Safety observation on life raft usability – Capsizing and sinking of pilot boat (FIN) in the Gulf of Finland, to the south of Emäsalo, on 8 December 2017

Published 23.1.2018

The Safety Investigation Authority of Finland has made an important safety observation relating to life rafts while investigating the capsizing and sinking of pilot boat 242 to the south of Emäsalo on 8 December 2017.

The hydrostatic release unit of a life raft only activates at a depth of between 1.5 and four metres, causing the raft to detach from its mounting automatically. After the hooks have been released, the life raft is inflated either by tugging the painter manually or as a result of the tightening of the cord as the vessel sinks.

If the life raft remains at a depth of less than 1.5 metres after the vessel has capsized, it will not automatically detach from its mounting and inflate. Detaching the raft manually and inflating it under water can be almost impossible, even if the raft is in perfect working order. A life raft can also lose its buoyancy if the protective casing fills with water.

An experiment carried out by the Safety Investigation Authority of Finland revealed that a life raft lying on the seabed inflated without any problems. However, the life raft played no role in the survival of the victims of the pilot boat accident of 8 December 2017, as they were unable to escape from the cabin.

The Safety Investigation Authority of Finland emphasises the importance of assessing the positioning and usability of life-saving equipment in different kinds of accidents, including in the event of a vessel capsizing and turning upside down.