Do Cruise Ship Lifeboats Have Enough Space For Everyone?



The New York Times records that approximately 16 ships were sunk between 1980 and 2012. One of the most tragic accidents on sea happened in 1994 when the Estonia ship sank in the Baltic Sea, leading to the loss of more than 800 lives. Cruise ship lifeboats can transport people to the mainland, thus preventing such tragic accidents. But can they accommodate everyone on board?

According to SOLAS, i.e., the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), a cruise ship should have lifeboats that can accommodate 75% of passengers and crew members. The lifeboats are positioned on both sides, with 37.5% capacity each. The life rafts should accommodate the remaining percentage of inflatable life rafts. 

Cruise ship lifeboats can help save lives when ships develop technical issues, collide with icebergs and start sinking. Therefore, all ships should have enough lifeboats and life rafts to ferry people to safety. If you plan to go onboard a cruise ship, go through this article to learn about lifeboats and safety on cruise ships. 

Cruise ship en route from Oslo to Kiel. This is a Color Line Cruise company cruise ship Corol Fantasy making two days roundtrip departing from Olso every second day. The ship can carry 2,750 passengers, but has only 6 lifeboats.

What Are Lifeboats? 

Lifeboats are small boats on cruise ships for evacuating people during emergencies. Their primary function is to carry people from the vessel during emergencies and take them to other ships or the mainland for safety. 

The lifeboats are positioned on each side of the cruise ship and lowered into the water using davit systems. Unlike inflatable rafts, cruise ship lifeboats can accommodate more people and cruise at higher speeds with the help of a motor. Furthermore, they are designed with an auto-inflation system for better convenience during an emergency. 

According to SOLAS, lifeboats should ensure the safety of the people on board by having various safety features and equipment. For instance, the lifeboat should have bright orange paint with the call sign of the ship printed on it. 

The lifeboat station must be made easily accessible so that crew members can access launching guidelines and safety awareness posters. Some of the equipment that a lifeboat must have include:

How are Lifeboats Designed?

Traditional lifeboats were only designed for survival purposes. However, modern cruise ship lifeboats have luxurious, more safety features and can function as lifeboat tenders. A lifeboat tender ferries people to the mainland if the port is not deep enough for docking. 

Generally, lifeboats measure about 7.3 meters or longer, and the seats can accommodate users weighing 220 lbs. (100 kg). The seats are located around the boat’s perimeter and are usually padded for comfort. Underneath the seats are compartments with survival equipment, and the command console is situated in the boat’s front center above the engine. 

Types of Lifeboats 

Various lifeboat types aim to provide safety for the ship’s passengers and crew members during emergencies. Lifeboats are mainly classified into open, closed, and freefall lifeboats. 

  • Open Lifeboats 

These are the oldest model of lifeboats with no roof to protect the passengers from adverse weather conditions. They are typically propelled manually using oars but may also have a compression ignition engine for easier navigation.

However, it is rare to see open lifeboats in modern cruise ships as recent guidelines require lifeboats to offer more safety to their users. You can only find open lifeboats in older vessels. 

  • Closed Lifeboats

Unlike open lifeboats, these boats have a roof to enclose the passengers. Therefore, they are more secure and will protect passengers from seawater currents and adverse weather conditions such as strong winds and rain. There are two types of closed lifeboats:

  • Partially enclosed lifeboats
  • Fully enclosed lifeboats 

Closed lifeboats feature advanced watertight integrity, and if waves topple them over, they will get upright automatically without requiring the manual support of crew members.

  • Free Fall Lifeboats 

Freefall lifeboats are similar to closed lifeboats, but they apply a different release mechanism. They are placed on the ship’s aft to provide a clear pathway for free fall. Freefall lifeboats launch into the water by falling freely through a sloppy slipway. 

Due to their heavy and robust design, freefall lifeboats can sustain the water impact when dropped directly from the ship to the water. 

How Many Lifeboats are on a Cruise Ship?

As per the regulations set by SOLAS, a cruise ship must have enough lifeboats to accommodate 37.5% of the ship’s population on each side. Therefore, the number of lifeboats per vessel will depend on the total population and the maximum capacity of the lifeboats. 

  • Maximum Capacity of Lifeboats 

Most cruise ship lifeboats have a maximum passenger capacity of 150 people. According to the LSA Code, “No lifeboat shall be approved to accommodate more than 150 persons.” Since larger lifeboats require less space and maintenance, most cruise ships will have lifeboats that accommodate as many people as possible. 

Some modern vessels have lifeboats that accommodate more than 150 people. For example, the Oasis of the Seas ship has lifeboats that accommodate up to 370 passengers. 

  • Total Population on Board 

The other factor that determines the number of lifeboats in a cruise ship is the population of the passengers and crew members. The rule is to ensure that all passengers and crew members will have space on the lifeboats if the need arises. 

However, according to SOLAS, lifeboats should accommodate a total capacity of 75% of the total number of people on board. The remaining people would find space on life rafts that use Marine Evacuation System or the traditional davit launch system. 

To determine the number of lifeboats on each cruise ship, you can assume that all cruise ship lifeboats should accommodate 150 people and carry 75% of the total population on board. With these considerations, an 800-passenger ship will have four lifeboats while a large 4000-passenger vessel will have 20 lifeboats on board. 


If ships like the Titanic had enough lifeboats and life rafts to accommodate all passengers and crew members on board, many lives would have been saved. Thanks to the SOLAS, modern cruise ships now have enough cruise ship lifeboats that offer maximum safety if an emergency arises. With such safety measures and modern technology, public members can now board and enjoy their time on cruise ships without worrying much about their safety. 

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Dmitry S

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