E-motors make revolutionary survival craft possible

If you are not involved in the business of how to get people off a distressed cruise or cargo ship, you probably wouldn’t know that there are life BOATS and there are life RAFTS. But there has never been a combination of the two.

Until now. Viking Life Saving, who have been dedicated to those lifesaving operations for 55+ years, have been given approval for their revolutionary Life CRAFT. It is inflatable as most life rafts are, but also has motor as life boats necessarily do. The LifeCraft is powered by four Torqeedo Cruise 4.0 electric pod drives, one at each corner. They are compact enough to be incorporated into the self-inflating design.

These LifeCraft are definitely not the boats in The Titanic where the band plays as the women and children climb over the railings to take their seats. The LifeCraft is launched from the ship first, and then the passengers get on board through escape chutes similar to those on an airplane.

Two lifecrafts sit in the water beside a boat with passenger escape chutes leading to them

The whole operation is actually named the LifeCraft Survival Craft system and it consists of four inflatable LifeCrafts and the stowage, launching apparatus and chutes built into the ship’s side or placed on deck. Each LifeCraft holds 203 people for a capacity of 812 in total.

Electric propulsion is perfect for lifeboats

Electric propulsion has a few advantages over the diesel power usually used. Boating Industry notes that when stowed on board, they don’t require access for technicians to manually check the fuel, oil and ignition systems or perform other maintenance. They just need to stay charged through a connection and can be automatically monitored. There is also greater safety and comfort for the passengers when they are deployed.

Electric lifeboats only became a realistic possibility in late 2017. The motors and batteries simply hadn’t been up to the task, but there two other companies who have launched (pun intended) non-inflatable rigid electrics: Verhoef and Norsafe. Verhoef lays claim to launching the first.

The rigids take up too much space to be practical on a ship, so they are used on oil rigs. If you want some idea of how they do get launched, go to the 15 second mark of the Norsafe video below.

Of course, the advantage of any life boat over a life raft is that it can be manoeuvred. That manoeuvrability is impressive – and essential – in the case of the LifeCraft.

The website Maritime Executive observed “It is a critical feature for safely clearing a ship’s side in an emergency evacuation. With four independent electric engines at each of its corners, the Craft has the ability to rapidly turn 360 degrees on the spot, which is unmatched by conventional motor-propelled survival craft.”

You can imagine that an ocean lifesaving system gets put through some rigorous tests before it gets approval. The LifeCraft went through heavy sea trials in October in the North Sea, surviving:

  • Wave heights between 3.6 and 4.6 meters (11.8-15.1 ft.)
  • Wave peaks up to 10 meters (32.8 ft.) and
  • Wind gusts up to 18 meters per second (40 mph)

It’s not all finished yet, though. The final piece of the puzzle is set for August 2019 to approve the chute portion of system.

Henrik Uhd Christensen, CEO of Viking, is confident all will be fine. “The Survival Craft itself is something completely new and innovative, while the launching appliance is, in fact, well-proven technology,” he said. “So, we expect the necessary approval process to go very smoothly.”

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