an overflying aircraft. 

MCA lifesaving signals poster that is displayed on ships
Lifesaving signals poster from the Maritime & Coastguard Agency. Available from the MCA Website, distributed under the Open Government License v3.0

To actually attract attention, lifeboats are provided with pyrotechnics. You have 6 hand flares, 4 rocket parachute flares, and two buoyant orange smoke signals. I have described the use of flares in this article: What Are The Requirements For Flares On A Boat?.

To increase the visibility of the lifeboat on radar, there is a radar reflector. You need to mount it as high as possible, maybe using a boat hook or an oar as a mast. The idea is that it will return a radar pulse straight back to the vessel sending it so it is clearer on their screen. 

For rescue at night, you have a searchlight and a torch. Both can be used to signal ships and aircraft, or for rescuing people from the water.

In the daytime, you have a daylight signalling mirror. You can use it to reflect sunlight towards a ship or aircraft.

Finally, you are provided with a whistle or equivalent sound signal. It could be as simple as a hand held whistle, or it could be an air powered horn. As every life jacket should also have its own whistle, you should have plenty of items on board for attracting attention by sound.

What is Inside a Cruise Ship Lifeboat?

Cruise ship lifeboats contain the same resources as every other lifeboat. The only difference is that they will have enough supplies for 150 passengers and crew. There will be more food and water rations, more TPAs, and more first aid kits.

They are also likely to be built stronger than a lifeboat for a cargo ship. The greater capacity means additional strength is needed for it to meet structural requirements.

Do Lifeboats have Toilets?

Lifeboats do not have toilets.

One of the priorities in a lifeboat is to make sanitary arrangements. This could just involve using a bucket at the bow of the boat. If there is additional material available, it is possible to fashion a privacy screen. The priority in the boat is survival though, so you just need to improvise as best you can.