10 Types of Ship Drills You Need to Know to Stay Safe at Sea



“It takes practice to be good at something” is a common quote that we hear every day. For the officers and crew to efficiently operate the vessel, they would perform drills on board the ship.

Ship drills onboard merchant vessels are training crew members to act in emergency situations like fire, collision, grounding, and other scenarios. The ship’s crew is divided into the bridge team emergency squad support team medical squad and engine room teams have their tasks and are headed by the Master of the ship.

Lifeboat on cargo ship - one of the most common

As much as there are similarities in how they conduct their drills, some ships, particularly the passenger and cruise vessels with a large number of lifeboats, do their drills differently because of their cargo.

What Is A Drill In Shipping?

A ship drill is a practice session on a vessel to prepare the crew for emergencies like fires, groundings, or collisions. These drills train the crew in their roles, use of equipment, and emergency procedures, ensuring effective responses to various scenarios. They are regulated by international maritime safety laws.

A drill allows crew members to simulate actions to take in the event of an emergency. A typical 20-man crew vessel would be divided into five teams. These are the bridge, emergency squad, support, medical squad, and engine room teams.

The Master, in coordination with concerned officers, would do either a scheduled or surprise drill. This would normally happen on a weekend, Saturday or Sunday. The most common drill is the fire drill and abandon ship drills.

Any drill onboard would start with either a general alarm, fire, abandon ship, or other specified alarm. It will be followed by an announcement of the Master or the Officer on the watch (OoW) over the public address system, detailing the nature of the drill.

All crew would then muster at the designated emergency headquarters. This is to check if anyone is missing and will trigger a search and rescue operation. If all is accounted for, respective squads will proceed to their assigned stations with their necessary equipment.

The bridge team is composed of the Captain, Third Officer, Able seaman, and Cadet. The Master oversees the entire drill and monitors the progress. The third officer assists the Captain and is in charge of communications with other vessels and stations. Steering is placed in manual mode and is manned by the helmsman. The Cadet will assist as needed.

The emergency squad is headed by the Chief Officer if the emergency is on deck and the Second Engineer if the drill is in the engine room. Bosun assists the Chief officer in preparing deck gear like fire hydrants, hoses, lifeboats, rafts, etc. They are also being supported by an able seaman and an ordinary seaman.

The Support squad is led by a Second engineer who complements the emergency squad. In the event of a fire, they act as a cooling blanket in adjacent areas while in an abandon ship drill, they prepare the rafts and life-saving equipment. An Oiler, Wiper, and messmate complete the team.

The medical team is being commanded by the Second Officer who is also in charge of the Ship’s hospital and medical supplies. The medical squad is also assigned to one lifeboat in the event of an abandon ship drill. The other members are a third engineer, an able seaman, an oiler, and a chief cook.

Lastly, the engine room team, which is stationed in the engine control room is led by Chief Engineer, fourth engineer, oiler number one, wiper, and cadet. They place the main engine on standby mode and await instructions from the bridge.

Why Are Drills Important Onboard?

Solas Chapter III Regulation 19 states that every crew member with assigned emergency duties shall be familiar with these duties before the voyage begins. This is important because an accident can happen at any time. This is critically important especially if there is a change of crew and more than fifty percent are new.

Drills allow each crew member to be familiar with his/her role and responsibilities in the event of an emergency. Each task is explained by management officers and the equipment needed is tested and checked for any malfunctions and/or repairs.

During port entry, authorities like coastguards, company representatives, and classification societies would conduct internal and external audits to ensure the competence of the crew during emergencies. All documents are presented to confirm all firefighting, lifesaving equipment, etc., are properly maintained.

List Of Drills Onboard Ship

Fire Drill Onboard Ship

Fire drills are conducted twice a month or as much as practicable and the situation allows. Emergency fire pumps are being tested to make sure teams are able to combat the fire either on deck or in the engine room.

Fire hydrants, hoses, self-contained breathing apparatus, emergency escape breathing devices, etc., are tested for industry-required standard operating procedures.

Abandon Ship Drill

The entire crew is divided into two lifeboats located on the Portside and Starboard side. Some ships employ a single free-fall lifeboat at the stern of the vessel.

Lifeboats are lowered into the water and every quarter is being maneuvered in the water. Lifeboat equipment is presented to each crew to check its proper usage in the event of an abandon ship drill.

Grounding Drill

Each team proceeds to their respective stations to check if there are any damages to the hull of the ship. The bridge team confirms soundings on the chart or ECDIS as well as readings on the echo sounder.

The engine room team checks all fuel oil tanks by sounding tape to see if any oil spill is occurring. The support team and medical team confirm soundings on all ballast tanks, cargo holds, and double bottom tanks to check if there is water ingress.

Helicopter Operation Drill

The crew is familiarized with the helipad location on deck in preparation for helicopter operation. This is useful during air transfer of injured person, pilot embarkation, and crew abandon ship. Everyone is briefed on proper procedures to avoid injury, electrocution, or explosion.

Collision Drill

The emergency squad checks the possible area of the collision. The area is assessed to the extent of damage while checking for possible water ingress and oil spills.

Fire hoses and hydrant are prepared for possible fire and explosion. The engine is put to stop and the Engine room team is placed on standby.

Manoverboard Drill

A mark is placed in the water for MOB by the emergency squad. The engine room team puts the engine on standby and waits for a command from the bridge.

The bridge maneuvers the vessel to do a Williamson turn, Anderson or Scharnov turn. The support squad assists in the recovery of the mark/victim as well as the preparation of first aid and treatment.

