As a rule, the size and the type of ship (and where the vessel operates) will determine which requirements to follow.
Standard emergency and life-saving equipment on ships at sea includes:
- Buoyancy apparatus, lifejackets, and attachments
- Emergency alarm systems and public address systems
- Fire-fighting equipment
- Lifeboats, liferafts, and lifebuoys
- Marine evacuation systems
- Two-way VHF radiotelephone sets
Note: There are certain types of emergency and life saving equipment that ALL ships must carry (or have fitted). These appliances must meet the minimum standards on servicing and testing.
Life Saving Equipment at Sea
Guidance titled ‘MSN 1677 The life-saving appliances regulations 1999‘ explains how the regulations apply to life-saving appliances on ships not in Classes III and VI(A).
Different requirements apply to different types of passenger ships. Download merchant shipping notices and read the associated amendments:
- (MSN) 1747 – The Merchant Shipping (Passenger Ships on Domestic Voyages) Regulations 2000
- (MSN) 1676 (M) – The Merchant Shipping (Life-Saving Appliances for Passenger Ships of Classes III to VI(A)) Regulations 1999
- (MSN) 1757 (M) Merchant Shipping (Life Saving Appliances for Ships of Classes III to VI(A)) (Amendment) Regulations 2001
- Information about which lifejackets must be carried on passenger ships.
- MGN76 (M) Lifejackets carried on Passenger Ships
Roll-on Roll-off Passenger Ships (ro-ro)
- MSN (M) 1359 – Emergency equipment lockers for Ro-Ro passenger ships
Note: Ro-Ro passenger ships must have emergency equipment lockers fitted for emergency situations.
Large Commercial Yachts
The Large Commercial Yacht Code includes specific rules on life-saving equipment for certain types of ships (less than 3,000 gross tonnage).
- The Large Commercial Yacht Code (LY3)
Small Commercial Vessel (pilot boats)
The Small Commercial Vessels Code sets out specific rules on life-saving equipment for certain vessels of less than twenty four (24) metres.
- ‘Marine Guidance Note (MGN) 280 (M) Small Vessels in Commercial Use for Sport or Pleasure, Workboats and Pilot Boats – Alternative Construction Standards
Small Passenger Boats on Inland Waters
The Inland Waters Small Passenger Boat Code includes specific rules on life-saving equipment for inland vessels that carry no more than twelve (12) passengers.
- Inland Waters Small Passenger Boat Code
Some pleasure crafts do not need to carry certain types of life-saving equipment.
- MGN 599 (M) Pleasure vessels – Regulations and exemptions – Guidance and best practice advice
Fire Fighting Equipment Onboard Ships
Download fire-fighting equipment regulations and read any associated amendments:
- MSN 1665 (M) The Merchant Shipping (Fire Protection) Regulations 1998: Fire fighting equipment
- MSN 1670 (M) The Merchant Shipping (Fire Protection) Regulations 1998: Exemptions
Fixed Fire Alarms and Extinguishers
- MSN 1666 (M) the Merchant Shipping (Fire Protection) Regulations 1998: Fixed fire detection alarm and extinguishing systems
Fixed Gas Fire-extinguishing Systems
- MGN 389 (M+F) Operating Instructions and Signage for Fixed Gas Fire-Extinguishing Systems
- MGN 354 (M+F) ‘Fishing and Small Vessels – Safe Operation of Fixed CO2 Gas Fire Extinguishing Systems
Halon fire-fighting systems
- MGN 258 (M+F) Decommissioning of Halon systems
Note: The use of fire fighting equipment containing halons is now illegal in United Kingdom. The guide explains the process of phasing out halon fire-fighting systems.
Safe Use of Emergency Equipment
All emergency life saving equipment on ships must be safe to use. You must also ensure the crew know how to use it properly. Download emergency equipment regulations and read any associated amendments:
All lifejackets need to be inspected on a regular basis. See individual manufacturer’s instructions for further information on the processes.
- MGN 254 (M+F) Guidance to Users of Inflatable Lifejackets
- Marine Guidance Note (MGN) 396 (M+F) Compatibility of Life-Saving Equipment
Marine Evacuation Systems (MESs)
Passengers can use an inflatable slide or escape chute to gain access into liferafts from the ship. Vessels with an MES need to have crew properly trained in how to use them.
- Marine Guidance Notice (MGN) 273 (M) Operational Issues relating to MES
Liferafts and Hydrostatic Release Units (HRUs)
- MGN 343 (M+F) HRU – Stowage and Float Free Arrangements for Inflatable Liferafts
Fuels and Lubricating Oils in Lifeboat Engines
All fuels and lubricating oils used in lifeboat engines must be safe to use in low temperatures.
- MGN 34 (M+F) – Lifeboat engines and other compression ignition engines used in an emergency
All retro-reflective material needs checking at regular intervals to ensure it is effective.
- MGN 105 (M+F) use and fitting of retro-reflective material on life saving appliances
Servicing and Testing of Emergency Equipment
Life Saving Appliance Testing
Certain kinds of marine life saving appliances and equipment needs to be serviced at regular intervals at an approved service station. The list includes:
- Inflatable lifejackets
- Inflatable liferafts and boats
- Hydrostatic Release Units (HRUs)
- Rescue boats
- Fast rescue boats
The MCA website lists the details of independent lifeboat servicing and testing organisations and the details of manufacturers of life-saving appliances.
Download further information on servicing and testing emergency equipment, such as:
- Marine Guidance Note 548 (M+F) Life-Saving Appliances – Inflatable SOLAS Certificated Liferafts, Lifejackets, Marine Evacuation Systems, and repair of Inflated Rescue Boats – Servicing Requirements and Approved Service Stations
Fire Equipment Testing
All fire protection systems and associated equipment must tested and maintained at regular intervals. They must be ready for immediate use if and when they are needed.
Monthly fire equipment testing and inspection is required to ensure:
- All fireman’s outfits, fire extinguishers, fire hydrants, hoses and nozzles are in place and in good condition.
- All escape routes are free of obstructions and properly maintained.
- The public address system and ship’s alarms are working properly.
- All fixed fire fighting installation valves are set in the correct operating position.
- Dry pipe sprinkler systems are pressurised (if needed) and their gauges are working properly.
- The sprinkler system pressure tank water levels are correct.
- All sprinkler system pumps operate automatically on pressure loss in the systems.
- All fire pumps are working properly.
- All fixed gas fire extinguishing installations are free from leaks.
Emergency Electrical Systems
- MGN 52 (M+F) Testing of Emergency Sources of Electrical Power
Fixed Bulk Dry Powder Fire Extinguishing Systems
- MGN 355 (M) Periodic Inspection, Testing and Maintenance of Fixed Bulk Dry Powder Fire Extinguishing Systems
Seamless Steel Pressurised Gas Cylinders
- Marine Guidance Note (MGN) 374 (M+F) Periodic Inspection and Testing of Seamless Steel Pressurised Gas Cylinders
Portable Fire Extinguishers
- MGN 276 (M+F) fire protection – maintenance of portable fire extinguishers
MCA Help and Advice
You can get further information on marine life saving appliances and emergency equipment for ships, from:
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA)
Life-saving appliances enquiries
023 8032 9119
Marine Equipment Directive (enquiries)
023 8083 9636
023 8032 9100
Monday to Sunday 24 hours a day.
Note: The site also lists the current safety alerts for technical matters, known design faults, and for fake safety equipment. Another section provides further guidance on health and safety on ships while at sea.