Marine evacuation systems: a viable alternative to lifeboats

Marin-Ark MES deployed alongside a ferry Marin-Ark MES deployed alongside a ferry
Industry Database

With MES now in its fourth decade it is now a well-proven system with clear advantages in certain applications, says Richard McCormick, Marin-Ark sales manager, Survitec Group.

Lifeboats have been the default evacuation system of the marine industry for over a century yet they lack the safety features and testing to match up to Marine Evacuation System (MES). Developed by RFD in 1979 and since emulated by many, MES has proven its ability to continuously develop and evolve. With the likes of P&O Ferries installing MES systems on its fleet and over 500 successful deployments, it seems the tides are starting to turn.

Progressive operators are increasingly seeing MES as the preferred life saving appliance (LSA) solution. With its tried and tested technology in place for over 30 years, it is a recognised system for enhancing ships’ emergency procedures and improvements in evacuation capabilities.

How is it different?

In a nutshell, MES is a system that provides mass evacuation via inflatable liferafts & vertical chute technology that is automatically deployed and inflated. RFD’s Marin Ark II provides enclosed evacuation chutes and four connected fully reversible liferafts with a compact launching and stowage arrangement. These units are more compact than lifeboats and have been shown to be rapid, safe and effective in deployment. Rigorous testing, including full sea trials in Beaufort Sea State 6 winds and 3m wave heights, have endorsed the MES safety features.

In addition, MES is claimed to vastly increase evacuation capacity. No other single LSA has been capable of rapidly and safely evacuating 790-plus persons in less than 30 minutes. In comparison, a lifeboat holds fewer people so a greater number of lifeboats are required on-board. The trend in the marine industry show that vessels in the marine industry are larger – for example the new Carnival and Royal Caribbean cruise ships carry a great number of passengers, so reliable & efficient mass evacuation is key.


So why does marine regulation favour lifeboats? Despite MES’s proven efficiencies and capabilities the marine industry in general continues to favour lifeboats. Survitec would argue that there is a case for the regulators to now catch up with industry operators and take heed of the obvious safety enhancements MES provides. The recent deployments of RFD’s Marin Ark II onto new ships such as ferries Spirit of Britain and the Spirit of France are a case in point where the industry is taking the lead. P&O Ferries has installed 40 MES on its fleet of 20 ships, of which 26 are on the Dover-Calais route and eight in the North Sea. Overall, Survitec has a successful track record of MES installations and a successful track record of deployments. The tide is changing.

It is clear that MES is evolving and Survitec believes it can become the preferred option for all mass evacuation in the future of passenger ships. It is clear that the role of the lifeboat is changing and perhaps its shortcomings are emphasised in a steadily advancing 21st century industry. Lifeboats, relatively unchanged, have been the staple of the last 100 years and while the next few years will undoubtedly be significant in terms of safety innovation, we believe Survitec will help move marine safety even further forward.


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