Engine Room Fire Drill

The Support squad leads the attack as they are more familiar with the engine room. The emergency team supports them as they provide cooling to adjacent areas.

The medical team monitors progress if there’s any need for first aid and treatment. The Master oversees the drill on the bridge in close coordination with the Chief Engineer.

Oil Spill Drill

The ship simulates a scenario of an oil spill either on deck or in the water. Two teams prepared the SOPEP (Ship Oil Pollution and Emergency Procedures) equipment in response to the oil spill. The bridge team sends a message to authorities about the incident.

Entry in Enclosed Spaces Drill

The emergency squad prepares two team members to enter an enclosed space (Cargo hold, ballast tank, void space, etc.). They are equipped with self-contained breathing apparatus with an attached communications system. The support squad uses a multi-gas detector to check and monitor oxygen and gas content.

Emergency Steering Drill

All teams except the bridge team would proceed to the steering gear room near the engine room. This will simulate that the steering system on the bridge has malfunctioned.

Members would steer the ship directly from the steering gear room in close coordination with the bridge team, receiving helm commands and instructions.

Ship Drill Schedule

Adherence to a well-planned drill schedule is crucial on board any vessel. This schedule aims to familiarize the crew with their emergency duties, ensure the readiness of the safety and survival equipment, and prepare the ship’s crew for any unexpected emergency situations.

It also fulfills the regulatory requirements as per the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) regulations. The frequency and type of drills are mandated by these international maritime safety regulations, although additional drills may be added by the ship’s management as required.

The schedule should be tailored to the specific vessel and crew, considering factors such as the ship’s operation, crew experience, and operational risks.

Here is an overview of some of the main types of drills, their frequency, and the relevant regulations:

Type of DrillFrequencyReference to Regulation
Fire DrillTwice a monthSOLAS Chapter III Regulation
Abandon Ship DrillOnce every monthSOLAS Chapter III Regulation
Grounding DrillEvery three monthsSOLAS Chapter III Regulation
Helicopter Operation DrillAs per company policy and when required by port state controlCompany’s Safety Management System (SMS)
Collision DrillEvery three monthsSOLAS Chapter III Regulation
Man Overboard DrillEvery three monthsSOLAS Chapter III Regulation
Engine Room Fire DrillTwice a monthSOLAS Chapter III Regulation
Oil Spill DrillEvery six monthsMARPOL Annex I Regulation 37
Entry in Enclosed Spaces DrillOnce every two monthsSOLAS Chapter III Regulation 19.3.6
Emergency Steering DrillEvery three monthsSOLAS Chapter III Regulation

It is essential to note that this table serves as a guideline. For the exact details, the crew should refer to the regulations and the vessel’s specific SMS.

Also, all drills should be followed by a debriefing session to review performance, discuss any issues or deficiencies identified during the drill, and explore how they can be addressed. The ship’s Master should record all drills in the ship’s logbook and in any other documentation required by the company or authorities.

Ship Drill Reporting

Maintaining a record of conducted drills is an integral part of the ship’s safety and emergency preparedness protocol. This is where the concept of a ‘Ship Drill Report’ comes in.

The ship drill report provides a comprehensive and systematic record of every drill carried out onboard. It not only covers the basic details such as the date, time, and type of drill conducted, but it also elaborates on the individual performances, equipment used, and any discrepancies or areas of improvement identified during the drill.

Ship Drill Reporting Software

With advancements in technology, the shipping industry is also evolving, and digital solutions are increasingly being integrated into maritime operations.

Ship drill reporting software is a specialized program designed to facilitate easier and more efficient logging, tracking, and management of drills and exercises conducted onboard.

This software not only allows for a streamlined process of entering the details of each drill but also offers features such as automatic reminders for upcoming drills based on the pre-set schedules, easy updating of equipment inventories, real-time data syncing, and so forth. Additionally, the software provides easy accessibility to drill records, which can be vital during audits, inspections, or any emergency situation.

Ship Fire Drill Report Sample

A ship fire drill report is a specific type of ship drill report that documents all the details pertaining to a fire drill conducted onboard. Here is a simplified example of what such a report might contain:

  • Date & Time of Drill: 1st August 2023, 10:00 am
  • Type of Drill: Fire Drill
  • Location of simulated fire: Engine Room
  • Duration of Drill: 40 minutes
  • Participating Crew Members: Master, Chief Officer, Second Engineer, Third Engineer, Able Seamen, Deck Cadet, etc.
  • Brief Description of Drill: Simulation of engine room fire, activation of general alarm, muster at designated emergency stations, deployment of fire-fighting equipment, initiation of fire-fighting procedures.
  • Equipment Used: Fire hydrants, hoses, self-contained breathing apparatus, emergency escape breathing devices, fire suits, etc.
  • Performance Evaluation: All team members arrived at their stations promptly, fire-fighting equipment was correctly deployed and used, and communication was clear and efficient.
  • Areas of Improvement: Brief delay in the deployment of fire hoses, communication needs to be louder and clearer, and additional training is required for the usage of self-contained breathing apparatus.
  • Action Taken: Re-training scheduled for the usage of fire hoses self-contained breathing apparatus, and walkie-talkies to be used for clearer communication during drills.
  • Signatures of Master & Participating Officers

Each ship may have its own unique format and additional details included in its fire drill report, as guided by its company policy and safety management system. However, the fundamental goal remains the same: to ensure that all crew members are prepared to respond effectively to a fire emergency onboard.

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